Looking north on the 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue prior to the current construction.
Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation striped a contraflow bike lane on Albion Avenue in Rogers Park. The idea was to allow northbound cyclists to avoid busy Sheridan Road by riding from the Kenmore Avenue bike lane, northwest through the Loyola University campus, and west on Albion to Glenwood Avenue, a pleasant northbound route. But yesterday when I was scouting the route on a Google Maps aerial, I noticed that the 6300 block of north Kenmore is not only closed for construction, it no long appears on the map. It occurred to me that a new pedestrianized “People Street” might be in the works.
A call to the 48th Ward office confirmed my suspicions. Chief of Staff Dan Luna said that Loyola University, which is currently constructing new campus building on both sides of Kenmore, has made a proposal to close the block to through traffic in order to expand its campus. “We’ve seen some sketches but nothing has been finalized,” he said. “It hasn’t even gone before the community yet.”
Luna said Alderman Harry Osterman supports the proposal in theory because it would improve safety on a block with an “unbelievable amount of foot traffic.” But the alderman wants to see the Kenmore bike route continue through the pedestrianized block, and to make sure residents’ concerns about traffic flow and the loss of 55 curbside parking spaces on the block are addressed. “It’s going to take a lot of strategizing and some compromise,” Luna said. “That’s why it’s just in the discussion phase.”
Jennifer Clark, Loyola’s assistant vice president of campus and community planning, filled me in on the details of the proposal. The university is currently building a residence hall on the west side of the block, and the Center for Sustainable Urban Learning on the east side, which will house the Institute for Environmental Sustainability. The center will have another attached dormitory with green features like geothermal heating and air conditioning and a low-flow water system with gray water reuse. Residents will sign a sustainability agreement, which includes a pledge to not bring a car to campus.
View Bike route alternative to Sheridan Road in a larger map
Bike route alternative to Sheridan Road using the Albion Avenue contraflow lane.
Since Loyola owns all the property on the block, Clark said it makes sense to convert it to a pedestrian-priority area. “We would like to expand the feeling of a campus.” Motorized access would be limited to deliveries, emergency vehicles and four student moving days. She promised the Kenmore bike route would continue through the block as a striped lane or colored pavement, possibly protected by a row of trees. “We’re not trying to take away an existing bike route,” she said. “I was one of the people advocating for the contraflow bike lane on Albion.” The plaza would include water-permeable pavement, benches and indigenous flowers, plants and trees, identified with signs like an arboretum.
In addition to the alderman’s office, Clark has been discussing the proposal with various block clubs and community groups. She hopes that after the plaza is vetted at public input meetings this spring, City Council will approve the street closure in July. Construction of the new buildings will be completed in mid-August. “After that, hopefully we’ll be able to landscape the plaza at that point instead of reopening it to traffic,” she said. “But if the alderman doesn’t approve [the closure], it will revert to a street.”
Looking south from West Sheridan Road towards the 6300 block of North Kenmore Avenue.
Clark doesn’t think the loss of parking spaces should be a dealbreaker. Loyola recently purchased and demolished five buildings on the 6300 blocks of North Kenmore and Winthrop avenues, as well as a parking lot between the two streets, to make room for more green space and possibly public tennis courts. The university has also converted several privately owned apartments into student dormitories. “Parking is a difficult issue, but by purchasing a lot of rental properties and converting them to dorms we’ve removed a lot of the parking seekers from the areas,” she said.
At a recent Association of Sheridan Road Condominium/Condo Owners board meeting Clark attended, an attendee maintained that Loyola should build a new parking garage to replace the 55 lost spaces. In a neighborhood that’s well served by buses and trains, she doesn’t think that makes sense. “No matter how much parking you build it’s never enough for everyone who lives on a street,” she told me. “Building and encouraging driving will just create more congestion.”
Clark said that Loyola hired transportation planning firm KLOA to do a study of the potential traffic impact of the Kenmore closing in 2011, before construction started, and now the company is doing a second study. “The current closure lets us see what the impacts really are.” At the condo association meeting, the same resident argued that Kenmore should remain open to through traffic because it’s a useful shortcut for drivers to bypass traffic jams on Sheridan. “I hear him on the congestion issue,” she told me. “But relieving congestion on Sheridan by letting cars speed down Kenmore is not a reason to keep the street open. That’s crazy.”