When Removing a Pedestrian Street Designation, Proceed With Caution
Shaun Jacobsen is the author of Transitized.
Last June, 46th ward Alderman James Cappleman proposed removing the Pedestrian Street designation on six blocks radiating from the intersection of Broadway and Lawrence in Uptown. The proposed removal raised some eyebrows. Was a developer planning to build something that wouldn’t fit the criteria of a P-Street, like a parking garage or drive-thru? Only one other alderman has removed a P-Street designation in his ward: In 2012, 35th ward Alderman Rey Colón removed the designation (and later reinstated it) to allow a McDonald’s to replace its drive-thru, which P-Street code prohibits.
I spoke with Cappleman regarding the removal, which was approved by City Council in September. He informed me that there is no plan to build anything that would conflict with the P-Street designation; rather, the landlord of the building where Borders was formerly located (4718 N Broadway) is seeking to install a static, non-LED billboard on the north-facing side of the building in order to lower rent and attract tenants. In this case, the P-Street designation established seven years ago was too restrictive. The alderman said he wanted to work around the restrictions without removing the entire designation, but it was not possible.
The alderman also stated that he doesn’t feel that Broadway/Lawrence is the best location for the P-Street designation, which was put in effect in 2006. He told me that the purpose of a P-Street is to preserve, and not necessarily promote, people-oriented development. As such, P-Street intersections such as Broadway/Diversey/Clark with existing people-oriented developments may be more conducive to the goals of the P-street, while wide streets such as Broadway/Lawrence with undeveloped storefronts may not be. A future road diet project will narrow Broadway from two lanes to one lane in each direction, making the street friendlier to people walking and riding bikes, and perhaps creating a more conducive environment for people-oriented development.
Using a P-Street designation as a restorative tool may be exactly what’s needed in places with undeveloped lots or existing curb cuts. A P-Street was placed on Milwaukee Avenue between Rockwell and Sacramento this year, covering three empty lots, preventing them from becoming more strip malls. It will also make it easier for new businesses to open and satisfy parking requirements — by not requiring any parking at all.
The blocks adjacent to P-Streets such as Broadway/Diversey/Clark have a high and diverse concentration of stores and restaurants, entrance doors and windows facing the sidewalk, few curb cuts and no surface parking lots — all criteria of the pedestrian street ordinance. While Broadway and Lawrence has some restaurants and storefronts, there are many vacant storefronts, surface parking lots, and curb cuts. Despite his doubts about the location of the P-Street, Cappleman stated his intent to reinstate the P-Street designation at the same location after the billboard is installed.
There are no current plans to disrupt the pedestrian environment of the six-block area. The alderman told me that he would like to see the southbound lane of Racine Avene closed to create a pedestrian space to complement new development that could occur. A permanent pedestrian space at the heart of the entertainment district would certainly be an improvement over the existing conditions.
It is nonetheless important to keep an eye out for other developments that could take place without the designation, such as a 450-space parking garage required by the zoning code to redevelop the Uptown Theater. The alderman’s office has stated that it does not wish to build the required amount of parking spaces. In fact, the recent transit-oriented development ordinance in City Council states that the minimum parking requirements may be eliminated if the development is along a P-Street and within 1,200 feet of a CTA or Metra rail station entrance, making the P-Street reinstatement here crucial.
Map of Broadway/Racine/Lawrence. Red areas show the now-disabled P-Street, where parking rules are relaxed, requiring zero parking spaces for non-residential uses.
If the P-Street is reinstated before other developments such as the Uptown Theater are constructed, the minimum parking requirements for these developments near the Lawrence Red line stop may be reduced to zero. As long as the P-Street removal is intended only to circumvent a bureaucratic obstacle and not to permit a developer to intrude on a good people-oriented street, there should be no reason to believe a disruptive development will arise. The alderman’s intent to reinstate the designation, the road diet planned for Broadway, and the very preliminary plan from CDOT for a pedestrian plaza at Racine and Broadway should ensure that this part of Uptown becomes friendlier to pedestrians with further development.