Neighborhood groups work on improvements for West Loop
April 8, 2017

The City recently announced the launch of the Fulton Market Streetscape Project, a modernization effort designed to accommodate outdoor markets and make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly. (Graphic courtesy of Chicago Department of Transportation)

By Eva Hofmann

Some neighborhood organizations in the West Loop are working on new initiatives to foster economic development and a safer environment for residents and visitors.

The West Central Association (WCA), along with the Metropolitan Planning Council, recently unveiled results of a study on land use and parking, which will serve as a guide for WCA’s Madison Street Initiative and other ways to promote growth in the neighborhood.

WCA is developing strategies around the study and will provide details on a comprehensive plan and vision “in a few weeks,” according to Armando Chacon, WCA president. In the meantime, other community organizations are using some of WCA’s findings to supplement their own initiatives.

For example, data from WCA’s land use and parking plan is helping Neighbors of West Loop (NoWL) with The Neighborhood Plan, a document developed with direct input from residents to help tackle issues such as development guidelines, traffic, parking, and green space.

“This is a great infusion of ideas and issues that we can incorporate into our data gathering,” said Matt Letourneau, NoWL development committee chair. “We’ve held five workshops around the West Loop on parking and development. We were going to do workshops on more topics, but when we learned of these other studies, we held off because we didn’t want to replicate their efforts.

“However, we wanted to give the residents’ perspective and incorporate that into the plan,” Letourneau continued. “The West Loop is a growing and dynamic neighborhood, and we want to make sure that residents’ voices are heard.”

According to Letourneau, NoWL will continue to collect data. “We’re compiling the plan to see how the City’s development guidelines go,” he said. “Design and development is one aspect. There’s also infrastructure, public safety, and parking. Our plan encompasses all of that.”

As of January, the Randolph/Fulton Market Association has streamlined its name and is now simply the Fulton Market Association (FMA).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced the Fulton Market Streetscape Project, a community inspired project to modernize the corridor, accommodate outdoor markets, and make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly while preserving its historic character.

In addition, FMA executive director Roger Romanelli said his group has three main initiatives underway. First is the Fulton Market Infrastructure Safety Improvement Plan, a comprehensive upgrade for Madison Street to Grand Avenue and from Halsted Street to Ashland Avenue that will improve streetlights, intersections, street parking, sidewalks, alleys, and infrastructure.

“As our community grows, we are welcoming more pedestrians and bicyclists to the area,” said Romanelli. “So we’ve put forward a plan with about 50 objectives designed to make Fulton Market safer for pedestrians, bicycles, and vehicles.”

Miles of overhead CTA tracks on Lake Street reduce visibility at intersections, resulting in crashes, said Roger Romanelli of the Fulton Market Association. (Photo courtesy John Picken, Wikimedia commons)

Romanelli said FMA’s most urgent focus is revitalizing Lake Street infrastructure between Halsted and Ashland. “Last year there were over 100 accidents in that stretch, with near misses every single day,” he said. Romanelli noted Lake Street is the only thoroughfare in Chicago with 6.5 miles of overhead Chicago Transit Authority structure, which reduces visibility at intersections and results in crashes. To make matters worse, the streetlights are out in an entire quarter-mile section of Lake Street, he said.

“We have businesses investing millions in our area,” Romanelli noted. “They pay high taxes and expect streetlights to stay on, and that’s what we’re determined to achieve this year. We’re calling on all the other community groups to join with us to make Lake Street the highest priority in the community. It’s the street most in need of urgent repair.”

The FMA is working to join all community groups together as one voice. “We’re sending letters and putting in phone calls to Alderman Walter Burnett, Mayor Emanuel, and Chicago Department of Transportation,” said Romanelli. “Pedestrians on Lake Street deserve the same safety markers as they have on Madison. The City is engaged now in installing a new water main on Lake Street between Ashland and Halsted. That should conclude in May, and we’re expecting new traffic signals, four-way stop signs, cross walks, and streetlights.”

The second initiative focuses on promoting neighborhood businesses. FMA will host a Discover Fulton Market neighborhood promotion at the end of April. “It will be free to the public, and we expect 40 local businesses will participate and offer special promotions to West Loop and Fulton Market residents and other city-wide patrons,” said Romanelli.

“Neighborhood retailers are paying significant rent and property taxes,” he added. “As a neighborhood organization, we need to give our retailers every advantage possible. With this promotion, we’re connecting residents to our restaurants and diverse retail offerings.”

Public safety is the third initiative.

“We are determined to eliminate break-ins in our neighborhood,” he stated. “Unfortunately, we are not immune to Chicago’s crime challenges, and we’re seeing a spike in car break-ins. We’re educating people not to leave items in cars, and we’re encouraging residents to keep a lookout for suspicious folks and call if they see something.”

His group also is encouraging property owners to install external cameras and lighting on their buildings. “Criminals hate lighting,” said Romanelli. “ComEd is sitting on a $50 million energy efficiency fund. Every ComEd customer is paying into this fund for energy-efficiency rebates. So we’re working with people to help them access their own money. If everyone installs lighting, we can bring criminals into the light and help police. We are all on the same team when it comes to public safety,” he said.

“Economic prosperity is key to ending crime, which is why we are also trying to generate workforce training,” Romanelli added. “Our mission overall is to generate such economic prosperity so that people won’t turn to crime.”

For more information on these neighborhood organization initiatives, contact West Central Association at www.wcachicago.org; Neighbors of West Loop at www.
neighborsofwestloop.com; and Fulton Market Association www.fultonmarketchicago.com.