UPTOWN — For the last five years, Ald. Harry Osterman has been working with the city, community groups and residents to bring Chicago's first shared street to Uptown. He's been talking about the project for as long as 15 years.
Now the Argyle Streetscape is finally on its way to becoming a reality, with construction set to begin Monday. The goal of the $3 million project is to transform Argyle Street from Broadway to Sheridan Road into a shared street by blurring the lines between the sidewalk and the road so cyclists, motorists and pedestrians can co-exist.
The concept, which is mostly popular in Europe, has worked in other cities, including Bell Street in Seattle, Exhibition Road in London and Market Square in Pittsburgh, to name a few.
But since the shared street is new to Chicago, a few residents at a very sparsely attended community meeting Tuesday evening, held at Furama Restaurant, 4936 N. Broadway, wondered how it'll work once it's completed in the spring.
One resident asked, "How are cars going to know that this street is different?"
According to Hannah Higgins, project manager with the city's Department of Transportation, it will be immediately clear that Argyle is a shared street.
Osterman agreed, saying "When you turn on Argyle, you're going to know."
In addition to signs explaining that Argyle is a shared street, there will also be slight ramps at every access point because the street will be level with the sidewalk, making it a different height than other roads, Higgins said. Street furnishings like light poles, trees, benches, planters and pavers will give the street a unique, plaza-like feel and therefore provide physical cues.
Part of the goal of the streetscape is to slow things down, Higgins said.
To do that, there will be chicanes, or turns in the road, where the planters are. Drivers will have to shift about three or four feet to the right, then to the left and then to the center again before they can continue on.
"Cars are going to have to slow down and pay attention," she said.
The driving lanes will also be narrower to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Since the street will be shared, there will be no separate bike lane, which means motorists and pedestrians "have to be very aware," Osterman said.
"Everyone's gotta respect each other," said Osterman, admitting that it will be a "learning experience."
While a few parking spaces will be lost, Higgins said the project would not eliminate of any of the businesses' loading zones.
Uptown resident Nik Piltawer said he was "very happy" with the plans, which reminded him of an existing plaza-like area in Lincoln Square. Tuesday night's meeting was tame compared to "much rougher" meetings in the beginning of the process, he added.
"We are hoping that with the street being revitalized, the storefronts will fix up the outside of their businesses to make them more attractive," said Piltawer, who has lived in the neighborhood for roughly eight years.
Osterman said getting business owners to improve their facades is a "secondary goal" of the project. He also hopes the streetscape encourages more restaurants to open sidewalk cafes and generally fosters a sense of community between business owners and residents.
Before any of that happens, residents and business owners should expect at least a little less than a year's worth of construction from 8 a.m. to anytime from 6-8 p.m. on weekdays.
Osterman stressed businesses on Argyle Street will remain open during construction, but there "may be some closures in front of businesses that will be choreographed and timed" after communicating with the owners, he said.
"We are going to do everything in our power to encourage people to continue to visit the businesses," he said.
Higgins said even if the sidewalk in front of a particular business is closed, it will only be for a couple days at a time and the city will provide ramps for patrons to access the business.
Construction will be split into four phases.
Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday morning, construction crews will start removing the sidewalks, curbs and gutters on the north side of Argyle, starting at Broadway and working east. From Oct. 6 to Nov. 20, they'll work on the south side from Broadway to Kenmore Avenue.
From Nov. 20 until spring, there will be no construction. Crews will pick back up again in the spring with the last phase on Kenmore to between Sheridan Road and Argyle.
Throughout the project, Argyle will be reduced to one-way traffic traveling eastbound.
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