The Children’s Memorial Development Will Improve Walking & Biking

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Sidewalks around the White Elephant flatiron building will be widened.

There are many things to like about McCaffery Interests’ proposal to build apartments, condos, senior housing, and retail on the former Children’s Memorial Hospital site, centered on a triangular lot at the southeast corner of Fullerton, Halsted and Lincoln in Lincoln Park. The site, which has sat vacant since the hospital relocated to Streeterville in 2012, would be occupied by three new apartment towers, and several historic buildings would be rehabbed and repurposed.

A central plaza and two gardens, linked by arcades, would be created on the main triangle, creating open space and connectivity – it will become possible to walk midblock between Fullerton, Lincoln, and Orchard. The project would create some 2,500 temporary and 250 permanent jobs, and the development would contribute an estimated $12 million in taxes to the city coffers. The 858 total residences, some of them affordable housing units, will bring needed customers to local merchants, who have been hurting since the space went fallow – nine nearby businesses have been shuttered since the hospital relocated.

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The new plaza and gardens, connected by arcades, will create connectivity.

As Streetsblog contributor Shaun Jacobsen pointed out on his blog Transitized, the main drawback of the project is an excessive number of parking spots. There is already a huge 850-car garage across Lincoln from the triangle, and the site is convenient to several bus and ‘L’ lines, so McCaffery’s original 2012 proposal called for no additional parking. However, although the hospital was already a huge traffic generator, responsible for an estimated 30 percent of all traffic on Lincoln in the area, many neighbors fear that the new residents and retail will create a parking and traffic nightmare.

At their insistence, the developer added 194 underground spaces to the plan, a 22-percent increase, which means there will now be 1,044 spots for a development with only 858 units. As Jacobsen pointed out, this makes zero sense in a location that’s so well served by dense retail and transit. The surfeit of parking will encourage more car use, which will only exacerbate the traffic woes that the neighbors are predicting.

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The crowd at Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: John Greenfield

In addition to the benefits that I’ve described above, the proposal would also involve some modest additional improvements to the pedestrian and bike environment, as well as a couple of missteps. At Tuesday’s community meeting at the DePaul Student Center, attended by roughly 500 people, Joe Antunovich, head of Antunovich Associates, one of the architects for the project, discussed the associated transportation issues. “We believe we will reduce the morning rush hour traffic from when Children’s was here by 64 percent,” he said. “And in the afternoon, the peak hours, we’ll reduce the traffic by an additional 35 percent.” That claim was later angrily disputed by neighbors during the Q & A session.

Antunovich listed poor crosswalks and conflicts between drivers and bicyclists as some of the long-standing traffic issues in the area. “We’ve been working very hard with [the Chicago Department of Transportation] and the bike program to improve the situation,” he said. All existing crosswalks in the vicinity will be upgraded to high-visibility, zebra-striped “international” crosswalks, and bike lanes on Halsted and Lincoln will be striped through the intersections.

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Lincoln/Belden/Orchard will get new crosswalks and sidewalk bumpouts.

The six-way junctures of Lincoln/Belden/Orchard and Lincoln/Fullerton/Halsted will get sidewalk bumpouts that will serve to shorten crossing distances and calm traffic. At the latter intersection, CDOT is considering adjusting the timing of some of the left turn signals for motor vehicles to provide additional crossing time for pedestrians. The sidewalks around the flatiron-shaped building at the southeast corner, formerly home to the hospital’s White Elephant resale shop, will be widened.

On Lincoln Avenue, between the existing garage and the main triangle, there are currently seven curb cuts for driveways. Four of these will be eliminated, which will improve safety for walkers, and sidewalk bumpouts will be added at an existing, signalized midblock crossing.

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Rendering of the Fullerton Memorial Garden.

Two changes that will make the area a little less pedestrian-friendly will be the addition of traffic signals at Halsted/Belden and Fullerton/Orchard to expedite the flow of motor vehicles on the main streets. Currently motorists must yield to pedestrians crossing at these intersections but, once the stoplights are in place, peds will be expected to wait for a walk signal. The signals also cost about $300,000 each, money that could otherwise be used for more useful improvements to the corridor, like protected bike lanes.

But that’s a relatively minor quibble with a project that, aside from the very significant problem of too many parking spaces, promises to be a major asset for the neighborhood. Judging from applause levels, the majority of Tuesday’s crowd seemed to be in support of the development, so I’m hopeful it will become a reality sooner rather than later.

  • Jay Broaney

    You guys are big fans of neighborhood associations telling businesses what to do, except that in this case, the free market solution (which you tend to oppose) was much less parking than mandated. Relaxing zoning restrictions would also have lead to more housing, which would help put downward pressure on rising housing costs.

  • Jeff Wegerson

    I agree with you that the denser less car friendly version was likely better. And indeed when the local residents lack good understandings of best urban design practices it calls into question their judgements. It’s the driving force behind the concept of NIMBYism.

    Giving local associations a voice is certainly proper and wise. But calling it “democratic” ignores the issues of who should have a vote as distinct from a voice. The classic issue in Chicago is who should be making decisions about lakefront usage especially north of Hollywood. Do you give the residents of the lakefront precincts a vote or do you extend the vote to the lakefront wards? And if you want to really pick nits, do you include the whole city? And, really, why stop there, why not the whole state or even the whole U.S. or even the whole planet because, in a way, the lakefront is a world treasure? That’s part of the reason we organize ourselves into larger units than family. Of course, the devil is in the decision making details, eh?

    One final reply to your comment. With the understanding you have of the issues, why do you not consider yourself a part of this blog community? Or us one of you? I don’t view this community (Streetsblog) to be communist nor anti-business nor above making exceptions to zoning regulations. And you seem to care about urban design issues like affordable housing and walkablity. So why the “you guys”?

  • Hey John, maybe you caught this, but I didn’t. Will the developer own those public plazas? I really like the idea but then I thought of how similar “public plazas” on private development sites go in other places. One I thought of was Bayshore mall in north suburban Milwaukee. It’s an outdoor/indoor mall and it touts itself as a “town centre” but you can’t really do anything in it because it’s policed by private security. Most of the places to sit are actually part of the retailers so I can’t buy a coffee inside Barnes and Noble, for example, then go sit outside Potbelly. Actually there’s not a lot of sitting areas in the first place…

    I ask because I wonder if Kempf/Giddings plaza in Lincoln Square is public land or not. All I found was this (http://www.goethe.de/ins/us/lp/kul/mag/deu/chi/arc/en7211336.htm) about its renaming in 1999. I know Lincoln Square is the kind of place where you can do whatever you want, really, and I’m curious how much “control” the developer will retain over its “public” plazas.

  • jared.kachelmeyer

    I can’t imagine its not public. It used to be a public street.

  • Alex_H

    “A central plaza and two gardens, linked by arcades” would get my 10-year-old self very excited, unfortunately for the wrong reason.

  • My guess is that the CMH plaza will be private land, since it’s part of the parcel the developer is buying. There will be car access, just like there’s car access at a privately owned shopping center. Kempf plaza is almost certainly public land since it was created by pedestrianizing a street.

  • Sorry, these arcades won’t feature Ms. Pacman machines.

  • Cool, wish we could get more places like Kempf plaza all around the city.

  • The car-free blocks of Sunnyside east of Clark are an arguably less successful example. More on the history of pedestrianized streets in Chicago: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/03/11/why-was-the-state-street-pedestrian-mall-a-failure/

  • I think we talked about that before; I believe the main cause is that it’s a residential area, no mixed uses like Lincoln Square (stores at street, residences above). From walking around, I can assume that the area’s residents would use Sunnyside a lot more were there more things to see, buy, etc. adjacent to it.

  • Dave

    Looking at the assessor’s map, Kempf doesn’t have a PIN, meaning it is most definitely public land. http://ccapps-ms.esri.com/cookviewer/mapviewer.html?search=4717%20N%20LINCOLN%20AVE

  • Adam Herstein

    Why are people allowed to drive cars onto the main plaza?

  • Given that this is a “planned development” (PD 158), where the development is a result of a negotiation between the city’s zoning administrators and the developer (and by some extension, the alderman and other departments) and approved by the zoning committee, Chicago Plan Commission (I believe), and then the city council…the city could ask that “Central Plaza” be given to the city, made car-free, and maintained by the developer (or use an easement).

  • I’m pretty sure Streetsblog is not, as a rule, either pro- or anti-local control, as a whole; they’re pro- pedestrian/biking-friendly policies, whether implemented by a city, a neighborhood group, or a developer.

    Streetsblog has also repeatedly called, over the past two years, for zoned parking minimums to disappear or be strongly relaxed, and for zoned parking MAXIMUMS to be instituted.

  • I really wish it would be car-free. The developer is talking about how great it is to get rid of all the curb cuts on Lincoln but then they’re putting one right at the entrance to their “flagship” pedestrian plaza!

  • Developer kept saying “so people can drive right up and drop people off in front of the restaurants,” interpret his vision as you will.

  • Adam Herstein

    People who can’t be bothered to walk the 50 feet from the curb? Why is drivers’ convenience given more consideration than pedestrian safety?

  • Talked to an urban designer at DHED yesterday… he said the city won’t take on the plaza because it’s not already publicly owned. Regarding cars, he says you gotta look at how many are there.

    Is this going to be a pick up/drop off zone, or is it going to be a way to access the parking lot?

  • Social_werkk

    How is “affordable” being defined? Will the new housing developments be affordable to folks making minimum wage or slightly above it?

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