On September 1st, 2011, at the St. Sylvester fieldhouse across from Palmer Square Park, residents of the 35th Ward, encompassing Logan Square, gathered to hear an introduction to the 35th Ward Student Active Transportation Plan. The 35th Ward office has hired Sam Schwartz Engineering (SSE) to conduct public meetings, gather residents’ input, and craft a plan to make biking and walking easier and safer around schools and parks in the ward.
35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón talked about how the idea for this plan grew out of building new crosswalks and installing a leading pedestrian interval (now featured at many crosswalks in Chicago) at the Murphy Elementary School (3539 W Grace Street) using a grant from the Safe Kids Coalition (where Children’s Memorial Hospital is the lead agency). Alderman Colón wanted to do something like this at all schools instead of just one – Active Transportation Alliance (ActiveTrans) will be working with the ward office and SSE on this project (three ActiveTrans staff were in attendance to help manage the activities). The Alderman then remarked about the lack of students walking to school:
Drive-by parents push kids out while the car’s still moving. Let’s get back to walking to school.
The meeting was more than an introduction, though. After hearing about the plan’s inception, attendees watched a slideshow of physical street elements that could be built to make biking and walking easier and safer. Dan Miodonski of SSE featured bike sharing, pedestrian refuge islands, buffered bike lanes, colored pavement and paver designs, and other features that improve the environment for foot-powered transportation modes.
I mostly appreciated how the meeting began: Mark de la Vergne, also of SSE, and Dan stated that there was no plan yet: “We came up with no ideas.” There was no schedule for implementation. The purpose of the meeting was to determine what community members want for the neighborhood; the consultants were here to listen. And I think they did that well.
Residents give their opinions on buffered bike lanes as a potential feature for the 35th Ward.
After the slideshow showing the “universe of potential improvements,” as Dan put it, attendees went outside (the gymnasium was sweltering) for two activities. On the first table were large, color photos showing the building blocks of a safe street. Attendees were asked to write their thoughts and reactions to these on small slips of sticky paper. I wrote on a photo of a standard bike lane that Chicago should cease installing regular bike lanes and only install protected and buffered bike lanes from now on; Chicago has over 100 miles of “door zone” lanes.
Community members wrote their thoughts about transportation hurdles in the 35th Ward directly onto a map.
On the second table were maps of the 35th Ward. Residents wrote directly on the paper what they liked and didn’t like about the local streets. There were complaints about bicycling on the streets that pass under the Kennedy (I-90) expressway, and about crossing local streets, or that it’s typical that drivers don’t stop at certain intersections.
I will update this article as I learn what the next steps are for this plan and how the partners (Sam Schwartz Engineering, Active Transportation Alliance, 35th Ward office, and Children’s Memorial Hospital) will proceed after this public meeting.
A map of the 35th Ward. Learn how to create a similar map for your own website.