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Artistic Lights Under 'L' Tracks Could Transform West Loop's Lake Street

By Stephanie Lulay | February 9, 2017 5:47am
 Leaders are brainstorming ways to light up the dark — and dangerous — stretch of West Lake Street in the West Loop.
Leaders are brainstorming ways to light up the dark — and dangerous — stretch of West Lake Street in the West Loop.
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DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay

WEST LOOP — In an effort to solve one of the West Loop's biggest problems, leaders are now brainstorming ways to light up the dark — and dangerous — stretch of West Lake Street in the booming neighborhood. 

Inspired by the success of the Wabash Lights project in the Loop, 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. said he is in talks with Chicago Department of Transportation officials, and West Loop developers, designers and inventors to creatively light the Lake Street corridor that runs under the dimly lit Green Line "L" tracks. 

While there are some street lamps located off Lake Street at key intersections, neighbors say the corridor is poorly lit, and some of the dim lights that run under the "L" tracks are broken.

The dark, cavelike corridor poses a danger at night, as accidents and near-collisions on a stretch of Lake Street between Halsted Street and Ashland Avenue are increasingly common. 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.

A number of new developments near Lake Street have also brought more foot traffic to the area, including Google's Midwest headquarters at 1000 W. Fulton and 29-story residential building The Parker just off Lake and Halsted streets. More developments, including a single-story retail building at Lake and Morgan11-story hotel The Hoxton at Lake and Peoria, and a 13-story residential building at Lake and Green also are planned.

Last month, Burnett met with developer Jeffrey Shapack, a founder of the Wabash Lights project, West Loop designer Levar Hoard and inventor Moshe Tamssot, True West Loop founder, in an effort to make Lake Street brighter at night. Later, he pitched the idea to CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld. 

While plans are in their infancy, Burnett said he aims to bring together the city's creative minds to illuminate the "crazy dark" street with artistic light. While the Lake Street project is inspired by the Wabash Lights project, a planned $3 million to $5 million colorful LED project that would light up the "L" tracks above Wabash Downtown, the West Loop project would be unique, Tamssot said, and could include several installations. The Wabash project is in beta testing now. 

"It will be something unique — and it will be like art on the street," Burnett said. "I think we need culture and art like this in the West Loop." 

Burnett said he plans to privately fundraise for the project instead of tapping into TIF or city money. 

"If I can get the community to pay for it — I think it's a great thing," the veteran alderman said. "We've got a lot of people in this neighborhood that want to get involved, that want to contribute something for the neighborhood." 

The project has not been designed, Burnett said. 

Michael Claffey, CDOT spokesman, said Scheinfeld thinks the plan to illuminate Lake Street with art is "an interesting idea." 

"She thought it’s an interesting idea and fits the city’s overall interest in decorative lighting to support placemaking," Claffey said. 

Scheinfeld told Burnett the project would require private funding, and plans would have to be approved by two government agencies — CTA and CDOT. Private fundraising continues for the Wabash Lights project, Claffey said. 

A rendering of the completed Wabash Lights, a project that aims to light up the L tracks above Wabash Avenue in the Loop. [The Wabash Lights]

Seth Unger, co-founder of the Wabash Lights project, said that while the group is now focused on expanding the project on Wabash, partners would be open to replicating the idea in other parts of the city. 

"We're certainly excited about the possibility of activating other areas of the city with unique and meaningful installations in the future," Unger said. 

Hoard, a West Loop interdisciplinary designer and founder of Scale Design, said that he pitched plans to improve the overall lighting in Fulton Market. Hoard now is testing a system that would project light on the Lake Street tracks, illuminating the street below. As part of the installation, the "L" train would trigger a reaction in the projection, creating a wavelike pattern. 

"It is my hope to use lighting activations, like the one I tested recently on the Lake Street elevated train structure, to bring attention to the need for improved lighting and to bring the community together to be a part of the process so that everyone is educated about what light can do," Hoard said. "Lighting is just one of those things that people have to see and then they get it." 

[Levar Hoard, Scale Design]