Update on Ryan Field parking lot repaving and lighting

The following is the text of an email from Laurie McFarlane with a update on the status of the Northwestern University project to pave and update the lighting on the parking lot west of Ashland adjacent to Ryan Field (click on 'Read more' below for full text):

Ryan Field neighbors,

As many of you know, various neighbors have been working with our new Alderwoman, Eleanor Revelle, and Northwestern on three issues arising from the Ryan Field parking lot reconstruction:  lighting, landscaping, and getting the alley paved.  After some initial hesitation, Northwestern adopted a positive approach to collaboration,  producing some really good results that are summarized below.  The lighting and landscaping results will be formally incorporated into the ordinance for the project at the March 28 City Council meeting.  We are hoping to resolve a few remaining challenges with the alley paving by the April 11 City Council meeting. 

If you cannot attend the City Council but would like to show your support for the agreements reached with Northwestern described below, please consider emailing Alderwoman Revelle at er@revelle.net .


Northwestern initially proposed adding lots of very bright, blue-white lights mounted at a height of 20.5’ throughout the parking lot.  The overall brightness of the lot would have been double to triple the current level of lighting on the lot, despite the fact that the current level of lighting has been very safe.

Under the new proposal:

Lights will be on much shorter poles (12.5’ to 14.5’, including the mounting base), which are located away from the alley.  This will lessen the amount of light that spills into our neighborhood every night.

They will also be less bright (an average illumination of 0.5 foot-candles, about the same as now).  They will have dimmers and will be further dimmed down during evening and nighttime hours when the lot is not being used.

Finally, while they will still be LED lights, they will be on the less blue end of the spectrum and thus should be less disruptive to sleep.


                Northwestern’s first plan did not include a fence.  Several neighbors advocated for a continuous fence to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood of being right next door to a Big Ten sports complex.  When the idea was raised to Northwestern, they were very receptive—a continuous fence solves several security-related concerns for them too.  In fact, having a continuous fence turned out to be the key to Northwestern being able to reduce the light height, brightness, etc. as described above.  If we did not have the continuous fence, much of the progress we achieved on the lighting would be lost.  Given that reality, a consistent majority of neighbors involved in the process were willing to accept the continuous fence (and a longer walk to the parking lot) in return for the significant reduction in lighting.  Alternatives, including a few openings in the fence, gates, etc., were explored, but raised additional problems (focusing the impact of the “short-cut” traffic on the neighbors near those few openings, liability questions about who would control the opening & closing of the gates, when they would be open, etc.).  A fence also will provide a clear definition for the neighborhood and was viewed as important to preserving property values.  A continuous fence was not a quick resolution, but it was ultimately the one that best resolved a variety of problems. 

                Details about the fence:  It will be an ornamental metal fence with masonry pillars, similar to the one being installed along Ashland at the Rocky Miller baseball field.  It will be 7’ high to discourage fence climbers.  It will have ample, dense, attractive plantings next to it to provide a buffer for light, noise, and exhaust.  (see Landscaping, below)


                Northwestern initially proposed removing almost all of the plants and trees growing between the alley and the parking lot, except for a few large trees at the north end of that strip of land.  The original plan for replacement plantings focused on attractiveness, with a mix of small to medium deciduous trees, some large shrubs, and many short shrubs (3’ or less) designed to block car headlights.  The original plan did not include any evergreens along the alley, despite the fact that the lot is used more heavily during the cold months when deciduous plants are leafless.

                After collaborating with neighbors, Northwestern agreed to plant more evergreens—now, about 40% of the trees and shrubs planted will be evergreen, giving us far more protection during winter months.  Northwestern also will plant taller shrubs—the deciduous shrubs will be at least 30” high.  We were not able to secure a commitment to save more of the mature trees.  However, Northwestern will confer with the landscaping committee about placement of the replacement trees that they are planting.  Finally, Northwestern has pledged to maintain the plantings in good shape.  They will install an underground sprinkler/irrigation system in the planting strip, and have promised that if particular plantings fail or do not work out well, they will make it right.

Alley Paving

                Northwestern initially had no plans to pave the alley.  As it turns out, however, Northwestern actually owns about half of the alley, while the City owns the remainder.  At the request of the neighbors, Northwestern pledged to pave the alley at its own expense.  We can all appreciate what a generous commitment this is!  There are still a few details to be worked out:  approvals and installation of the sewer connections, for instance.  However, both our Alderwoman Revelle and Northwestern are working very hard to resolve these remaining issues. 

So that’s the summary—How We Spent Our Last Two Months!  Please stay involved—come to the upcoming City Council meetings, thank Alderwoman Revelle and the folks at Northwestern for their weeks of efforts to collaborate, and let me know if you have any questions.