WEST LOOP — Construction crews are ripping out the concrete planters on Madison Street that were installed 23 years ago as part of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s move to spruce up the West Loop and Near West Side.
On Wednesday, one day before Thanksgiving, construction workers were working to remove several of the planters that divide east and west traffic on the street on West Madison Street in the West Loop. The planters were installed in 1996 as the city worked to beautify the gritty Near West Side ahead of the 1996 Democratic National Convention, and two years after the United Center opened, according to DNAinfo.
Neighbors spotted planters being removed at Madison & Laflin Tuesday, too, according to posts on neighborhood Facebook page True West Loop.
On Friday, Michael Claffey, a spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Transportation, said Burnett called for the planters to be removed. The $400,000 removal project, paid for with city funds for median maintenance, is expected to be completed in a few weeks, Claffey said.
“In recent years, Chicago Department of Transportation had received numerous complaints that the planters blocked traffic and created congestion, particularly during events at the United Center, he said.
Two year ago, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said he was considering removing the planters on Madison between between Halsted and Ogden in an effort to alleviate brutal traffic in the booming area, especially during rush hour and before and after United Center games. At the time, Burnett said they had served their purpose and had become a hindrance.
“It holds up traffic. You just can’t go around them,” Burnett said at the time.
The removal surprised Armando Chacon, president of the West Central Association, who said the group was not informed the planters would be removed this week. Chacon, a Realtor, also has an office on Madison.
There have been no recent conversations about removing the planters, he said.
The West Central Association advocated for the planters’ removal because they were not properly maintained. Some were “falling apart” and the plants in the planters were not “up to par” with what they would like to see in the neighborhood, Chacon said.
Large trucks that traveled the thoroughfare also kept getting stuck while trying to turn from the street, and would strike the planters, damaging them, Chacon said.
But the chamber ultimately abandoned its support to remove the planters because several business owners wanted to keep them around, Chacon said.
“Our advocacy to remove them stopped and there hasn’t been more discussions since then,” Chacon said. “Frankly, I’m surprised to see them removed without any notification.”
Although he was caught off guard, Chacon said removing the planters will help alleviate traffic and will make the area safer for pedestrians. Without the medians, fewer blind spots for drivers exist on the stretch.
Burnett and the Chicago Department of Transportation could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.
The concrete median planters were installed on the Near West Side in 1996, just ahead of the Democratic National Convention, and two years after the United Center opened.
The 23 concrete medians were installed as part of a $12 million project to resurface and beautify Madison Street from Halsted to Western, with new trees and ornamental lights.
As the city repaved streets, fixed up parks, and installed the medians, city leaders defended the Near West Side improvements as more than just the city “spiffing up” the neighborhood to give convention delegates, visiting reporters and other national leaders “the best possible impression,” according to a 1996 Sun-Times article.
“These are long-term improvements that will beautify the city for years to come,” a Transportation Department spokesman said at the time.
Earnest Gates, president of the Central West Community Organization at the time and now executive director of the Near West Side Community Development Corporation, said 70 percent to 85 percent of the improvements had been in the works for years.
The 1996 improvements were made one year after Burnett began serving his first term as 27th Ward alderman in 1995.
Chacon, who was a UIC student at the time, said late Little Italy leader Oscar D’Angelo was a big proponent of the planters being installed.
“He said, ‘It shows the world that we’re civilized,'” Chacon said in 2017.
In 2017, 14 concrete median planters of varying lengths still lined the street on Madison from Halsted to Western.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.