Gimme shelter: pedestrian improvements to Congress Parkway


New crosswalk with pedestrian refuge island at Congress and Dearborn.

[This piece also appeared in Checkerboard City, John’s weekly transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets in print on Wednesday evenings.]

Folks who walked to the Printers Row Lit Fest last weekend were a little less likely be killed by cars than in previous years. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently wrapping up the $18 million Congress Parkway Reconstruction Project, from Wells Street to Michigan Avenue. The rehab has already brought a slew of pedestrian safety improvements, including new pedestrian refuge islands, making it safer, easier and more pleasant to walk across and along the massive street that forms the southern boundary of the Loop.

Construction on Congress began in October 2010 and the road reopened to traffic on May 15, just in time for the NATO summit. CDOT expects the final tasks, including finishing planter medians and installing decorative trellises and lighting, will be done by June 30.

Congress has long been an iconic Chicago street, but it has also been a major barrier to foot traffic. Originally called Tyler Street after tenth U.S. President John Tyler, the name was changed to honor the U.S. Congress after Tyler became unpopular because he joined the Confederacy during the Civil War. The road originates as a freeway at the Circle Interchange, the junction of the Dan Ryan, Eisenhower and Kennedy Expressways, and then continues east to become an eight-lane surface road at Wells Street, dumping high-speed traffic into the street grid.

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