Only traffic can bring Westgate back

Opinion

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Vince Kenyon, One view

It comes by way of Westgate.

Westgate is the first street south of Lake running parallel to Lake from Harlem on the west to the Marion Street pedestrian mall on the east. About 300 feet east of Harlem, Westgate is crossed by a pedestrian walkway running north from North Boulevard to Lake Street. References to "Westgate" below concern the 600 feet east of this pedestrian walkway. This is the portion occupied predominantly by those "historically significant" Tudor-style buildings that have lately been the subject of so much discussion.

Westgate is dead by design because it is forbidding to amblers and useless to commuters.

From either end, pedestrians can see that it is one, long 600-foot block. If they amble onto it and then find it unappealing, they see that they will have either to turn back the way they came (always boring) or to walk its full length. Designers of shopping malls will all tell you that 600 feet are about all that an average American is willing to walk to any objective. Without the prospect of an appealing objective closer than 600 feet, the average pedestrian won't take the trip.

And what appealing objectives are there? Well, from the east one can see the parking lot in the distance. No one wants to walk to a parking lot unless heading home. At the east end itself, there are a few businesses that might appeal; but if they don't, most pedestrians won't even notice the preponderance of the buildings that stretch from just short of the east end to the western extremity. That's because the easternmost storefronts advance much closer to the edge of the street than the others, making their neighbors to the west quite difficult to see.

Admittedly, the pedestrian looking in from the west gets a rather good view. It's just that an ambler would never go to the west end. It's the middle of a congested parking lot. Besides a parking space, there is very little to draw one to this spot. Unless you're parked there, you'll skip it. The recent failure of Quizno's at this site tends to support this argument.

Enough for the pedestrians who might look for something on Westgate. How about the ones who might want to pass through? The most important category of such pedestrians includes all those commuting north to their homes or cars from the CTA/Metra station on weekday evenings. For them, using Westgate is really out of the question.

The exit from the station that most homebound travelers must use is on North Boulevard between the only entrances to Westgate. They have to start either east or west before passing one of these entrances. Thus they have already committed themselves, and would only be backtracking if they were to turn onto Westgate. People going home from work don't like to backtrack.

A solution

The recently proposed addition of Station Street leading north from the CTA/Metra station to Lake Street could fix some of these problems.

People walking north from the CTA/Metra station could get to Westgate before having invested any footsteps in the easterly or westerly directions. Choosing to turn east or west onto Westgate from Station Street would not cost them any extra footsteps on their ways home.

People looking in from either of the current entrances to Westgate would notice the intersection with Station Street. Even if seeing no particularly appealing objective, they would have the prospect of being able to turn onto Station Street if Westgate should prove uninteresting. A step into Westgate would then present much less risk of the 600-foot walk to nowhere.

Traffic would increase. Only traffic can bring Westgate back from the dead.

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