The University and the Illinois Department of Transportation hosted a meeting for Woodlawn and Hyde Park residents to discuss improvements to the 61st Street area between Cottage Grove Avenue and Blackstone Avenue.
61st Street has increasingly become a focus of the University’s attention as it prepares to break ground on both the Rubenstein Forum and Woodlawn Commons. Residents’ concerns included the street’s appearance, the disparity between the north and south sides of the street, parking, and traffic speed.
Following small group sessions in which residents discussed improvements they would like to see to the corridor, each group then presented its top priorities.
A recurring theme throughout the meeting was residents’ feeling of exclusion from the University community, aggravated by noticeable differences between the north and south sides of the street, and the various pedestrian barriers placed up and down 61st Street.
First-year Jalen Jiang presented for his group and highlighted the “hostile design” differences between the University and Woodlawn sides of 61st Street.
“When you look down 61st Street, on one side you have those tall, contemporary skyscrapers, and on the other side you have those three- or four-story apartments,” Jiang said. “On the University side the lighting is brighter, it has more trees, the buildings are taller, and on the south side of 61st Street, it’s often sidewalks, dimmer lighting. We would like to see a more symmetrical design to fix this hostile design.”
Alum and Woodlawn resident Michael Madero agreed, emphasizing the need to make sidewalks around the University more accessible to pedestrians and thereby help integrate the two communities.
“Between Woodlawn and Kenwood [Avenues]...it’s virtually impossible to traverse from the south side to the north side. You have to walk all the way around to Woodlawn and then back over, which if you’re a resident, it’s a longer walk....You feel like you’re a bit of an outsider,” he said.
Madero presented for another group and raised questions about the speed of traffic.
“Some of us think the traffic pattern as it is is fine,” Madero said. “There is a concern that maybe traffic moves too fast and maybe there are ways to calm that traffic a bit, through either bump-outs or other traffic slowing devices without necessarily instituting more stop signs.”
Madero also raised the question of how Woodlawn Commons would impact service vehicles and street crowding.
“When the new dormitory is built…one of the issues that [my apartment] has is that by putting in permitted parking, sometimes you have two or three car spaces that are empty and you have trucks that then idle from the loading zones for the new dormitory,” Madero said. “Where is all the commercial traffic that serves the University going to go?”
Twentieth Ward Alderman Willie Cochran, who also presented at the meeting, was enthusiastic about the meeting’s outcomes and the questions raised, and expressed optimism about the process and its expected results.
“Getting input from people is one of the best ways to [make changes],” Cochran said. “And that’s what we will do, listen to what the residents and the participants have said, take it back, look at it, and move forward from there.”
Another meeting about the 61st Street development will take place in June.