Marked in the park
A proposal to uproot trees along the lake catching flack from green advocates
02/22/2012 10:00 PM
The city may revise its plans to remove a grove of trees near Lincoln Park’s lakefront area after fielding pushback from local green space advocates.
Friends of the Parks president Erma Tranter recently met with the officials from the Chicago Department of Transportation to petition the agency to scale back its designs to remove some 40 trees from around the Fullerton Parkway bridge, which is slated for an overhaul due to begin next month.
The project, which is expected to cost around $11 million, aims at rebuilding the existing bridge and redoing its connecting pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths. The Chicago Plan Commission signed off on a proposal last May.
The overpass, which connects the avenue from Cannon Drive across the Lincoln Park Lagoon to Lake Shore Drive, had seen better days.
“It is in just despicable disrepair, and yet it’s really heavily used,” said Betsy Altman, secretary for the Lincoln Park Advisory Council, a volunteer group that weighs in on issues concerning the lakefront park area from Ohio Street Beach to Thorndale Avenue.
The proposal includes structural repairs to the bridge’s steel grid and the replacing of roadway grates with concrete patches — a welcome site for lakefront bikers.
LPAC and Tranter’s group had given their blessings to a general design for the plan years ago, but they hadn’t heard much about it recently, due in part to funding hold-ups that kept the bridge proposal on the CDOT’s “to do” list.
But the project recently took a new tint when it became clear that designs for the walkways called for the removal of a number of trees on the western side of the bridge.
A few weeks ago, Tranter was on an early morning jog near the Fullerton Avenue bridge when she noticed that a number of trees on both sides of the street had been marked with red X’s.
“I was astonished,” said Tranter. “I added up the [marked] trees, and went to CDOT.”
Tranter soon learned that the trees, which numbered around 40 and included some cottonwoods by the lagoon and a group of sycamores and plane trees, were to be removed over the course of CDOT’s bridge project, in part to make way for pathways which would bring the structure up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“In the process of making it current with the code, some landscaper laid out this walkway system that takes down every tree in the area, just flat out,” said Altman, from LPAC.
Altman said that the 100-year-old sycamores, which can live to be 350-years old, are unique to the lakefront, and therefore all the more worth saving.
“They’ve got a long life ahead of them, and they are really important to the historic nature of the park,” she said.
Tranter was caught off guard partly because she had seen expected to see a detailed landscape plan for the project before CDOT moved forward.
“That didn’t happen,” she said. “They just missed a step by coming back to show us this final plan.”
Accompanied by a tree expert, Tranter met with CDOT officials on Friday to discuss the project. She said that after going over the landscaping plan, the agency agreed to review their designs for the tree removal. Tranter further stated that she had conceded to seeing a few trees go in the interest of moving the bridge project along.
“We absolutely know that the trees really close to the bridge will have to come down,” she said.
Tranter said she expected CDOT to deliver a revised plan sometime in the next few days.
The agency did not respond to calls and emails for this story by press time on Wednesday.
The project is slated for completion around the end of the year, and as the mid-March start date approaches, Altman said that time was of the essence.
“If they take these trees done and say ‘mea culpa,’ we’re not going to be happy campers,” she said. “So everybody is feeling very vigilant about making sure that these trees don’t come down.”