Pawar Pitches Lawrence Avenue Improvements As School Boost

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Proposed streetscape conditions (not finalized) on Lawrence east of Western Ave. Photo courtesy CDOT.

Lawrence Avenue needs to be slimmed down to improve conditions for local retail and schools, according to a presentation Tuesday morning from the Chicago Department of Transporation (CDOT) and 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar. About thirty business owners and residents attended the presentation, sponsored by The Ravenswood Community Council at the Chase Park auditorium to hear the latest vision for the project.

The streetscape, first announced in 2010, has been on hold along with a host of other construction initiatives across the city while it awaits a general review of the TIF program, according to Ald. Pawar. With this week’s release of the TIF Reform Panel report, Ald. Pawar (and his counterparts in the 40th and 46th Wards, which include small portions of the project’s scope) now has clearer guidelines by which to consider the streetscape: it needs to meet metrics that include creating jobs, growing the tax base and improving schools.

To date, the streetscape has largely been viewed as a way to extend bustling economic activity from Lincoln Square to Lawrence Ave. by making Lawrence more visually appealing and pedestrian-friendly. From Clark Street to the Chicago River, the proposed Lawrence makeover will encompass the usual streetscape suspects such as enhanced lighting, wider sidewalks to make room for cafes and trees (more than 150), pedestrian refuge islands, permeable pavers and planters (intended to absorb rain water), wrought iron benches and a full bike lane. The most controversial element of the plan reduces Lawrence from four lanes to three in a so-called “road diet” between Ashland Ave. and Western, with one lane of traffic moving in either direction and a center lane to accommodate turning vehicles. (CDOT’s complete presentation is attached to the bottom of this article.)

CDOT project director Janet Attarian conceded the reduction in lanes will result in increased motorist delays, adding anywhere from three to nine minutes to travel times between Ashland and Western, with westbound evening commuters experiencing the most pain. To mitigate the impact, intersections at Ashland, Damen and Western will remain four lanes, left turn signals will be added where necessary, and traffic signals will be adjusted and coordinated.

The construction timetable remains vague, dependent on the release of TIF dollars. Attarian estimated two construction seasons for Phase 1 of the streetscape, which includes the road diet and addresses the section of Lawrence from Western to Clark, and a single construction season for Phase 2, which expands the streetscape to the river. “We always keep traffic going and we always keep pedestrian access,” Attarian stressed. Tuesday’s projected cost was $19 million, an increase over last summer’s $12 million estimate.

While a number of attendees expressed enthusiasm for the project, various naysayers also came prepared with a laundry list of complaints: lack of a protected bike line, loss of parking spaces, anticipated traffic backups and the potential for frustrated motorists to use side streets as cut-throughs. Though Attarian and Pawar were sympathetic to these concerns and plan to hold additional meetings to obtain more feedback, Pawar noted that ultimately, “We are going to move forward.”

The new alderman characterized the streetscape’s positives as outweighing any negatives. “Any change always has unintended consequences. Over time we have to get to a point where, as a city, we’re being progressive,” he said. “This is an opportunity to be innovative.”

As the meeting came to a close, Pawar began to outline a broader vision for the streetscape, where the project actually serves to improve the learning environment for local schools. Here, Pawar spoke of the project with urgency, suggesting that there is far more at stake than the occasional traffic jam; to focus on commute times and parking spaces is to take a narrow, short-term view of the streetscape’s potential impact. “What we’re also really talking about is the survival of our city,” he said. Looking around seemingly affluent North Side neighborhoods, residents would scarcely suspect that the city, “is about to fall off a cliff,” with, “multiple pain points,” expected due to revenue shortfalls.

Pawar envisioned the streetscape project as one element of a bigger picture aimed at halting the exodus of residents and their tax dollars from Chicago. ”How do we make sure we keep families in our ward? How do you grow the population?” he asked rhetorically.

According to Pawar, the “drop dead exit point” for families in the 47th Ward is when children reach seventh grade, the point at which CPS’ tiered high school system makes it apparent whether students will be accepted in the selective enrollment lottery. “If we know why people leave, we have to make every public school an option,” Pawar said. “We’re looking to enhance schools while improving Lawrence Avenue.”

To that end, Pawar directly linked the Lawrence Avenue improvements to improving Amundsen High School and Chappell and McPherson Elementaries. According to Pawar, TIF dollars should be used to organize the community around schools. ”That’s what TIF is all about, taking tax dollars and reinvesting in your community,” Pawar said. According to Pawar, beautifying Lawrence Avenue sends a signal to residents that the neighborhood is moving in a positive direction, both in terms of economics and quality of life.

Though it seems a huge leap to tie planters and bike lanes to school performance, the alderman promised to further connect the dots at the 47th Ward education initiative rollout, September 9 at Centro Chicago, 3819 N. Ashland, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Lawrence Ave Streetscape Presentation – August 29, 2011

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  • http://profiles.google.com/malloy.andy Andy Malloy

    Absolutely love our Alderman’s conviction!

    “We are going to move forward.”

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_4FCVPPF22W7QFU2XTIGX5MZMUU Spyro

    Pawar is right.  If you live in a beautiful, progressive neighborhood that is ever involving, you will not want to leave.  When kids walk to school and look at the environment that surrounds them, it should be inspiring.  This is there little world, all they know and as such it should not be a place of liter, rusting street signs, neglected storefronts etc.

    Lawerense connects some great Chicago neighborhoods   (Korean Town, LS, Andersonville, Uptown) and provides access to the lake and LSD.   We need to have civil pride and return to the city.  The more attractive the city the less attractive moving to the subs will be.  Let us keep the tax money here.  Let us increase the population and gain more tax dollars for our schools, police etc.  A compact city is proven to be better than sprawl.  Everything is connected so again, Pawar is right.

  • Anonymous

    “Pawar envisioned the streetscape project as one element of a bigger picture aimed at halting the exodus of residents and their tax dollars from Chicago. ”How do we make sure we keep families in our ward? How do you grow the population?” he asked rhetorically.”
    Great project – great idea – but lets make sure we understand that to “grow the population” does not necessarily mean growing the tax base.  In fact – as neighboring communities demonstrate – sometimes it will have the opposite effect and just add more in lines for the ‘dole out’.  We need smart communities – not necessarily population growth.

  • rosemary.pieri

    I was not at the meeting held on a Tuesday durning the middle of  a work day. If Pawar is looking for real discussion of the issues, I suggest he consider holding meetings when they are announced in advance ( not a few notices on a few store fronts) and held at a time when residents can participate.
    Pawar was not elected to rubber stamp projects that were implemented by the former Alderman. ( If we were looking for same old, same old, we would have elected Shulter’s candidate.)
    The topic build-outs on Lawrence Ave to improve commerce along this area. Progress? The small businesses along Lawrence are buried under City taxes and limitations to the parking since higher parking have been imposed. Build-outs will further restrict parking and not solve the problems of small businesses.
    Improving schools is a very important issue. How are build-outs on Lawrence going to improve schools? Residents with children who have left the area have done so because the school system (particularly High school) is not providing an adequate grounding for these children. The parents have elected to secure better education outside the Chicago Public School system. Why not encourage charter schools to open in our community.
    Build-outs for beautification of the area to encourage business. Why not use the funds to provide additional parking areas ( not take parking away with build outs) Improve the bicycle areas to encourage additional use of cyclists to use the area. Build outs was the former Alderman’s solution. Let’s think about spending this money wizely and not just planting a few more flowers and restricting travel times.

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