WEST LOOP — The concrete planters that were installed 20 years ago as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley's move to spruce up the West Loop and Near West Side could be removed, a veteran alderman said.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) is considering a proposal to remove the concrete median planters on West Madison Street between Halsted and Ogden. The planters, that divide east and west traffic on the street, were installed 20 years ago as the city worked to beautify the gritty Near West Side ahead of the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
"I would like to take them out. They've served their purpose," Burnett told DNAInfo this week.
The veteran Alderman's proposal comes as city leaders are looking for ways to alleviate traffic in the booming West Loop. Removing the wide concrete planters would allow for turning lanes at some intersections on the street, clearing up traffic during peak hours.
During rush hour and before and after United Center games, traffic on the stretch can be brutal, Burnett said. If a city bus stops or a semi makes a delivery on the street, other cars are forced to wait, as traffic is confined to one lane in each direction.
"It holds up traffic. You just can't go around them," Burnett said.
Armando Chacon, president of the West Central Association and a Realtor whose office is on Madison, said cars heading westbound out of the Loop after the workday also create a buzz of traffic on the street.
"Most of the traffic is not created by our residents, but by people getting out of the Loop and activities at the United Center," Chacon said.
The concrete median planters on West Madison Street were installed 20 years ago as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley's move to spruce up the Near West Side. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
While Burnett is on board to tear the planters out, he said he will work with West Loop groups to and the Chicago Department of Transportation to determine it is the best course of action.
Chacon said Madison Street businesses are split on whether to keep the planters or remove them. Instead of removing all 14 existing median planters, Chacon said he would like the alderman to consider removing them at key intersections — like near the busy valet stand in front of Monteverde — and repairing the others.
"We have had calls into the office and emails in support of keeping them," said Chacon, who is leading an initiative to revamp Madison.
At a recent meeting of Madison business owners, Pure Barre West Loop owner Susan Rothman expressed concern that removing the planters could increase the speed of traffic on Madison, making the street less pedestrian friendly.
Chacon said the committee is meeting with the city's Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation to explore ways to make the street more pedestrian friendly, including adding better lit and boldly marked crosswalks at key intersections.
If the planters are removed, Madison Street businesses could work to install new planters on the sidewalks to replace the greenery, Chacon said.
Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, said the group has not issued a formal recommendation on whether to keep or remove the planters. The West Central Association has not issued a formal recommendation either, Chacon said.
City officials have discussed the plans with Burnett, and are working with him to explore the idea, said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the transportation department.
"At this point we will work with the alderman to explore the idea and determine the scope of work that would be involved and to identify funding," Claffey said.
The concrete median planters were installed on the Near West Side in 1996, just ahead of the Democratic National Convention, and two years after the United Center opened.
The 23 concrete medians were installed as part of a $12 million project to resurface and beautify Madison Street from Halsted to Western, with new trees and ornamental lights.
As the city repaved streets, fixed up parks, and installed the medians, city leaders defended the Near West Side improvements as more than just the city "spiffing up" the neighborhood to give convention delegates, visiting reporters and other national leaders "the best possible impression," according to a 1996 Sun-Times article.
"These are long-term improvements that will beautify the city for years to come," a Transportation Department spokesman said at the time.
Earnest Gates, president of the Central West Community Organization at the time and now executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corporation, said 70 percent to 85 percent of the improvements had been in the works for years.
The 1996 improvements were made one year after Burnett began serving his first term as 27th Ward alderman in 1995.
Chacon, who was a UIC student at the time, said late Little Italy leader Oscar D'Angelo was a big proponent of the planters being installed.
"He said, 'It shows the world that we're civilized,'" Chacon said.
Today, 14 concrete median planters of varying lengths line the street on Madison from Halsted to Western. Chacon said he can remember at least one or two of the median planters removed in recent years.
Median planters are a fixture on West Madison Street between Halsted and Ogden in the West Loop. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]