A 3D rendering of streetscape improvements at Homan Avenue and Harrison Street, one of the most dangerous intersections in North Lawndale. Credit: Provided

NORTH LAWNDALE — A tricky intersection often avoided by West Side pedestrians will soon be upgraded with better street infrastructure and public art to make the crossing safer and more walkable.

The improvements are thanks to years of community-led work planning ways to make North Lawndale safer and more welcoming for pedestrians.

The need to improve the streetscape at the troubled intersection was identified by the WALK-H project, a local effort to make the Homan Square neighborhood of Lawndale more walkable. Improvements may include a ground mural designed to slow traffic, curb extensions and crosswalks aimed making the intersection safer for pedestrians.

The WALK-H initiative began in 2019 as a walkability study intended to get to the bottom of why many residents don’t feel comfortable walking through the neighborhood. Improving walkability has been a key goal of the transportation committee of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, a neighborhood group dedicated to improving the quality of life by targeting issues like health, transportation and safety.

The transportation committee worked with the School of the Art Institute Homan Square and local youth to conduct the study that gathered feedback from residents and assessed the conditions at 22 intersections to figure out the issues that discouraged people from walking. The assessment showed that at many crosswalks, cars frequently zoom through stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians, while 80 percent of traffic lights didn’t have a pedestrian countdown timer at all.

A particularly troublesome intersection was the corner of Homan and Harrison. It was poorly lit, lacked a crosswalk and had a poorly marked bump-out that cars frequently cut across while turning. That intersection became a focus of later projects since pedestrians must cross that street to get to the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station, and it is next to the onramp to the Eisenhower Expressway, said Taykhoom Biviji, a project manager with SAIC Homan Square.

“It’s a public transportation junction and it connects to the highway. The study told us there’s a lot of concern around this intersection,” Biviji said. “People getting off the train or walking home from there, they would want somebody to pick them up. Or, they’d get off at a different stop, avoiding this resource they have in the community.”

The WALK-H assessment made several recommendations for making the neighborhood more walkable by improving street infrastructure like crosswalks and adding signs, lighting, art and greenery to make the area more desirable to walk through. The recommendations were designed to be a blueprint for future infrastructure investments to make Lawndale safer, the team said.

For a second phase of the WALK-H project, the team worked with community members to create a mural with built-in LED lights at the intersection as a way to implement some of the improvements recommended by the initial study. The mural’s design and colors were decided through resident feedback.

The lighting is aimed at making the dark corner feel safer, and the art is meant to reflect the cultural identity of the neighborhood and draw attention to the area so people feel more comfortable walking.

The LED mural was painted near the Homan and Harrison intersection to make the corner more walkable. Credit: Provided.

“When we were installing the mural, we had a lot of residents that started coming out, either adding a few brush strokes or talking to students who worked on the design,” Biviji said. “Community members felt really good to see art at this intersection where there’s really nothing else besides a gas station.”

The third phase of the project is funded by a $25,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Asphalt Art Initiative. The WALK-H team partnered with the Chicago Department of Transportation to apply as the city’s sole entry for the Asphalt Art Initiative grant, which provided funding for 26 projects nationwide that use art to improve street safety and revitalize public places.

WALK-H initiative will further study the Homan and Harrison intersection to better understand the issues there and “identify what kind of infrastructure would make the most sense,” Biviji said.

Like previous arms of the WALK-H project, the Homan and Harrison intersection improvements will be co-designed with residents living in the surrounding area. The team will host community engagement meetings where residents can work with urban designers from the city’s transportation department to decide what infrastructure upgrades will be made.

The final project could include artistic elements like a ground mural covering the entire intersection, or eye-catching sidewalk bump-outs. The art draws more attention to the intersections, which will “make the experience for pedestrians really great when they’re walking, but also … reduce speeding,” Biviji said.

Murals painted on curb extensions were used in Kansas City to slow traffic. Credit: Provided

A similar project in Kansas City was funded by the Asphalt Art Initiative grant in 2020 to make safer a tricky intersection with tough crossings, sharp turns and a speeding problem. The project, led by Midtown KC Now and Street Smarts Design + Build, added curb extensions on each corner that were each covered by a mural painted by a different artist. The improvements slowed average car speeds by 45 percent, according the team’s analysis.

By working with residents to design a plan for improving street infrastructure and the look and feel of the intersection, the project will give people in the area a stronger feeling of ownership over their neighborhood, Biviji said. The walkability plan is also aimed at attracting more infrastructure investment from the city which can be guided by the ideas already expressed by residents, he said.

“Our hope is that this will start bringing in more city infrastructure into the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s an experience for the neighborhood to really see what is possible and what they can go for.”

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