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Overcrowded Lake Street Is Increasingly Dangerous, West Loop Residents Say

By Stephanie Lulay | August 4, 2016 5:46am
 Following two recent accidents, a West Loop group is calling on local politicians to make overcrowded Lake Street in the booming neighborhood safer. 
Following two recent accidents, a West Loop group is calling on local politicians to make overcrowded Lake Street in the booming neighborhood safer. 
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

WEST LOOP — Following two recent accidents, West Loop residents and businesses are calling on the city to make changes to overcrowded Lake Street that would make the street safer. 

With an increase in traffic in the booming neighborhood, the stretch of Lake Street between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue has become a dangerous thoroughfare where accidents and near-misses are increasingly common, residents say.

Stephanie Lulay talks about Lake Street intersection dangers

The street is particularly difficult to navigate as cars, bikes and pedestrians dart in and out of the line of metal columns supporting the "L" tracks above.

Brian Lang, a Fulton Market resident, works at the intersection of Lake and Aberdeen and sees accidents often. 

"Lake Street needs immediate government action to stop dangerous accidents and fix street conditions,” he said. 

Pedestrians crossing Lake Street have been hit by cars twice this summer, Lake Street business owners report. 

In May, Melissa Otte, whose family has operated wholesale food distributor Maloney, Cunningham & DeVic in Fulton Market since the 1940s, was hit by a car while crossing Lake Street at Morgan. 

As Otte went to cross the street, a car stopped at the stop sign on Morgan unexpectedly turned left, knocking her to the ground. 

"Luckily, I wasn't [seriously] hurt, but I really do think the city needs to do something to address the traffic at that corner," Otte said. "Visibility is limited and improving the street is in everybody's best interest." 

On June 23, a pedestrian at crossing at the intersection at Lake and Elizabeth streets was struck by a fast-moving vehicle and thrown across Lake Street, reported Louis Manis of Peoria Packing. The pedestrian had serious injuries but was recovering, a law enforcement source confirmed. 

The Randolph/Fulton Market Association is calling on the city to fix parts of Lake Street between Halsted and Kedzie they say have contributed to accidents on the street. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

Lake and Morgan signal coming?

A major thoroughfare in the neighborhood, Lake Street has long been known as a buzzing corridor that housed truck traffic from the Fulton Market's meatpackers. 

Since the late 1800s, Lake Street has also been the only Chicago street with 6½ miles of continuous CTA elevated tracks overhead, said Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph/Fulton Market Association, a city delegate agency. 

The street also gets loads of traffic going to and from the United Center and the Kennedy Expressway.

But when the Morgan ''L'' station was rebuilt, opening in May 2012, and as residential and commercial development in the neighborhood boomed, the changes brought even more cars, pedestrians and cyclists to the street.

Previously, Chicago Department of Transportation officials pledged to install a four-way traffic signal at Lake and Morgan by 2012, Romanelli said. That never happened, and the Randolph/Fulton Market Association is now pushing the city to install the traffic signal as soon as possible. 

In addition, the Randolph/Fulton Market Association is calling on the city to make other major changes along the corridor, including: 

• installing more four-way stop signs and crosswalks at key intersections, specifically at Lake and Elizabeth. The Lake and Elizabeth intersection does not have pedestrian crosswalks, a four-way stop sign or a "Cross Traffic Does Not Stop" warning sign. 

• installing "Traffic Does Not Stop" warning signs at intersections without four-way traffic signals

• repairing broken lights underneath the "L" train structure

"Accidents on Lake Street can be avoided," Romanelli said.

The street is only going to get more busy, local leaders say.

In the last year, a number of developments near Lake Street brought more foot traffic to the area, including Google's Midwest headquarters at 1000 W. Fulton, 29-story residential building The Parker just off Lake and Halsted streets and hot spot restaurant Federales at Lake and Morgan.

More developments, including a single-story retail building at Lake and Morgan, 11-story hotel The Hoxton at Lake and Peoria, and 13-story residential building at Lake and Green are also planned.

Jeffrey Shapack, who is developing the retail building, hotel and developed The Parker, said the hotel plans to add 200 feet of lighting along Lake Street to make the street safer.

Mike Claffey, CDOT spokesman, said a four-way signal at Lake and Morgan is in the works, but the project is not expected to be completed this year. But Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he will push for the signal to be installed before 2017.

In the meantime, CDOT is working with West Loop groups on a Fulton Market Curbside Use Study. 

"We expect this study will be finalized later this summer at which time we will have more to say about plans for the neighborhood," Claffey said. 

CDOT plans to to reconstruct Lake from Ashland to Damen in spring 2017, a project that could be completed in 2018. A second segment, from Halsted to Ashland, is expected to be reconstructed in late 2019 if funding can be identified, Claffey said. 

Lake Street is not only a hazard, its configuration and deteriorated infrastructure also present challenges for current business owners and new investors, Romanelli said. Lake Street improvements can be funded by a mix of federal, state, city and tax increment financing dollars, which would come from the cash-rich Kinzie Industrial Corridor TIF district, which had a $70 million balance as of 2014.

Andy Bizub, who owns Midwest Performance Cars at Lake and Ogden, agreed. 

"Our company needs improvements for the safety of our customers and staff," Bizub said. "Strategic public investments will spur economic growth, businesses and jobs.”

A Divvy station sits near Federales at Lake and Morgan. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]

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