Uptown’s Clifton Avenue gets decorative string lighting, a first for a public street in Chicago


UPTOWN — A new feature at Uptown’s Clifton Avenue Street Art Gallery marks a first for Chicago: decorative public street lighting.

Fairy lights were added in late May on Clifton Avenue, just north of Wilson Avenue. String lights hang above the street, bringing extra light and ambiance to the area.

The lights are meant to be a decorative feature for the growing street art gallery on this stretch of Clifton Avenue, and organizers hope they will improve the movement of neighbors during major CTA works, according to the group of the local chamber of commerce.

They are also a first in modern Chicago history.

City departments had never before allowed decorative string lights to be hung above a public street, according to the Uptown Chamber of Commerce and city officials.

The only historical example in the city approving such lighting was over a dead end, but it was never approved for a publicly accessible street open to vehicular traffic, according to the Department of Commerce and Protection. consumers.

The city authorized the installation of fairy lights on 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, this was only allowed in back alleys,” Weidl said. “Clifton Avenue is a very unique street. It is narrow, access by car is limited.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
Decorative “festoon” lighting hangs above Clifton Avenue in Uptown.

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 to the south and functions as an alley, with garbage cans and loading areas. These are home-based social service agencies and religious organizations.

Since 2019, it also houses a street art gallery. This gallery is the focal point of the annual Uptown Art Week, which has added 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 through the Clifton Art Gallery. But the project took on added importance as the local chamber sought to help the neighborhood weather major Red Line works, Weidl said.

With the Lawrence Avenue Red Line stop out of service for years due to a reconstruction project, Uptown United knew more neighbors would walk south to the Wilson stop for their commute.

Adding string lights would 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 about how do you make that walk 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.

Credit: Facebook/Uptown United
A Chicago Bears-themed mural was added to Clifton Avenue during a previous Uptown Art Week.

The agencies coordinated a review of the Uptown chamber’s single public road application, issuing permits for the use of a public road and the installation of wiring and cables on or under public property, Elisa Sledzinska said. , spokesperson for commercial affairs and consumer protection.

CDOT’s Business Department and Office of Public Road Use “have the existing authority, types of permits and review processes in place to regulate this occupancy of the public road,” she said. said in a statement.

The permit is valid for five years, but it can be canceled if something goes wrong.

The lighting has been a hit with neighbors and businesses, Weidl said. The lights are on at night and will be operational for the foreseeable future.

“It got a lot of great feedback,” he said.

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