Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
“The Wabash Lights” will illuminate a stretch of elevated train tracks in whatever pattern you choose.
The rumble of passing trains over Wabash Avenue in Chicago is a constant low-grade aural assault. But a new art project is at least going to make those “L” tracks a lot more fun to look at.
“The Wabash Lights,” a public-art idea from the minds of local designers Jack Newell and Seth Unger reached (and actually surpassed) its Kickstarter goal of $55,000 for its beta version on Monday. That means that the project’s system of interactive LEDs will soon illuminate Wabash Avenue underneath a portion of the train tracks between Monroe and Adams streets.
While the L tracks are as iconic to Chicago as some of its skyscrapers, their presence overhead doesn't necessarily bring in the foot traffic compared to other nearby streets. With an interest in bridging “the gap between State St. and Michigan Ave.,” Newell and Unger have been developing their idea over the past four years while consulting with the CTA, Chicago DOT, and city hall. The light show, the duo hopes, will "highlight, not erase" what’s already there while attracting new visitors to the area.
“The Wabash Lights” will allow anyone using its special website or app (which is still under development) to control the light show. The LEDs (iColor Accent MX Powercore) will wave, sparkle, pulse, or simply switch colors depending on what you ask them to do.The Wabash Lights - Kickstarter Video from Jack C. Newell on Vimeo.
The beta version, according to the Chicago Tribune, will launch in September or October and run for as long as a year. During that time, the Tribune explains, Newell and Unger will “trouble-shoot technical, safety and design challenges, including how train vibration and temperature changes affect the hardware and whether the lights distract drivers and pedestrians.”
A fully realized “Wabash Lights” will cost as much as $5 million over a 5-year lifespan. Those funds, its creators say, will come from corporate, private, and foundation sources.