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On Feb. 23, City Council took a giant step toward untangling the messy intersection of Ridge Avenue, Emerson Street and Green Bay Road by approving changes to the north-south lanes and landscaping both the street-side and train-embankment-side. 

Three wider lanes of traffic – one each northbound and southbound and a center lane for turning – will replace the current four lanes of traffic. There will be left-turn lanes from Green Bay Road onto Emerson Street in both directions. Bicycles will be able to share the road because of the wider lanes, but there will be no marked bike lanes.

City Engineer Sat Nagar told members of the City’s Administration and Public Works Committee on Feb. 23 that this option was the one preferred by most who took an online survey or attended one of several public meetings held about the intersection. 

The City has been working with the public for more than a year to enhance pedestrian safety, simplify the lane usage, coordinate the signals, improve the streetscape and enhance the entrance to the downtown area. These are all encompassed in the redesign of the intersection.

New Traffic Lanes

The option selected – one of three originally presented – minimizes the loss of parking spaces and offers the opportunity to improve the Green Bay corridor between Isabella and Emerson streets.

Traffic lanes will meld from four to three just north of Clark Street and just south of McCormick Boulevard. The present divider between Green Bay Road and Ridge Avenue will be removed and the difference in elevations smoothed out, said Mr. Nagar.

Signals for both east-west and north south traffic will be coordinated, said Mr. Nagar, so vehicles traveling at the speed limit, 30 miles per hour, should make it easily through the intersection.  The new interconnected signals will be on Asbury Avenue at Green Bay Road and Emerson Street; along Green Bay Road at Emerson Street and Ridge Avenue; and on Ridge Avenue at Emerson Street.

Streetscape Improvements

Ryan Kettelkamp of Kettelkamp & Kettelkamp, Evanston-based landscape designers, described the street and embankment improvements. “Rightsizing Green Bay Road,” he said, gives the opportunity to expand sidewalks, add safety features and greenspace, enhance the lighting and “make the embankment beautiful all four seasons of the year. It is important that the identity begun at Isabella Street be extended south.” Embankment plantings, he said, must be “sustainable, refined and memorable.”

The sidewalks along Green Bay Road between Emerson Street and McCormick Boulevard will be widened, and street trees will be added. Bus pull-outs, or “transportation nodes” on the west side of Green Bay Road, at Noyes, Payne and Simpson streets offer the opportunity for small plazas and street furniture such as refuse cans, benches and bike racks, Mr. Kettelkamp said.

Stonework along the embankment where McCormick Boulevard dead-ends into Green Bay Road will be repaired, and there will be room for a “community event board,” Mr. Kettelkamp said. The wall will be higher than it is now. “We’re doing a crash analysis,” of the intersection, Mr. Nagar said, and the wall will be higher than it is now.

“We will play up the design of the bridge at the Emerson/Green Bay intersection,” Mr. Kettelkamp said. “It’s a nice Art Deco structure.” He suggested using subway tiles, a soft silver paint and LED lighting to enhance the pedestrian crossings there.

About $1.7 million of the funding comes from a federal Surface Transportation Program grant. The City has also put in a request for Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funding from the Chicago Metropolitan Area Planning agency (CMAP) for the improvements to Green Bay Road.