NORTH LAWNDALE — What would it take for the heart of North Lawndale to be as accessible and pedestrian-friendly as the Loop?
Since July, a group of West Side neighbors have been working to figure out how the neighborhood could become more welcoming — and more safe — to foot traffic. According to the recently completed study, upgrading the area’s pedestrian infrastructure, adding features that would draw attention to crosswalks and planting more greenery along walking routes could help make Lawndale more walkable.
The WALK-H walkability assessment was led by School of the Art Institute of Chicago professor Odile Compagnon, who collected data on the pedestrian infrastructure in the area as well as community input via in-person and online surveys with help from neighborhood youth.
The project comes on the heels of the $6 million West Side Vision Zero Traffic Safety Plan that the city launched in September aiming to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2022. The city initiative was developed with input from the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s transportation committee to target the city’s most dangerous roadways for pedestrians, many of which are located on the West Side.
The intergenerational group of researchers analyzed the condition of streets, sidewalks, bump-outs, crosswalks, road signs and traffic lights within a half mile radius of the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station, including 22 intersections, using the Neighborhood Walkability & Accessibility Assessment Tool provided by the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children. The team also collected over 130 surveys and interviews from CTA riders and pedestrians about their barriers to walkability in the neighborhood.
The assessment showed that at many crosswalks, cars frequently rush past stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians, while 80 percent of traffic lights didn’t have a pedestrian countdown timer at all.
Along Kedzie Avenue, all intersections were identified as problem areas with poor street paving, crumbling sidewalks, treacherous crosswalks and dark, dimly lit streets and underpasses. Likewise, the Homan and Harrison intersection lacks a painted crosswalk and has a poorly marked bump-out that cars frequently cut across while turning, according to the study.
Many of the people youth researcher Tyrese interviewed said they felt unsafe walking because they are unfamiliar with their surroundings and the walking routes in the neighborhood. People also choose not to walk because of the area’s sidewalks and abandoned buildings. Tyrese also said there was a trend among people they interviewed that the streetscape lacked a unified aesthetic and a consistent neighborhood identity that would make people more likely to spend time walking outside.
Combining the results of the physical assessments and the community input surveys, the researchers identified several recommendations for solutions to walkability in the sample area in the Homan Square community that could potentially be implemented across the rest of Lawndale.
Youth researcher Kanaan said many of their recommendations were focused on making pedestrians feel safe walking through the neighborhood, and making road signs and walking routes more visible.
“A recommendation that we had was for crosswalks to have 3D effects so they could pop out more so people could pay attention to them more. Or have different colors… to make them more visible to people,” he said, adding that many of the current street signs have deteriorated and are hard to see.
The group also recommended aesthetic improvements to the area, including more greenery along the streetscape and street light banners. Those improvements would contribute to a unified visual identity for North Lawndale, Kanaan said, so that people would be proud to walk around their neighborhood.
“We hope that people will recognize the value in this report that we created through the people who make up this community,” said WALK-H team member Sabrina Hart.
Looking forward, the WALK-H team is hopeful that the report will be used for the design and implementation of roadway improvements, including a feasibility study and cost estimates for the study’s recommendations. Combined with the Quality of Life Plan, the walkability assessment helps form a blueprint for the types of infrastructure investments that would make Lawndale more pedestrian-friendly, the team said.
According to Compagnon, the team has already been collaborating with the city to recommend where the Vision Zero initiative’s streetscape improvements can be implemented in Lawndale based on the findings of the walkability assessment, with a top priority being the Harrison Street and Homan Avenue intersection.
“This would be a nice first step, but it would not necessarily be sufficient to create a sense of walkability in the neighborhood. So this will probably need more studies to figure out where it should be implemented,” Compagnon said.
See the report at the WALK-H site.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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