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Two issues concerning traffic signals along Sheridan Road greeted the Administration and Public Works Committee Monday night, May 24. The first part, hiring a consultant to design the modernization and optimization of Sheridan Road traffic signals on the Northwestern stretch of the road at Chicago, Foster, Noyes, Lincoln and Central, and four signals farther south at Dempster, Burnham, Main and South, passed without controversy. Part two, adding a new traffic light on Sheridan, south of Garrett Place at a Northwestern parking lot entry, was held in committee after residents and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, raised concerns.

The proposed new traffic signal south of Garrett Place would be designed and constructed in conjunction with, and presumably paid for by, Northwestern University. It was included in the phase I portion of the traffic signal project, which provides for public meetings and public input. At the engineering phase, however, public input generally ceases, said City engineer Paul Schneider.

The location of the proposed new signal at the entry to a Northwestern parking lot, rather than at a four-way intersection such as Garrett Place, was selected because access to the parking lot was a priority. “Garrett [Seminary] actually surrounds Garrett Place. In order to connect to the NU parking lot we’d have to have Garrett’s permission,” said Mr. Schneider. Negotiations with Garrett did not produce an agreement, he said, and at that point the City decided to move the signal slightly south to the parking lot entrance itself.

Rosemary O’Neil, who lives in a home directly across Sheridan from the parking lot entry, pointed out inconsistencies in the materials provided to City Council. In the City Manager’s memo and in the staff memo, the signal is referred to as being at Garrett Place itself. The signal, however, would not be at Garrett Place but at the Northwestern parking lot entrance south of Garrett Place. There is no roadway to the west of the parking lot entry, meaning the light would be a three-way stoplight.

Formal mayoral candidate Jeanne Lindwall, who lives on Library Place, pointed out that a three-way stop would make it far more difficult to go in or out of Library, Garrett or Haven Streets because traffic backs up at the signal. “I think, at a minimum, the discussion has to include what happens at [nearby] intersections as well. … I’m not sure the light would be helpful and it may do more harm than good,” she said.

Ald. Fiske said she “recently became aware that Northwestern wants to build an 800-car underground garage” at the site of the current parking lot south of Garrett, “and there’s been a movement to relocate the student union to that site as well.”

“The community,” Ald. Fiske added, needs time to study “how this intersection that isn’t really an intersection would work.” She also said that “given the fact that an underground parking lot was not part of the [public] discussion in 2008,” more information is needed. and she “would appreciate it if we could hold this until the next meeting.” She said she had a ward meeting scheduled for June 1 at the Public Library and would get citizen input at that time.

Mr. Schneider said that it “would be [his] preference to include that location” in the design phase rather than adding it at a later date. Each new Northwestern parking facility would be analyzed on a “permit-by-permit basis – each project, how it affects the whole corridor.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th ward, moved to divide the question and split off the new signal from the overall design project to give the First Ward a chance to meet and discuss the issue. “Hopefully, they will support the new light. If not, we will move on without it,” she said, pointing out that it would be supported and paid for by Northwestern University.

The engineering work to modernize and optimize Sheridan Road traffic signals will proceed, at least initially, without the inclusion of the proposed NU parking lot light. Stanley Consultant of Chicago will do the work. Construction will begin after the engineering has been completed. The City has secured Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds for the Northwestern stretch of lights, Chicago to Central. The lights to the south, from Dempster to South, have not yet been funded.