ANDERSONVILLE — Neighbors are asked to contribute ideas for new ideas for the planned public square Catalpa Avenue, including the possibility of closing it permanently to car traffic.
City officials are moving forward with plans to convert Catalpa Avenue between Clark Street and Ashland Avenue into a pedestrian plaza with seating, shade, and decorative features.
Three different design concepts for the reconfigured street were unveiled at a community meeting held Thursday by Alds. Andre Vasquez (40th) and Harry Osterman (48th). They and city transport officials are looking for input on the concepts, with neighbors also being asked to think about a possible new project component: a car-free Catalpa Avenue.
“There’s going to be a square here,” Osterman said. “The question is, what will it look like and how will it benefit the community?”
Plans for the public square of Catalpa were announced in early 2020 with a preliminary idea to keep one lane open for traffic heading west and convert parking and other priority areas into a pedestrian zone.
Catalpa Avenue is often closed to traffic due to special events, including the Andersonville Farmers Market, which is held weekly during the summer.
City officials have now created a concept for the square that would remove the lane for car traffic and turn the street into a true pedestrian zone.
This would increase pedestrian space in the plaza and bring more design elements into play, said Ellen Schmidt, project manager at Site Design Group, a Chicago Department of Transportation contractor.
Without a lane for vehicular traffic, the pedestrian plaza would be 67 feet wide instead of about 38 feet wide, Schmidt said.
“It gives us a lot more flexibility,” she says.
The city’s transportation agency conducted a traffic study in Andersonville when Catalpa Avenue was closed for an event and nearby schools were busy. The investigation found that other east-west streets in the area could accommodate the loss of access to Catalpa, should the street be closed to the plaza, Vasquez and Osterman said.
A streetlight would be added at Berwyn and Ashland Avenues to help deal with traffic being diverted from Catalpa Avenue, officials said. A counter-current bike path planned for Berwyn Avenue will help with bicycle traffic, they said.
The new plaza options come after the city expanded its efforts to close or restrict car access to some streets during the pandemic as a way to provide neighbors with more outdoor space.
An example of this is the Ainslie Plaza in Lincoln Square, which transformed a street into a light pedestrian zone. A driver last week damaged the square when they jumped over the curb.
That incident, plus the recent deaths of pedestrians and cyclists killed by motorists, makes it important to adequately segregate pedestrians and cars, Vasquez said as he expressed his support for complete closure of Catalpa Avenue.
“That’s my main thought when I think of what this space should be,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to bring people together…and a great way to increase the energy Andersonville has.”
Dozens of neighbors joined the meeting on Thursday over the proposal with mixed feelings about closing Catalpa Avenue.
Some neighbors said maintaining traffic is a mobility issue for the seniors in the area and it will increase the number of drivers having to drive through the adjacent Jewel and Walgreens parking lots, adding to an existing safety risk.
Others said public plazas and cars don’t mix and that a pedestrianized plaza would be better for Andersonville’s vitality.
“Have you ever been to… a square and wished more cars passed through?” said a neighbor.
Other features planned for the public plaza include neighborhood signs, landscaping, lighting, paving and art.
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