Highland Park Increasing Pedestrian Friendliness
Highland Park’s streetscape consultants are recommending the city remove the landscaped median on Central Avenue and widen the sidewalks to allow for outdoor seating and cafe space in a new plan presented this week.
The City of Highland Park hired RATIO Architects in 2015 to create the streetscaping and signage plan for the Central Business District to guide future spending decisions. The city also asked for design concepts to make the covered, pedestrian walkway on Central Avenue less costly to maintain, while preserving the iconic steel arch over the railroad tracks.
The arch and walkway, known locally as the Pedestrian Arcade, were constructed in the early 1980s during a major downtown overhaul that coincided with the opening of Port Clinton Square.
RATIO Architects offered several options for eliminating the skylights and modifying the roof to improve water runoff. In one set of drawings, the covered walkway would be reconstructed in the design style found in the Interpretive Center at the Park District of Highland Park’s Rosewood Beach.
By removing the median on Central Avenue east of St. Johns Avenue, the city would create a more consistent thoroughfare and free up city right-of-way for enlarging the public areas on each side of the street, according to RATIO Architects. Under the firm’s recommendations, the wider sidewalks would be further enlarged with “bump outs” at key intersections, which would reduce the distance pedestrians must walk when crossing Central Avenue in traffic, the architects noted. Sidewalk “bump outs” currently exist on Central Avenue at the corners of First Street and Second Street.
RATIO Architects presented their concepts to city council members recently, though the recommendations had already been reviewed by city department heads, focus groups, and the Plan and Design Commission, as well people who attended an April open house.
The architects are also recommending wider sidewalks on Second Street north of Central Avenue, which they say could be achieved by changing from diagonal to parallel street parking on the east side of Second Street at a loss of nine parking spaces.
Another recommendation calls for raising the pavement at pedestrian crosswalks to inform drivers that they’re crossing into pedestrians’ space. However, the proposal for what traffic managers refer to as “speed tables” was not supported by the city’s fire, police, and public works departments.
Other recommendations include new benches, chairs, tables, drinking fountains, and trash receptacles. Monument gateway signs would be installed at key entry points to downtown, including the triangle where Central Avenue and Deerfield Road diverge east of Route 41. Directional signs would point visitors to the places they wish to go.
The architects did not include projected cost estimates in their public presentation Monday, but city officials have said the improvements would require a significant city investment and would likely take place over time. A separate city-commissioned study by Stuart K. Jacobson & Associates in 2013 pegged the costs of rehabilitating the structure and replacing the skylights at $827,000.