LOGAN SQUARE — An ambitious plan that would completely reshape the confusing intersection at the center of Logan Square, while adding park and plaza space, is inching forward.
The plan, known as the Bicentennial Improvements Project, will take its first step toward realization in the fall, according to both aldermen whose wards split the intersection of Kedzie and Milwaukee avenues and Logan Boulevard.
"This is just going to be a major change," said Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th). "I think it will be a project on the scale of the Bloomingdale Trail."
The Chicago Department of Transportation and the CTA are set to conduct a traffic study on the project late in the fall or early winter, according to Ramirez-Rosa.
Between 2009 and 2013, there were a total of 230 crashes in a 500-foot radius of the square, according to data made available by the Chicago Crash Browser.
The proposal, which would include shutting off the portion of Milwaukee Avenue that cuts through the square and turning the area surrounding the Illinois Centennial Monument into a true roundabout, has been in the works for five years.
Paul Biasco says safety is a major concern near the intersection:
The design would include adding 2 acres of new green space in the center of the neighborhood, rerouting traffic around Sawyer Avenue, shifting Kedzie Avenue to the north and placing a traffic signal at Kedzie and Milwaukee.
A Zocalo People Plaza would take the place of the portion of Kedzie the runs in front of Longman & Eagle, Logan Liquors and El Cid.
"This could be one of the greatest public spaces in the City of Chicago," said Charlie Keel, one of the original organizers behind the project.
Because the project includes city, state and county roads, the project has required a number of agencies representing those layers of government to come together.
A Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed the department is working on the project, but could not immediately provide details.
The cluttered intersections of the disjointed streets that surround the square have been called dangerous and a "lane puzzle" by residents and the site of a high number of crashes.
Of the 230 crashes in the area, including vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, 63 people were injured and one person was killed between 2009 and 2013, according to Steven Vance's Chicago Crash Browser data, which includes the most recently made available data from IDOT.
To make sure that partnership continues to move forward, Ramirez-Rosa said he has made this one of the top priorities during his first term.
On May 15 the freshman alderman met with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and was asked, as is apparently custom, "What do you want to happen in your community?" Ramirez-Rosa said.
"I as one alderman obviously do not have the political capital to move that through, but the mayor does," Ramirez-Rosa said.
The alderman pulled out a map, described the project, which he said hadn't been on Emanuel's radar.
"He committed to make this happen," Ramirez-Rosa said. "It was important to me that he championed this and took it on as his own project as well."
After that meeting, the mayor set up a meeting between the alderman and commissioner of the transportation department specifically about the project.
Part of the project includes the area surrounding the Logan Square Blue Line stop, which could end up as green space or possibly development, Ramirez-Rosa said.
Previous Ald. Rey Colon (35th) allocated funds toward the study last year.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said his office was informed by an assistant city commissioner in June that the project was going to be put on hold, but it appears it is moving ahead.
Waguespack said he wrote a letter to the transportation commissioner this summer urging the department to push the project forward.
"It basically said, 'Don't hold this thing up. You need to find a way to initiate this study as quickly as possible,'" Waguespack said.
The goal is to eliminate the confusion of driving, biking and walking in area surrounding the monument and make all forms of transportation safer.
The intersections where the most crashes have occurred are highlighted in the heat map below.
The project will likely occur in coordination with the Milwaukee Avenue Corridor Initiative, a redesign of Milwaukee Avenue from the Megamall, 2500 N. Milwaukee Ave, to the Logan Square bus station.
Ramirez-Rosa said the hope is to begin a period of public input on the project in the spring.
Construction would likely begin in 2018 at the earliest, Ramirez-Rosa said.
The project is not expected to meet the original planned opening date of 2018, to coordinate with Illinois' bicentennial.
"It's a long time to wait, but I believe there's a lot of interest in the project," Keel said. "We've had great support from all the different aldermen, from both of the state reps, the Chamber of Commerce and the neighborhood residents."
Keel said there wasn't as much interest in Logan Square five years ago when he began the push to reshape the neighborhood's namesake park and roadways.
"Over the years, well before us, there were lots and lots of people in the neighborhood who proposed ideas, different sketches and this and that,” Keel said. "You always hear people talking about it."
Just under 500 people signed on to support a petition in favor of the improvement plan last year.
"You see so much of the development that's happening around the neighborhood. The time is now," Keel said. "We have to be able to save that amazing, precious public space."
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