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DePaul may turn Kenmore into ‘living street’

A pedestrian crosses Kenmore Ave. Belden Ave. DePaul's campus Chicago Wednesday October 2 2013. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media

A pedestrian crosses Kenmore Ave. at Belden Ave. on DePaul's campus in Chicago on Wednesday, October 2, 2013. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 7, 2013 6:24AM

They gave the world the dike, the pendulum clock, some pretty decent cheese and now, possibly coming to Chicago soon, another Dutch export: the woonerf.

The what?

Planners at DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus are serious about turning a two-block stretch of Kenmore Avenue — which cuts through the heart of campus — into a snaking boulevard where cars, pedestrians and bicyclists would peacefully coexist. Kenmore would become a woonerf, the Dutch term for “living street.”

The idea calls for doing away with the traditional things that separate pedestrians and automobiles — curbs, sidewalks, parallel parking — and replacing them with a gently curving streetscape with brick or cobblestones, fancy lighting, maybe a Divvy bicycle rack and bench seating. It is also designed to reduce traffic accidents and speeding.

“We think it’s the first in Chicago and one of the few in the country,” said Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who, along with Ald. Scott Waguespak (32nd), has thrown her support behind the proposal. “It’s a very exciting concept, a traffic-calming concept.”

And if it works at DePaul, the wiggly streets may pop up all over the city.

“The city is very interested in this being the forerunner of many to come,” said Joe Antunovich, whose architectural firm put together the most recent master plan for the DePaul Lincoln Park campus.

The university plans to host a public meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the proposal for Kenmore Avenue. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at 2250 N. Sheffield, Student Center, Room 120.

But isn’t a blending of cars and pedestrians a recipe for disaster?

“The whole idea is to slow traffic down and create an environment where pedestrians and traffic can co-exist in a much more humane and naturalistic way,” Antunovich said.

“Strategic placement” of landscaping and seating, as well as reduced speed signs, will let drivers know they can’t race through the woonerf, planners say.

The DePaul campus, nestled within leafy Lincoln Park, fits seamlessly into the community, Antunovich said. Well, almost — except for Kenmore Avenue, where students and faculty often dart into traffic to get to classes.

To make Kenmore safer, DePaul planners considered entirely closing off to traffic the section of the street between Fullerton and Belden. The City Council’s Transportation Committee agreed last month to vacate a block-long stretch of Kenmore to help transform Loyola University into a more “residential campus.”

But when residents surrounding DePaul protested a total street closure in their neighborhood, the city’s Department of Transportation came up with the woonerf as a compromise.

“We suggested they try the woonerf because you could create a sense of place, while still allowing traffic to use the streets at slower speeds,” said Luann Hamilton, a deputy commissioner with the department.

DePaul would pay for the street improvements, as well as providing campus parking for the 47 street spots that would be lost along Kenmore. DePaul and the city would jointly maintain the street.

Allan Mellis, who has lived in Lincoln Park since 1972, says he’s worried about what might happen when students and cars share the road. He’s also not convinced by DePaul’s plan for the lost parking spots — giving the community 24-hour access to various DePaul parking lots and garages.

“My second major concern is that at some point if, God forbid, there is an accident, they’ll say they have to close the street,” Mellis said.

Smith said Mellis’ fears are unfounded.

“You can never stop someone from trying something, but it remains a public way — which is a very exciting benefit of [the project],” Smith said.


Twitter: @slesposito

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