North Clark Street PhotoSome residents think areas of North Clark Street are too barren and need to be updated.
(Photo/Courtney Terlecki)

Mixed Opinions on North Clark Street Renovation Plan

By Courtney Terlecki

Posted: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013

Paved roadways, outdoor cafes, planters lining the streets, and a lot more bike parking. All of these things are possibilities in the concepts aimed at renovating North Clark Street in Lakeview.

Lakeview East, a North Side neighborhood, built a comprehensive plan in March that's aimed at bringing in new businesses and updating the existing streetscape along the North Clark Street corridor. The focus of the renovations will take place on North Clark Street between Diversey Avenue and Wellington Avenue.

Headed by The Lakota Group, a team of consultants specializing in planning and urban design, the North Clark Street strategic plan went through the final of its’ three phases of planning in September. Implementation of the plan is all that remains.

Officials at Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce were unable to provide any information related to funding and the timeline of the project, as they said many decisions have yet to be decided.

Running diagonally, Clark Street cuts through many city neighborhoods and is seen as a major transit corridor connecting the North Side and the Loop.

“I lived close to the Belmont station so it was convenient for me to get to work and school,” former Lakeview resident Jessica Kim said. “I used the bus or train almost everyday.”

According to research done by The Lakota Group, Clark Street is the 10th busiest CTA bus route and averaged 22,000 riders per day in 2012.

However, over the past years (2000-2010) the population of Lakeview East has decreased by 2 percent, even with housing units seeing an increase. Vacant housing units increased during that time span by 166 percent, to 3,004 units.

“Our rent was pretty expensive for an old apartment,” Kim said of why she left the neighborhood. “My room was tiny and it only fit a full bed and a shelf.”

The median household income was also up to $58,270 per year in 2012, from $49,843 per year in 2000, which would correlate to the more expensive rent.

From April 2013 through June 2013, phase one consisted of outreach, assessment, and inventory of existing conditions from The Lakota Group. They analyzed the use of the land, buildings, market conditions, transportation and streetscape of the area. While The Lakota Group found numerous opportunities, there are residents who haven’t noticed.

Kim, 25, enjoyed walking through the neighborhood and never saw any issues with the streetscape in any section of Lakeview East.

“I loved Lakeview,” Kim said. “There were a lot of great restaurants and bars, there’s really nothing physically I would change.”

The Lakota Group found that North Clark Street consisted of 32 retailers, 27 personal services, 25 food services, 13 professional services, and 12 vacant units. While this is similar to neighboring areas, the use of land remained an issue for some residents.

“It really is kind of ugly,” Lakeview resident Kacee Oleksiak said as she walked along the street.

After developing the concept for the updates, residents were offered two open houses where they could look at the plans and were given the the opportunity to voice their opinion and input through comment cards. A tally would be taken on the most popular ideas.

“No, I didn’t go,” Oleksiak said. “I actually had no idea about the changes.”

A large set of the concepts shown to residents and officials revolved around the sidewalks along the route. The Lakota Group found that the sidewalks along this area of Clark Street are narrow (7.5 feet) in comparison to more popular pedestrian areas such as Lincoln Park (11 feet).

Another area of concern looking to be fixed is the amount of traffic collisions along North Clark Street due to high traffic speeds. The issues around the intersections also make it uncomfortable for pedestrians.

“Now that you mention it, I feel like there were always bike accidents,” Kim said.

With the primary age group in Lakeview East falling of 20 to 35 years old and an average age of 31.1 years, there is opportunity to make the area more comfortable for pedestrians and commuters.

“I drive down Clark Street to the suburbs for work,” Oleksiak said. “I hate it, it takes forever and always makes me nervous.”

Curb bump outs have been a popular suggestion and would help to calm traffic as well as leave more space temporarily for outdoor cafes, bike parking, lighting as well as planters.

They also looked at a more permanent fix such as widening the sidewalks or making the street curb less, although that would eliminate a priority bike lane and leave less parking available.

“It’s mostly meter parking or permit parking anyhow,” Kim said of having less parking available. “But I don’t have a car, so it didn’t really effect me.”

According to the Lakota Group, having a curb less street or widening the sidewalk could give way to decorative paving and make the area more accommodating and appealing to bicyclists and pedestrians.

The Lakota Group also showed in their concepts that Lakeview is looking to improve the use of alleys, with concepts using artwork, gateways, and Tivoli lights or even using it as a series of exhibits showcasing the history of Lakeview East.

“No one likes walking down alleys,” Oleksiak said. “But the alley’s just aren’t safe.”

Gateways are shown in numerous concepts as a way to anchor the corridor and give the area a more unique feel. This would bridge the roadway and give a customer-designed branding element at the same time.

Another large concern for the North Clark Street area is the use of buildings. The Lakota Group illustrated numerous ways in which Lakeview could make improvements in the buildings along the area.

Visually, the concepts look at changing the storefronts and facades giving them a more open feel or helping businesses in their displays.

“I don’t normally hang out around here,” Oleksiak said. “There aren’t many places that I would want to.”

They have taken ideas from various neighborhoods such as Humboldt Park, Andersonville and Old Town, areas where they have seen an increase in vitality or have the feel that they are looking for.

Through focusing on the streetscape, design and physical conditions of the North Clark Street corridor, Lakeview hopes to strengthen economic vitality and make the area more pedestrian friendly.

When asked, most residents say they had not heard about the proposed changes to their neighborhood. But, as Kim said, “Improvement never hurts.”

North Clark Street Infographic

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