Remake of Schuyler Avenue nears
KANKAKEE — The $1.5- to $2-million redesign of three blocks of Schuyler Avenue in downtown Kankakee was laid out before the public Thursday night at the Kankakee Public Library.
The architects for the redesign, Teska Associates of Evanston, presented the streetscape plan through a series of artist renderings and design sketches.
A small public gathering assembled to review the plans, offer suggestions and voice concerns.
Key design points include:
• On-street parking on the east side of Schuyler Avenue in the 100 block of North Schuyler and the 100 and 200 blocks of South Schuyler will be eliminated.
• Striping for bike lanes will be added to these three blocks. Bike lanes will be on both sides of Schuyler Avenue.
• Decorative string lights, which currently exists in the first two block of South Schuyler will be extended to the 100 block of North Schuyler. The lights will be even greater than what what currently exists.
• The lights will cross over Schuyler as well as hanging over the sidewalks. To accomplish this, however, new and stronger light poles will replace the existing light posts.
• Nearly all of the existing sidewalks will be removed and replaced. The bulk of the existing sidewalks are not in compliance with the Americans with Disability Act regulations, city officials noted.
• The project, already out for bid, is expected to begin in March and be completed in July. The goal is to have the project completed before the annual Merchant Street MusicFest begins on July 26.
The biking lanes were part of the city’s Biking Master Plan completed in 2015.
The project is funded through downtown Kankakee’s expiring Tax Increment Financing district. The TIF district expires on Dec. 31 and the money must be committed to project before year’s end.
If the money is not committed at that point, by law it must be returned to the taxing districts which forfeited the funds during the 23 years the TIF was in place.
The money can only be used in the TIF district in which is was collected.
Jodi Mariano, project manager for Teska, said the project’s goal is the make the downtown more vibrant.
She acknowledged the elimination of on-street parking will cause some criticism, but noted there are many free public parking lots near these locations.
One resident, an elderly woman, voiced her criticism of the loss of on-street parking noting that many older drivers want to park as close to the store or restaurant they plan to enter.
Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said the goal is to make downtown more accessible for bikers and walkers.
“We’re very excited about this project. This is about making the downtown vibrant and welcoming,” the mayor said.
The eventual goal, the mayor noted, is for the streetscape design to extend south to East River Street where it would connect with the city’s proposed riverwalk along the Kankakee River.
Chip Rorem, a longtime member of the Kankakee Planning Board and a member of the downtown streetscape steering committee, said this design is being used in cities across the country.
He noted cities are placing greater emphasis on encouraging bike and pedestrian traffic.
“We are returning to a pedestrian environment. By eliminating one side of on-street parking, we believe it opens up the downtown experience for so many others,” he said. “It’s a trade off. This is about revitalization and this is how it starts.”