WEST TOWN — Making Chicago's namesake street more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists and overhauling the Chicago and Ashland avenues intersection are among the suggestions floated in a taxpayer-funded "Master Plan" for West Town.
Commissioned by the West Town Chamber of Commerce and the West Town Special Service Area taxpayer district No. 29, the 179-page "We are West Town" Master Plan was released last Friday night at a launch party attended by about 100 people at mHub, 965 W. Chicago Ave.
“The people of West Town voiced their opinions on how to shape the community,” Kara Salgado, executive director of the West Town Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release. “We’ve distilled the findings into Five Big Ideas that we think will translate to a brighter future.”
About a year in the making, the master plan process started last summer and included a series of public input meetings and three surveys taken by 1,046 respondents, according to the report.
Two interns from the University of Illinois Chicago, College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs were hired as a consultant team for the planning project. Another firm, PLACE Consulting, assisted with a portion of the report that examined West Town's small business climate.
Kace Wakem, a spokeswoman for the taxpayer district — which collects taxpayer dollars from commercial streets and spends it on neighborhood beautification, community grants, advertising to promote the area and other endeavors — told DNAinfo that the group spent $32,000 for the plan.
The plan is intended to strengthen the West Town business district over the next five years.
View the plan on its website, or scroll to the bottom of this story.
The suggestions are not set-in-stone projects, but rather intended to serve as a guideline for the group as it seeks to improve West Town in the future, Wakem said.
The report's "Big Idea 1" is "Let's make Chicago Avenue more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly."
That idea suggests putting Chicago Avenue on a "road diet" that would remove a lane of car traffic on each side of the street, add east and west bike lanes and install a center turn lane.
Wakem said the road diet recommendation would be subject to feedback during upcoming outreach related to CDOT's "Complete Streets" initiative.
Wakem said the suggestion to reduce car lanes and add bike lanes stemmed from public outreach during the early Master Plan meetings last summer, plus a Complete Streets Chicago Avenue survey taken by 242 respondents, over half of whom were four times more likely to commute to work on Chicago Avenue by bike.
The specific location on Chicago Avenue of where the lane conversion would start and end would come from "further [to-be-planned] community meetings on the topic and discussions with CDOT on feasibility," Wakem said. The taxpayer district Chicago Avenue boundaries are Western to the west and Halsted to the east.
The report also finds that the Ashland and Chicago avenues intersection needs an overhaul.
Planners suggest widening the sidewalks for pedestrians and adding curb "bump outs" for areas where pedestrians cluster en masse.
The report's second "Big Idea" wants to make West Town leader in sustainability by combating flooding problems with native plant gardens.
Big Ideas 3 through 5 are "Let's Celebrate Our Character and Diversity," "Let's Cultivate Our Local Businesses" and "Let’s Make West Town a Hub for Art and the Creative Economy."
The district's taxpayers are located on Chicago Avenue between Western Avenue and Halsted Street; Milwaukee Avenue between Division and Erie; Ashland Avenue between Chicago and Division; Damen between Chicago and Huron; and Ogden Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway to just west of the Chicago River. The recently remapped West Town district has a 2017 budget of $688,424, according to Wakem.
View the 5-year Master Plan, below: