No One Questions Parking Plan for Children’s Memorial Site

Storefronts and new buildings disguise the parking garage at street level on Lincoln Avenue. Rendering by McCaffery

The Chicago Plan Commission yesterday unanimously voted to approve McCaffery Interests’ plan to build two 19-story apartment towers in Lincoln Park on the site of the former Children’s Memorial Hospital.

The plan — revised many times before — was equally derided and praised by public commenters at yesterday’s five-hour meeting. People criticized the density and complained about future truck traffic, while the design, new plazas, and addition of retail to a dead block received accolades. 

No one, however, balked at the addition of 194 parking spaces on top of the existing 850 in the immediate vicinity of the project. That’s 1,044 spaces for 756 households and some retail — a suburban level of parking in what should be a walkable city environment. Earlier versions of the project had called for more housing (as many as 972 units) and less parking.

Previously, nearby residents had equated housing units with traffic congestion, leading the project to shrink by 102 apartments. But the opponents of housing construction never bemoaned all the parking spaces that will generate traffic. Those are going to get built.

As if to reassure the crowd, 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith said that “there would be a parking space for every resident.” What this means is that Lincoln Park is going to get more traffic, because there will be a guaranteed parking space at one end of the trip for every resident.

Despite the additional traffic that all this parking will induce, consultants predict that traffic flow will improve in the future, in part because of a new signal at Fullerton Avenue and Orchard Street, where pedestrians will have to wait longer before crossing the street. A direct crosswalk along Fullerton across Halsted and Lincoln was endorsed by Bike Walk Lincoln Park, and reviewed by the developer’s traffic consultant KLOA at the direction of CDOT, but not included in the final plan because it would delay car traffic.

Another part of the plan has some redeeming features. The traffic demand management policy [PDF] will separate the costs of parking and housing for rental units instead of bundling them together. Bundling parking with rents obscures the cost of parking, but is a rare practice. It’s unclear whether the condos and senior residences will package the price of housing and parking together.

The parking garage will also have an air pump and fix-it stand for bikes, and a shower and lockers for bicycling workers. The Chicago Department of Transportation can also require McCaffery to pay for a Divvy station at Lincoln Avenue and Belden Avenue as part of the agreement.

Since this bird’s eye rendering of Fullerton/Lincoln/Halsted intersection improvements was created, the developer and CDOT have added to and through the intersection bike lanes on Lincoln and Halsted. Rendering by McCaffery

The project will also improve bicycling and walking infrastructure on nearby streets. Sidewalk bumpouts will be added at most intersection corners around the site and at the hospital’s mid-block crossing to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Sidewalks will be widened in several places, and bike lanes will be striped to and through the intersections of Lincoln at Orchard, Lincoln at Halsted, and Halsted at Lincoln. In another piece of good design for pedestrians, seven driveways on Lincoln will be reduced to three.

Luay R. Aboona, an engineer with KLOA, said traffic would be better with the housing and retail development than it was when the hospital was there. He said it would generate “60 percent less in the morning and 25 percent less in the afternoon.”

Truck traffic may not decrease by much, but truck drivers may create less chaos than before. A slide in McCaffery’s presentation showed that there were 12,500 deliveries to the site each year, an average of 34 per day. Aboona said they expect 6-8 semi trucks and 20-25 box trucks each day. That’s 26-33 trucks per day using Fullerton Avenue, but they can only make right turns into the underground loading dock and aren’t allowed to leave the dock during rush hours.

Commissioners praised the plaza in the plan and the new walking paths between Lincoln and Fullerton and Lincoln and Orchard. Commissioner (and 27th Ward Alderman) Walter Burnett said, “I like the public spaces, tables. It kind of reminded me of when I was in Copenhagen, and they had [café] tables everywhere.”

Commissioner Michael Kelly, who is also CEO of the Chicago Park District, agreed with Burnett, while adding that the plaza shouldn’t allow cars, repeating a suggestion by Bike Walk Lincoln Park last month, “because it’s not very inviting there.”

The plan must still be approved by the City Council zoning committee, which usually rubber stamps everything. Meanwhile, Chicago Architecture Blog thinks that Lincoln Park residents will litigiously prevent the groundbreaking.

  • C. Kramer

    Suppressing the number of available units was done to keep the condo/apartment supply low and thus help preserve the values of condos already in the area. Parking spots were forced to be high so new people wouldn’t take the precious street parking that current residents “own.”

  • forensicgarlic

    The initial proposal had less parking. So it felt pointless for me to comment at the meeting in Janurary that the parking was going to bring more traffic while other residents were complaining that they might lose the street parking that as C. Kramer says, they believe they own.

  • I’m glad to hear Commissioner Kelly of the park district agreed that the main plaza shouldn’t have cars on it! I do think the final design, although it includes a large driveway, will nevertheless be a flexible space that can be arranged variously as future desires arise.

    The new site will have more parking spaces than before, in response to people who don’t understand the counterintuitive notion that more parking spaces encourage more motor vehicle traffic. However, given that most of the parking places will be owned/rented by residents who’ll leave their cars in their spot the vast majority of the time, I think there will still be much less MV traffic overall than when the site housed a booming pediatric hospital.

    Regarding a new traffic signal at Fullerton and Orchard, you paint it as a negative, and it’s true that people walking will have to wait for a walk signal to cross. However, if the signals are timed right, this isn’t a bad thing, and it removes the chaos of trying to cross at a three-way stop (Orchard is only one- way) where there are drivers approaching on three sides. Yes, people on foot will have to wait for a green, but that means that drivers have a solid red light at the same time, so it’s a tradeoff. The reduction in chaos will be especially helpful for all the school kids who walk to and from school, with and without caregivers, to Abraham Lincoln Elementary, just two blocks away.

  • David Altenburg

    “A direct crosswalk along Fullerton across Halsted and Lincoln was … not included in the final plan because it would delay car traffic.”

    Yep, whenever cars have to stop to avoid running over pedestrians it will delay them somewhat. How on earth is a tautology like that considered a reason for excluding safety measures? In the business world, we have cost-benefit analysis, but apparently in the traffic consultation world, you can get by with just cost analysis.

  • Dennis McClendon

    Off-street parking for each unit doesn’t induce driving any more than separate dining rooms induce dinner parties. Whereas the hospital garage probably turned over spaces at least twice a day, a lot of these parking spaces will simply be auto storage for affluent residents who find it convenient to have their own cars available for weekend trips and the like. Terrific as iGo and Zipcar are, they don’t work so well for commuting to the suburbs, taking the dog to the vet, spending a morning getting mom to her suburban doctor, or spending weekends at the summer house in Michigan.

  • Adam Herstein

    Residents will have to pay separately for parking? I predict that garage will be mostly empty.

  • Adam Herstein

    Agreed. This line of thinking is inconsistent with Vision Zero.

  • Kevin M

    What’s so terrific about iGo & Zipcar, Dennis. What experiences have you found car sharing services to be useful?

  • BlueFairlane

    I kind of doubt that. Not having to park on the street is well worth an extra 30 or 40 bucks a months to a large number of car owners.

  • Adam Herstein

    $30 or $40? The building I live in in Lake View has parking for $180/month. I seriously doubt parking will be as cheap as $40 in this development.

  • BlueFairlane

    I was going by what I pay in Logan Square. I suspect your Lake View numbers are a similar percentage of Lake View rents, with a market bump because street parking is such a massive pain. If I were going to live in this particular location in Lincoln Park and pay this particular rent, I’d expect to pay a similarly high amount for parking. The alternative is to spend months circling the block.

  • Clark Wellington

    I’m not a fan of the giant parking, but I laughed at your logic. If the garage is empty at a price of $180/month, don’t you think the developer would lower the price?

  • JKM13

    Your analogy only shows how off-street parking does induce demand. Dining rooms (or a space for a dining area in today’s ‘open concept’ preference) induce dinner parties in the exact same way. Take myself, we recently moved from a small 2/2 condo to a SFH. The 2/2 had a nice kitchen, but no dining area, and for that reason we never hosted family events or hosted friends for anything more than watching a game.

    Now that we actually have a dining area, we’ve hosted about 7-8 different events that could qualify as dinner parties in the last year. Were it possible to add a dining area to the condo, the same result would have occured.

    Similarly, many years back we lived in east Lakeview. The first 4 months of living there we did not have an off-street spot. Since parking was so tight in E. Lakeview, we generally avoided using the car for any errands because it was not worth the time to find parking when returning. Once we had a garage spot in the building open up, we were soon making errands via car that would have been made by bus/walking earlier. If situated in a location that allows multiple transit options, off-street parking will create more trips, and thus more traffic.

  • cjlane

    The price for “afterhours” (after 5 to 8:30 am–ie, perfect for reverse commuters) parking in the CMH garage (which is remaining, and is the 850 spots) was $98/month. Possible that goes up a bit to clear the market. Presently, there is *free* parking 24/7, with a 5 hour limit, in the lower portion of that garage. That will certainly stop, at some point.

    At present, some number of current neighborhood residents use some number of those 850 spaces for their cars. Provided that there is not a *large* increase in the cost from $98/mo, that can be expected to continue. There will be a significant amount of added retail space, too, and certainly some of those 850 spots will be reserved for retail customers, too. Without knowing how many existing monthly parkers there are, it is hard to accurately assess how over-parked this is.

  • forensicgarlic

    The last I saw, the alderman said that residents would be ineligable for a zone parking sticker, necessary for parking on most of the streets in this neighborhood.

  • “If the signals are timed right, this isn’t a bad thing”

    Can you explain more?

    The only signal timing that doesn’t delay a pedestrian or a bicyclist – compared to an intersection that is now stop-controlled – is one that turns green before one arrives at the intersection. But this delays the pedestrian in the cross direction. Signals are quite expensive ($200,000 to $300,000 plus more for interconnection), and the purpose of this signal is to ensure fewer traffic backups on Fullerton that stretch from Orchard backwards/west to Halsted.

  • This is correct. The ineligibility is spelled out in the planned development documents that the developer and zoning department agreed to.

  • Maybe Rahm will expand the downtown commuter parking tax of $2 to larger garages outside downtown. Dedicate it to transit as he originally proposed before the ordinance passed in 2011.

    Probably not, though.

  • I meant that as long as the signals change from one direction to the other in reasonable time periods, then the wait isn’t very long, no matter when you arrive. Yes, that’s a price of time, but this intersection is so busy that currently there are often three drivers (again, the maximum here), as well as numerous people on foot all in the mix simultaneously, trying to get where they’re going. The law says that drivers must yield to pedestrians, of course, but they get impatient when they think it’s their turn because they’ve already “let” one pedestrian cross. It can be pretty stressful for anyone, especially elementary kids with minimal judgment/experience (or maybe just parents like me observing it). With a light, the drivers must stop and wait, period. That’s the benefit. The planned senior housing unit will be right at this intersection, and I think seniors with mobility issues will appreciate the assistance of a light as well.

  • cjlane

    I’ve had other *parents* almost hit me at a similar intersection–but one that is *adjacent* to our school.

    Honestly, the indignity over the so-called beg button makes me want *more* of them, even if they are an actual bad idea (and, yes, I think an actual bad idea in most situations), just to irritate everyone who finds the delay of a traffic signal v a stop sign to be too much to bear.

    It’s not *just* about what’s safe enough for you and people like you–I have no personal issue jaywalking across state street, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s generally good idea. The signal will be going in b.c of the (existing) school kids, the (new) old folks, and the fact that the city can get the developer to pay for a portion of it.

  • Thanks for clarifying the benefits of a traffic signal at Orchard.

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