UPTOWN — A new feature of Uptown’s Clifton Avenue Street Art Gallery is a first for Chicago: decorative lighting on a public street.
String lights were added to Clifton Avenue just north of Wilson Avenue in late May. The “festival” lights are strung across the street, providing extra light and atmosphere to the area.
The lights are intended to be a decorative element for the growing street art gallery on that stretch of Clifton Avenue, and organizers hope they will improve neighbors’ commutes during major CTA work, according to the local chamber of commerce group.
They are also a first in modern Chicago history.
City departments have never before authorized the hanging of decorative string lighting over a public street, according to the Uptown Chamber of Commerce and city officials.
The only historical example of the city approving such lighting was over a cul-de-sac, but it has never been approved for a publicly accessible street open to vehicular traffic, according to the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.
The city approved the installation of string lights across Clifton Avenue following a multi-agency review that began more than a year ago, said Justin Weidl, director of neighborhood services at Uptown United, the business development arm of the chamber organization.
“Historically, it was only allowed over alleys,” Weidl said. “Clifton Avenue is a very unique street. It is narrow, has limited car access.”
Clifton Avenue is a one-block street between Wilson Avenue and Broadway in Uptown that wraps around the rebuilt Wilson Red Line station.
The street is one-way southbound and functions like an alley, with garbage cans and loading areas. These are home social service agencies and religious organizations.
Since 2019, it is also home to a street art gallery. That gallery is the focal point of the annual Uptown Art Week, which has helped add more than 70 murals to the brick walls that line Clifton Avenue.
The idea behind the lights was partly to add to the experience of walking the Clifton Art Gallery. But the project took on added meaning as the local chamber sought to help the neighborhood resist major Red Line work, Weidl said.
With the Lawrence Avenue Red Line stop out of commission for years due to a redevelopment project, Uptown United knew more neighbors would walk south to the Wilson stop for their commute.
Adding the pendant lights will help make the walk from Lawrence Avenue to the Wilson Red Line station more pleasant for commuters, Weidl said.
“We have always seen [Clifton Avenue] as an intentional pedestrian detour,” he said. “It’s all about how we make that step as comfortable as possible.”
The idea had to be approved by the offices of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Chicago Department of Transportation.
The agencies coordinated on a review of the Uptown Chamber’s unique public right-of-way request, the issuance of permits for a public right-of-way use and the installation of wiring and cables over or under public property, said Elisa Sledzinska, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokeswoman.
The Business Department and CDOT’s Office of Public Use “have the existing authorization, permit types and review processes in place to regulate this occupation of the public road,” she said in a statement.
The permit is valid for five years, but it can be canceled if problems arise.
The lighting was a hit with neighbors and businesses, Weidl said. The lights are turned on every night and will be in operation for the foreseeable future.
“It got really good feedback,” he said.
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