Midway construction paves the way for a more pleasant crossing

A $6-million project to improve the safety and walkability of the Midway Plaisance is underway, as part of the University’s efforts to improve the continuity of campus south of the Midway.

Photo: Matt Bogen/The Chicago Maroon
The fences and barriers installed around the construction site reduce visibility at intersections.

Photo: Matt Bogen/The Chicago Maroon
Heavy equipment litters the Midway as the Midway Crossings construction project is underway.

Photo: Matt Bogen/The Chicago Maroon
Backhoes gouge the soil at the Midway just west of Ellis Avenue as part of the Midway Crossings construction project.

A $6-million project to improve the safety and walkability of the Midway Plaisance is underway, as part of the University’s efforts to improve the continuity of campus south of the Midway. The Midway Crossings Project (MCP) consists of the reconstruction of two passageways, at South Ellis Avenue and South Woodlawn Avenue, as main thoroughfares for pedestrians.

Originally slated to be finished this fall, the project is now scheduled for completion in spring 2011. Construction should be complete prior to the onset of winter, but landscaping will be completed in the spring.

Main features of the project include the addition of emergency call stations and security cameras. Visibility will increase with waist-high LED lighting poles as well as more overarching lighting. “The improved lighting acts as a deterrent,” project manager Desiree DiLucente said in an e-mail, adding that lighting is designed to keep energy expenditures to a minimum.

An eight-foot sidewalk with a six-foot tree and grass buffer zone is designed to protect pedestrians from car traffic and make crossing the Midway a more pleasant experience. “The project will allow more pedestrians to safely cross the Midway at the same time, improving flow and the pedestrian experience,” DiLucente said.

According to DiLucente, the project will also include the planting of 19 trees and was designed to minimize the impact on bird migration patterns.

“The shapes [will] visually evoke a floating bridge,” DiLucente said, making an allusion to the plans of Midway Plaisance architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In the original 1871 plans, Olmsted envisioned gondola-filled canals connecting Lake Michigan, Jackson Park, and Washington Park.

Undertaken in partnership with the Chicago Park District and the Chicago District of Transportation, the project was originally conceived in 2000 by community members as part of the Chicago Park District Midway Plaisance master plan.

The University became interested in the proposal as the campus began to expand south. Over the course of 18 months, three community meetings were held by Alderman Leslie Hariston and one campus meeting was held by the University to solicit community and University feedback, DiLucente wrote.

Local organizations like the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation and the Jackson Park Advisory Council worked with University of Chicago students and faculty to refine the originally proposed plan.

The passageways, DiLucente said, were designed with “Midway’s potential as a destination.”

While current construction obstructs access across the Midway, alternate routes equipped with e-phones have been posted in the residence halls and students are encouraged to use these routes for the duration of the construction.

MCP aims to improve safety while emphasizing green technology and historic preservation of the area, which was home to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. 

  • SWAP 24 PBH

    It’s a pleasure to read how multiple separate community meetings were required to garner the approval of people who do not attend the university regarding a walking area they do not make frequent use of. I imagine there were many shouts of “gentrification” and “bias” during each gathering! Three cheers for community organization!


    Someone Who Actually Pays $200k for the 4-year Privilege of Being Here.

  • Pierce

    I’m not sure that the issue is so much gentrification as the massive inconvenience and safety hazard that this project poses before it’s finished. I’m not making this up–there were at least a couple accidents this summer due to the narrowed lanes (in one of these the car was totaled), and visibility around the intersections is pretty bad, which encourages both directions of traffic (and pedestrians) to edge further into all affected intersections before they realize, wait, I’m about to be annihilated.

    There are, in fact, many, many people who do not attend the University that make use of this walkway. In fact; anyone that lives on one side of the midway and works/studies on the other is impacted by this project. This population is largely university students, but also largely university staff and other community members. Any number of these people might object to the inconvenience posed by the project, which, by Spring 2011 (assuming it’s finished by then) will have obstructed traffic in this area (which has a tendency to be rather dense by Hyde Park standards) for a year.

    I’m not saying I think the project is a bad idea; I recognize that it’s an investment for a safer, more pleasant midway. But it is a $6 million dollar project that will have, and has had, a significant impact on the way that the area functions, and I think it’s sort of insensitive to assume that objections to it could not have been anything other than strident anti-university prejudice.

  • JohnDoe

    Pierce – really? Safety hazard and totaled cars?

    You know what people should do when they approach construction zones and narrowed lanes? SLOW DOWN.

  • Pierce

    I didn’t mean to suggest I thought it was reckless endangerment, or that I was going to avoid the intersection for fear of my life. I’m just saying it’s a real factor, and if you’re halving the width of an intersection that well over a hundred cars pass through every day, it merits a little bit of thought and checking around with people that will actually be affected by it.

    My point wasn’t to fear construction projects, my point was that there are reasons to talk to people in the community other than to deflect accusations of racism.