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Neighbors Outraged After Block Converted To 2-Way Street — With No Notice

By Mina Bloom | May 17, 2017 5:44am
 Residents in the 2600 and 2700 blocks of North St. Louis Avenue are outraged after their blocks were converted to a two-way street without any notice.
Residents in the 2600 and 2700 blocks of North St. Louis Avenue are outraged after their blocks were converted to a two-way street without any notice.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

LOGAN SQUARE — A couple of weeks ago, residents in the 2600 and 2700 blocks of North St. Louis Avenue woke up to a surprise: City crews had erected a sign declaring their street a two-way after more than four decades of only allowing one-way traffic — and it was the first time many residents were hearing of the change.

"It was kind of like Snowpocalypse," said 45-year-old Chad Duda, who has lived on the street for 15 years. "Everyone was wandering out of their homes and wondering what happened."

To neighbors like Duda, the abrupt conversion was disturbing for two reasons: It didn't properly address traffic issues on the street, and, perhaps more importantly, it came without any notice.

"This is the alderman that has prided himself on transparency and community involvement, but in this scenario, 99.9 percent of the people [on the street] had no clue this was happening," Duda said, referring to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), whose ward includes the stretch between Wrightwood and Diversey avenues. "I just think it's very odd and bizarre."

Neighbors have long said too many drivers speed down the narrow 30-foot-wide street, creating an unsafe environment for the many families on the block. One longtime resident's young son died in a traffic accident on the street back in the 1980s, according to neighbors.

From 2012-2014, there were six crashes on St. Louis, all of which either involved a parked car or fixed object, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

Citing safety concerns, Duda and dozens of his neighbors have signed two petitions, one demanding that the city convert the street back to a one-way and another insisting the city add speed bumps instead — options they said Ramirez-Rosa ignored.

But Ramirez-Rosa contends he was merely following the recommendation of the Chicago Department of Transportation, which wrote in a 2016 traffic study that converting St. Louis to a two-way was the most effective solution. The agency said the conversion would improve pedestrian safety and increase the response time for emergency vehicles.

The city "believes that the benefits outweigh the detriments and recommends that St. Louis Avenue between Wrightwood Avenue and Diversey Avenue be converted to a two-way street," the study reads.

As for the lack of communication, Ramirez-Rosa was apologetic, saying residents "absolutely" should've been notified ahead of time. But the alderman ultimately blamed the transportation department's sign division for failing to notify his office before the sign was erected — terms they agreed upon at an April meeting.

"I am deeply sorry for the manner in which this was rolled out," Ramirez-Rosa said. "I was hoping the sign division would inform me prior to their execution. Unfortunately, this did not happen. This is both a learning lesson for me and the sign division."

The alderman said he's been meeting with neighbors to discuss solutions to traffic concerns on the street since 2015. In that time, he said many neighbors have spoken in favor of the change.

"I heard from just as many people who are supportive of the change than those who are opposed. Those who are oppose are much more vocal," he said.

But neighbors like Anne Meyer fear more cars will use St. Louis as a shortcut to get to Diversey. Adding more speed bumps, she said, would've been the appropriate solution to cut down on speeding — not reconfiguring how the entire street works.

Since the change was implemented, Meyers, 36, said drivers are unsure what to do, as cars on both sides of the street are still parked facing one direction.

"There's a lot of confusion," she said. "I wish [Ramirez-Rosa] would've contacted us beforehand and worked it out with the residents of the block that are affected."

That opinion was shared by Nancy Barraza, who has lived on the street since 1977.

"I think it was very unfair and inconsiderate of our alderman to make this decision without notifying the people that elected him into office," Barraza wrote in an email.

While several residents interviewed by DNAinfo said they haven't noticed increased traffic since the change was implemented, many of them said they expect it'll happen soon.

"As soon as Waze and Googlemaps figure out that we're a two-way street, they're going to map traffic away from [big streets] and to us," said Joe Swanson, 35, who has lived on the street since 2013.

"As soon as that happens, it's going to be a busy street instead of the residential street we all thought we were getting when we purchased our homes."

Despite the petitions, Ramirez-Rosa isn't planning to convert the street back anytime soon.

"I think change is scary, but let's give it time to make sure it's rolled out properly and people get used to it," the alderman said. "If we've given it several months to a year and we see that it has not had the impact the data said it will have, then let's revisit the issue. I'm absolutely open to making another change."