An illuminated mural planned near a busy West Side train station could make a tricky intersection more pedestrian-friendly.
Students at SAIC Design Homan Square are designing the public art piece to be installed at Homan Avenue and Harrison Street, near the Kedzie-Homan Blue Line station. The project will include upgraded signs to make the flow of car traffic more efficient and reduce congestion.
The LED mural is inspired by Electric Street in Philadelphia, a public art project created along a secluded street that saw much illicit activity before the project was installed. The West Side mural and other fixes to make the intersection safer and easier to navigate will be developed in June, said Eric Hotchkiss, who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Homan Square campus.
The mural builds upon efforts led by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s transportation committee to make the Homan Square neighborhood more walkable, especially around transit stations. The group’s members have worked with Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi for feedback on implementing their ideas.
“The idea behind this project isn’t just beautification,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s connectivity and comfortability.”
The goal is to help people feel more comfortable walking to the Blue Line station on the east side of the road. The east side of the route along Homan Avenue has a crosswalk, but many people choose to take a roundabout way to get to the CTA station “because of serious issues around wellbeing and safety. It made them uncomfortable,” student designer Nandini Kothari said.
Students designed the mural in collaboration with Lawndale residents at a series of community workshops, helping to identify the biggest challenges with navigating the area.
“This was an attempt to create a list of wants and needs to help the residents of North Lawndale create a more preferred environment,” said Liliann Odisho, a student in the design class.
The main issues deterring people from walking in the area were a lack of appropriate lighting, safety issues, unsafe crosswalks and lack of beautification and landscaping, Odisho said.
The design workshops were also an opportunity to get residents’ input on the images, themes and colors that could be included in the mural. Neighbor participation will allow the mural to represent the history and culture of Lawndale so people can relate to the art and feel empowered by it, said design student Elishia Li.
“This process was so important to establishing community ownership over neighborhood spaces,” Li said.
Some of the well-liked themes: Afrofuturism, female strength, unity, the historical roots of North Lawndale and the mom-and-pop shops that once dotted the neighborhood.
The most popular design guiding the final project depicts the Black Power fist over a backdrop that incorporates line patterns that “hint at the theme of connectedness with the CTA train lines,” design student Camille Billie said.
The mural can incorporate LED neon lights to light up the dark corridor for people walking to and from the train station.
“These LED lights are meant as a way to deteriorate crime and increase public safety at the intersection,” Li said.
The class is creating the signs to be installed at the intersection to help drivers and pedestrians better navigate the intersection, reduce congestion and improve pedestrian safety. One strategy will be to redirect traffic more efficiently though the Citgo gas station at the intersection. The entrance and exit often disrupts traffic and creates safety issues for pedestrians.
The mural project also will create a community bulletin board for residents to share information about programs, resources, events and jobs in the area.
The North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s transportation committee worked with SAIC Homan Square in 2020 to conduct a walkability assessment called Walk-H to make key intersections in Lawndale safer.
The study evaluated 22 intersections within a half mile of the Kedzie-Homan station, collecting data on the condition of streets, sidewalks, bump-outs, crosswalks, road signs and traffic lights. With the help of neighborhood youth, the Walk-H team also surveyed more than 130 CTA users and pedestrians on barriers to walkability in the neighborhood.
The report found poor pedestrian infrastructure, such as ineffective crosswalks and poor lighting, made the area difficult and unsafe to navigate on foot. The Homan and Harrison intersection lacked a painted crosswalk and had a poorly marked bump-out that cars frequently cut across while turning, according to the study.
The study also found the design of the streetscape discouraged many people from walking. Trends from the survey showed residents felt unfamiliar with the walking routes in the area, and that lack of a visual identity and curb appeal made the neighborhood less pedestrian-friendly.
“We think about walkability in terms of physically, but also emotionally. It changes the way you think about an intersection if you’re always stressed about walking past the intersection,” Hotchkiss said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.