SOUTH LAKEVIEW — Forced to navigate around extended corners and white bollards at Southport, Wellington and Lincoln avenues, drivers are taking turns much slower in South Lakeview these days.
That's by design, said Lee Crandell, director of the West Lakeview Special Service Area program.
Work on the Lincoln Avenue placemaking project began last month, although rainy days have delayed the art installation and, subsequently, the project's completion. Plans to install planters and benches along four blocks of Lincoln Avenue have been in the works for over a year, with the goal of calming traffic and encouraging pedestrians to spend more time — and, ideally, money — in the neighborhood.
But South Lakeview Neighbors voiced concerns Tuesday that the project does more to impede traffic than benefit pedestrians, and bemoaned the use of the bollards, or safety guard poles, and the blue and green polka dot sidewalk art.
"You can't put lipstick on a pig. Blue and green paint is just going to be lipstick on a particularly ugly pig," one neighbor said.
One major issue is the narrowing of streets at the intersection, which prevents drivers from bypassing cars turning left at the short traffic light on Southport Avenue.
One mother said she felt more cars have started zooming through Nelson Street to avoid the intersection altogether.
"It's way more dangerous than it was before. Traffic backs up all the way to Fletcher. You're causing more problems in the rest of the neighborhood," she said during the South Lakeview Neighbors meeting at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
Some pedestrians and bicyclists, however, said they'd already noticed an improvement in safety, particularly with the shorter crosswalks.
"I feel like cars are slowing down already. I feel safer riding my bike through this intersection now, and it's been a positive experience," one neighbor said. Others noted that there's always been a few cars diverting through Nelson Street.
Other neighbors were upset that the polka-dot art installation — designed to look like an oriental rug that will envelope the intersection — would be a permanent addition to the corner, where iconic buildings like the Athenaeum and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church have stood for decades.
Crandell assured residents that he was personally monitoring traffic at the corner and believed many issues would be resolved once the project was completed and drivers adjusted to the new lanes.
"This is not going to make sense until we paint the street to make it match the sidewalk, so drivers can see clearer where traffic lanes are. That's a really critical component, but we can't do it while it's raining," Crandell said.
He also said the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce was working with the Chicago Department of Transportation on further improvements, like lengthening the green light on Southport Avenue to help clear traffic.
The placemaking project followed requests from business owners for help boosting pedestrian traffic along Lincoln Avenue. That combined with at least nine pedestrian or bicycle-involved crashes in six years led to the plan to reduce crosswalk lengths by 34 percent.
As he continues to assess the project's results, Crandell said it will be possible to shift the bollards and curb areas if needed. The SSA has allotted money for continued upkeep of the project and has a three-year warranty on the paint being used.
"It does look a little chaotic out there, and I do apologize for that. It can be kind of a painful process where you see some of the negative impacts of a project without being able to experience the benefits you'll have once it's complete," Crandell said.
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