Some in Uptown want public space, not parking, under Wilson stop
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When a renovated Wilson Red Line stop opens in fall 2017, it would be a waste to just turn the space underneath it into a parking lot, some neighbors say.
A survey of hundreds of Uptown residents found lots of support for an alternative: the Wilson Underline, which would turn that area into a landscaped space suitable for walking, biking, farmers’ markets and food-truck parking. They also want public art.
That’s a lot better, they say, than the city’s current plan to use it for a fenced parking lot. And they’re expected to make their case at a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Institute of Cultural Affairs, 4750 N. Sheridan Rd.
“The survey shows that the general community is looking for more public spaces they can call their own and use as a community — spaces that aren’t gated off just for cars,” said Brett Weidl, co-chair of the Wilson L Public Space Committee, which designed the Wilson Underline along with Uptown United.
The problem is money. The Chicago Transit Authority’s $203 million budget for the Wilson project included the cost of a parking lot under the tracks, said CTA spokesman Jeff Tolman. That budget would not cover the higher cost of creating a community space instead.
Still, proponents are undeterred. Of the 931 Uptown residents who responded to the survey, administered by the Graceland Wilson Neighbors Association, 94 percent support the Wilson Underline.
“It’s not just a small group of people who are concerned. It’s gone beyond that,” said Julianne Scherer, who co-chairs the Wilson L Public Space Committee with Weidl. “It’s a professional survey done by a professional organization that has such a large voice—over 930 respondents—that really captures the voice of the community.”
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) supports the proposal, said Tressa Feher, his chief of staff. But “we don’t have funds for this at this point,” Feher said. “The issue is making sure either that funds are secured for this or trying to find ways that we can do something similar to what they’re looking to do that maybe would not cost money.”
Tolman said the CTA held public meetings before the reconstruction started in 2014. At those meetings, people asked for more parking under the station. The CTA also has contractual obligations with nearby businesses to retain some of the parking spaces that had been there.
Weidl said the committee is suggesting a “realistic” approach in which the budget earmarked for the parking lot be used for the Underline instead. The rest of the money that’s needed could come from partnerships with local businesses, she said.
“It starts with using the palette of materials the CTA already has in the plan but laid out in a different way,” Weidl said.
The survey was conducted in February and March. More than 70 percent of respondents wanted landscaping, a farmers market, lighting, public art or food trucks. Only 4 percent wanted the space to be used for parking only.
Jeffrey Littleton, director of the Uptown Arts Council, said he thinks the Wilson Underline would be safer than a parking lot.
“Think of how many movies where a parking lot at night is a device to evoke fear. The parking lot would not be as safe no matter how much light they put in it. As a matter of fact, the brighter you light it, the darker the shadows for people to hide behind cars.”
Scherer said the committee will distribute a summary of the survey results and Underline project details to business owners, aldermen, the mayor and other public officials.
Remaking a CTA station “is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Scherer said, “so we don’t want mediocre for this reconstruction. Why settle for that?”