Streetscape improvements, new el station underway in West Loop area
March 30, 2019

WEST LOOP IMPROVEMENTS—Fulton Market is undergoing infrastructure upgrades for a new streetscape. The CTA is adding a new Green Line el station as well. See article on page 10.

By Igor Studenkov

Two major infrastructure and transportation projects are poised to affect the West Loop significantly.

The Fulton Market Streetscape Improvement project will renovate the portion of Fulton Street running through the community to make it more friendly to pedestrians and cars. The Damen/Lake Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Green Line el station will add a station to a long stretch of track between the Ashland/Lake and California/Lake stations, providing elevated train service to the United Center and burgeoning new development around what used to be the Henry Horner Homes public housing development.

First phase completed

Workers completed the first phase of Fulton Market streetscape improvements last November, with the second phase scheduled to conclude by the end of 2019. Meanwhile, workers already have started preliminary work on the Damen/Lake station, with construction expected finish next year.

Fulton Street is a major thoroughfare that gave Fulton Market District its name. The neighborhood traditionally has been home to wholesalers, meatpackers, and other food processing businesses, and City planners designed much of the streetscape to accommodate trucks, without much thought about the needs of regular car traffic and pedestrians.

The Fulton Market Streetscape project aims to change that by improving the section of Fulton Street between Halsted Street and Ogden Avenue. The first phase renovated the stretch between Halsted and Carpenter Streets, and Phase II will upgrade the Carpenter-Ogden segment. According to the City, together, the two phases will cost $20.3 million.

The project has been in the works for five years. The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Chicago Department of Planning and Development worked with several area stakeholders, including the West Loop Community Organization (WLCO), on the plan. The City also held several public meetings to give local residents and businesses an opportunity to give input on both phases.

Phase I construction kicked off in 2017 and officially reached completion on Nov. 27, 2018. The City widened sidewalks, added painted crosswalks on all sides of every intersection, and installed cobblestone pavement in the intersections themselves. Workers also more defined parking spaces for cars and trucks more clearly, added planters with benches on the sidewalks near the intersection east of Morgan Street, and made intersections accessible to people with disabilities.

The Chicago Transit Authority is adding a new Green Line el station at Damen Avenue and Lake Street in the West Loop community.

Looking at specific sections, on the portion between Green and Peoria Streets, the plan calls for ten bike racks on both sides of the street. The project put in new seats and “leaners”—seat-like structures half an average person’s size—on both sides of the section between Morgan and Sangamon streets.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), whose ward includes all of the Fulton Market District, said, “The Fulton Market Streetscape Project is already providing a safer environment for pedestrians and creating a more vibrant neighborhood. The success of the plan was evident this summer during the Fulton Market Expo held in the corridor.”

In her remarks during the ceremony marking the end of Phase I, WLCO Executive Director Carla Agostinelli reflected that, while it was important to honor Fulton Market’s history, so was meeting the needs of residents and businesses here today.

CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld touted the community-centric approach of the streetscape design.

“The Fulton Market StreetscapeProject is a great demonstration of CDOT’s commitment to designing streetscapes that build on a neighborhood’s unique features,” she said. “Every streetscape project requires a fresh approach. We were very pleased to be able to work with community stakeholders to come up with a flexible design that accommodates the evolving land uses and preserves Fulton Market’s historic feel while harnessing the creative energy that has blossomed in the neighborhood in recent years.”

Phase II improvements will follow a similar design, with painted crosswalks and planters with benches near the intersections. Workers will widen the south sidewalk from 16 to 22 inches; maintain raised sidewalks on the north side but add ramps to improve accessibility, and install new light poles with energy efficient lights at several segments. CDOT will add a traffic signal at Ogden Avenue and put in a Divvy bike sharing station at the northwest corner of the intersection of May and Fulton Streets.

According to the City, Phase II will conclude by the end of this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Alderman Walter Burnett (27th Ward) and West Loop stakeholders to cut the ribbon on the Fulton Market streetscape.

Damen/Lake el station

Like the Morgan/Lake Street Green Line CTA el station before it, the Damen/Lake stop is not, strictly speaking, brand new. Workers erected the original station in 1893 in the standard Queen Anne style that only one of the original stations, Ashland/Lake, still retains.

Like the original Morgan/Lake station, the original Damen/Lake station closed in 1948 as part of the CTA’s plan to speed up service along line. Workers demolished the station in 1949. In 2002, CDOT conducted a study on returning some of the “infill” stations on the portions of the Green Line where the distance between stations was longer than average and identified Morgan/Lake, McCormick Place at Cermak Road, and Damen/Lake as potential spots for stations.

The first two went up and re-opened in 2012 and 2015, respectively. On Feb. 9, 2017, the City and CTA announced they would build the Damen/Lake station.

At the time, officials billed the station as a way to provide a better connection to the United Center, located only a few blocks south, and capitalize on growing development around former Henry Horner Homes public housing development, which officials redeveloped into the West Haven mixed-income housing.

Chicago-based architectural firm Perkins+Will came up with a design that echoes aspects of the Morgan/Lake station and the Cicero/Lake station further west. Like the former, it features glass extensively to create a sense of transparency, and an overhead bridge allows easy movement between platforms. Unlike the overhead bridge at Morgan/Lake and many other Green Line stations, this one will jut south, past the inbound platform, to provide a spot where passengers can look at the neighborhood below.

Like Cicero/Lake, it will feature a large stationhouse—in this case, on the southwest corner of the Lake/Damen intersection—with plenty of space for riders to wait for United Center bound Route 50 Damen Avenue CTA buses. The high-capacity stairs and escalators would be similar to those at the Addison Red Line el station near Wrigley Field for the same crowd-related reasons.

While the Morgan/Lake station has fare gates on both sides of the station, Damen/Lake is more akin to the Cicero/Lake station in that it has several exits—in this case, at each end of both platforms—but the stationhouse will provide the only entrance. Riders wishing to get on Oak Park-bound trains must use the overhead bridge to cross over.

The reason came down to accessibility requirements. If the CTA installed an entrance on the outbound platform, it would need to make it accessible, requiring an additional CTA station attendant and increasing staffing costs for the station.

Perkins+Will stated the station’s glass and transparent surfaces create “a station that is safe, where patrons have clear sight lines within the station and to and from the street, supporting its use at all hours of the day and night.”

Douglas Smith, the company’s managing principal, said Perkins+Will is tapping its global experience in designing modern stations.

“The Green Line station will draw on the lessons we have learned in designing transit projects from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Chongqing City, China, but will reflect the specific needs of CTA passengers in Chicago and the West Side community,” he stated.

The CTA and CDOT broke ground on April 25, 2018. Since then, the two transit agencies have been relocating el track support columns at the Damen/Lake intersection and making streetscape improvements to lay groundwork for the new station.

The CTA expects the station to open sometime in 2020.

For Burnett, log on to aldermanburnett.com. For CDOT, log on to www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/cdot.html. The CTA website is www.transitchicago.com. The Perkins+Will website is https://perkinswill.com. For WLCO, log on to https://westloop.org/.