Tinley Park drivers may have noticed the Harlem Avenue median is undergoing a face-lift, with new plants, greens and even a few trees.
Officials said it's part of a multi-phase project intended to provide beautification, improved traffic safety and even a boost to the local economy.
And while some residents may still question the time and money spent on a revamped median, the new design is expected to save $40,000 a year, largely due to a decreased need to landscape, fertilize, mow and weed, Director of Public Works Dale Schepers said.
Greenspace and the Bottom Line
"It improves people's perceptions of Tinley Park, their perception of shopping center and the amount of money they spend," City Planning Director Amy Connolly said. "It's an economic development tool to have these green spaces in the right of way."
Schepers seconded that opinion.
"It's my understanding that the more green we have here in the community, the more we realize on the bottom line," he said. "People like that, they'll enjoy it, and they'll spend more money."
Besides lending Tinley that tony, upscale allure, attractively landscaped medians can improve traffic flow.
"Studies have shown that when you have a landscaped median, it provides 'visual friction," Connolly said. "As you're driving down the road, you slow down, you want traffic to flow a little slower, make it a little calmer."
Keeping the Median Alive
As village administrators considered the problem of the Harlem Avenue median, they came to a conclusion.
"We wanted something that would live," Connolly said.
After all, a median, which is constantly buzzed by cars, swamped by fumes and sprayed with salt, is just not the friendliest environment for a plant.
"A lot of times, if you don't have good design, if you don't have salt-tolerant plants, and irrigation, you have a dead median," she said.
So, a few years ago, village administrators turned to Chicago-based Site Design Group, Inc. for help.
"They have the talent, savvy and prior experience to deliver," Schepers said.
Site Design Group Landscape Designer Amy Beltemacchi said the stone used in the train station was one inspiration for the median project.
"It's Fond Du Lac limestone," she said. "Some limestone is very soft, others are harder, Fond du Lac is one that holds its shape, and you can build with it."
The village had requested salt-resistant and native shrubs in the median design, she said, noting that this presented a challenge.
"We're in the Great Lakes area, which is a freshwater area, and the native plants are not salt-tolerant," she said.
Haven for Birds, Bugs
For that reason, some of the Harlem Avenue median greenery aren't native.
"Day-lilies are not native, but they do give long-term bloom and are salt tolerant," Beltemacchi said.
The design also uses bluestem, goldenrod, monard (also known as bee-balm) and rudbeckia. While no person would want to linger on the Harlem median, it could provide a haven to birds and bugs, she said.
"Every little green spot helps," Beltemacchi said. "Views of open space calm us down, whenever we can minimize hardscape, it's going to help."
Connolly said median plants will also get a boost from a built-in sprinkler system. The medians were designed to be more efficient and to spray off the plants.
The million-dollar project was largely financed with an Illinois Transportation Enhancement grant, said Schepers.
He noted that the Harlem Avenue corridor from 183rd Street North to 175th Street has not yet been improved, because redevelopment is expected in that area.
Nature Lovers Can See What Develops
Connolly promises that nature lovers will not be bored by the Harlem Avenue median.
"As the seasons change, different flowers will become more prominent (there)," she said. "Other times, the grass will be really prominent. It will be fun for people to watch and see, as seasons change, different things pop out ... "
Perhaps one of the most qualified area critics is Patricia Siemsen of the Tinley Park Historical Society, a resident since 1949. Her husband grew up on a farm at 167th and Harlem Avenue, where the couple lived after their marriage.
" ... Harlem was still a dirt road," Siemsen, 69, said. She's been watching the Harlem Avenue median project with interest.
"I think it's very nice, they're doing a good job," she said. "You've got to give it time, to see how the plantings come together."