SOUTH LAKEVIEW — Before the Lincoln Hub was completed in the spring, Ray George strapped his son into a car seat every day for preschool at St. Alphonsus, driving barely a block to avoid crossing the intersection.
"It was extremely dangerous before. I hated it. We would drive instead of walking eight houses down because of that intersection" at Southport, Lincoln and Wellington avenues, George said.
But with the Lincoln Hub "placemaking" project extending curbs to shorten crosswalks and slow traffic, George and his son are now walking the colorful, polka-dotted route to school.
The Lincoln Hub was completed this month at the corner of Lincoln, Southport and Wellington avenues. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
But some neighbors have taken umbrage to what they've nicknamed "Polka Dot Park" and say it has snarled traffic and detracted from the block's historic architecture.
"Nobody assumed it would be the actual design of the place when we saw the crazy polka dots. We thought that was [to designate in renderings] the affected areas. We never thought they would put this garish, ridiculous seating area in probably one of the busiest intersections on Lincoln Avenue," said Luis Monje, president of the condominium association for 2921 N. Lincoln Ave.
Ariel Cheung says the polka dots won't be around forever:
Two weeks ago, Monje started a petition calling for the city to remove the painted polka dots and white bollards, calling the project an "expensive eyesore" that caused an increase in traffic congestion.
The petition had 257 signatures as of Monday night, with supporters lambasting the design and complaining of traffic lines that take four red-light cycles to get through.
"As an architect, I find the design baffling, a solution in search of a problem. It's cartoonish and detracts from the historic beauty of St. Al's," wrote Liam Larkin.
The polka dot design at Southport, Lincoln and Wellington avenues has some neighbors worried the colorful design detracts from the corner's historic architecture, particularly that of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, built in 1882. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
After designing the project with community input in 2013 and debuting renderings in June 2014, Lakeview Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lee Crandell said he was surprised by the negative reactions from neighbors.
"I think considering how small this project is, we really went above and beyond on the outreach and getting the word out there compared to most other projects," Crandell said, noting the chamber also blogs about projects, mailed out the hub's final design in its newsletter and met with neighborhood associations.
Monje said he'd heard Lincoln was getting a traffic-calming experiment, but "granted, I personally don't attend every [local taxing district] and neighborhood association meeting. I fully admit that's not what myself or 99 percent of people in the neighborhood do," he said.
After getting complaints about traffic backups, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to scale back the build-outs to make more room for drivers to pass by vehicles waiting to turn left, Crandell said.
As for lengthening green lights at the intersection, the city "so far hasn't thought that is necessary," Crandell said. During multiple visits, transportation officials observed brief morning rush periods when traffic lines were a dozen vehicles long, but the existing green light span allows six or seven cars through the intersection at a time, department spokesman Mike Claffey said.
The Lincoln Hub "placemaking" project aims to create a sense of community along Lincoln Avenue between Diversey and Belmont with seating, planters and a polka-dot sidewalk design inspired by oriental rugs. [Provided/SSA 27]
Tweaks will continue as the city tests out the concept, with the city planning 10 more similar public spaces in the city's plazas, malls and traffic triangles this year, with 10 additional locations each year following, as approved by the City Council. At the Lincoln Hub, planters will be installed this year, with more coming in 2016.
South Lakeview Neighbors is waiting until it reconvenes in the fall to see whether the neighborhood adjusts to the Lincoln Hub before the group recommends any changes, president Steve Stern said during the group's May meeting.
The department said the painted extensions have shortened crossing distances by 34 percent at the intersection and traffic "seems to be moving smoothly through the intersection," Claffey said.
And, after all, slowing down traffic was kind of the whole point of the project.
The overarching goal of the temporary placemaking spot is to encourage more pedestrian traffic along Lincoln Avenue to spur business development years ahead of permanent city alterations, Crandell said.
"Foot traffic is really a challenge for businesses on the street, so we were really focused on making the street more pedestrian friendly and providing more opportunities to linger," Crandell said.
Monje said he worries property values will decrease and developers will shy away from the bright spot and believed traffic had already driven away potential owners for two vacant condos.
With deteriorating sidewalks and empty storefronts, though, any attempt at change is a step forward, said Greg Newman, a South Lakeview resident.
"I like that someone made an effort and that people are trying to improve the area, particularly along Lincoln Avenue, which is underutilized. I just feel like people tend to have a negative reaction to any type of change," Newman said.
As for the design itself, "it's just purely a matter of opinion. They're just polka dots. I don't love it, but I'm fine with it," he said.
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