P-Street Designation for 33rd Ward Business Strips Moves Forward at City Hall

Albany Park, Chicago
Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park. Photo by Aaron via Flickr

A few months ago, a proposed suburban-style Walgreens, across the street from the Kimball Brown Line station in Albany Park, inspired a campaign to ban car-centric development in the neighborhood’s vibrant retail districts. Now, an ordinance to officially classify stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrians Streets, or P-Streets, is moving forward in City Council.

After residents objected to Walgreens’ plan to build the drugstore with a parking lot occupying the southwest corner of the Lawrence/Kimball intersection, 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell asked the company to go back to the drawing board to create a more walkable design. Walgreens still hasn’t provided an alternative plan. Meanwhile, the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to look at the possibility of creating P-street designations along several business corridors in the ward.

The designation is intended to prevent development that encourages driving and discourages walking, biking, and transit use. It forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that the whole building façade be adjacent to the sidewalk. The main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and at least 60 percent of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows.

On P-Streets, any off-street parking must be located behind the building and accessed from the alley. Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment,” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

At a June 25 City Council meeting, Mell introduced an ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. The legislation will likely go before the city’s zoning committee in early September. If the committee approves it, the ordinance will go before the full City Council for a vote.

Last week, Mell’s newsletter announced that the ordinance is moving ahead. It noted that red-and-white signs have been attached to trees and light poles along the three streets, alerting residents to the proposed changes.

The alderman told me the legislation was inspired by the Walgreens proposal, plus two other strip mall projects – one at Lawrence and Kimball, and the other at Lawrence and Central Park — that originated while her predecessor and father Richard Mell was alderman. She credited her ward’s transportation advisory committee with coming up for the idea for P-Streets in the ward.

Deb Mell said she has a different philosophy towards development than her dad. “We’re moving away from such a dependence on automobiles,” she said. “We have the Brown Line and buses on Montrose, Lawrence, and Kimball, so we’ve got pretty good transit. I get around on my bike, and right now you have to watch out for cars coming out [of driveways] everywhere.”

The alderman noted that she was recently in New York City and experienced the Summer Streets ciclovía, which opens up seven miles of Park Avenue for car-free recreation. “It gets people out, it reduces traffic, and it reduces crime,” she said. Mell hadn’t heard about Chicago’s Open Streets ciclovía, which was canceled this year due to funding issues, but said she’d be interested in seeing the event revived in the future.

In the past, aldermen have lifted P-Street designations on certain stretches in order to accommodate car-oriented development. For example, In 2012, 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón got an ordinance passed nullifying the P-street requirements on Milwaukee between Kedzie and Sawyer, so that a McDonald’s could build a new drive-through.

Mell said she won’t do that. “Once you start opening the door like that, another developer will say, ‘Well, you did it over there – why can’t you do it here.’ My hope is that once they see the P-Street designation, they’ll think outside the box and look into a different design.”

For more info about the proposed P-street designations in Albany Park, contact Mell’s chief of staff Dana Fritz at 773-478-8040.

  • Str0ng

    Are there any quantifiable benefits of a P-Street?

  • BlueFairlane

    You don’t have to waste time looking for a restroom.

  • kastigar

    Yes, it reduces car traffic and makes the area for pedestrian-friendly and safe. It makes the neighborhood safer and easier to shop.

  • Str0ng

    They are for customers only FYI.

  • Str0ng

    I said quantifiable. Not just your romanticized version of one.

  • BlueFairlane

    Silly. P-streets are for everybody!

  • Good question. Haven’t heard of any Chicago studies of P-Streets benefits, but it would be a great idea for the 33rd Ward to collect some before-and-after data on this. Meanwhile, here’s a NYC DOT report on the economic benefits of “sustainable streets”: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/dot-economic-benefits-of-sustainable-streets.pdf

  • Alex Oconnor

    As kastigar note a reduction in car traffic is quantifiable by definition.

    I wonder if you have any evidence quantifiable or otherwise of the benefits of autocentric development in a dense urban neighborhood.

    That is evidence other than your apparent reactionary resistance of pedestrian oriented design.

  • Str0ng

    There is nothing autocentric about letting businesses choose where to put their parking lot. It’s called freedom of choice. They don’t have to do it.

    There is nothing dense about those areas, compared to other areas of Chicago.

    You claim p streets reduce traffic yet have no worthy links or studies. Maybe they exist, maybe they don’t. FYI NYC is not comparable to Chicago.

  • mattfromchicago

    Person asks for study, study refutes his POV, person claims study is not valid because it is not comparable.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Here’s where the conflict comes. On one side you have the folks that want a time lock on quaint oldy “pedestrian” streets. Then you have the build uppers, TOD all the way. When you restrict growth, generally you cause prices to go up. Upward prices, upwards the taxes. Soon the local mom and pop businesses get squeezed out. Having the potential of another Andersonville in the making for the folks currently being priced out of Logan Square and Bucktown may seem like a good idea for some. But if you’re the one’s being priced out of Albany Park, it could be a problem. The stores with the parking lots are going to prosper. Walgreens will find the property that works for them or not build. But a decade or two on, when the city taxpayers are priced out of their homes, and new businesses aren’t generating the tax revenue it needs and jobs, things may change. Even the businesses in Andersonville, the poster child of P streets has a hard time keeping businesses, because of the high taxes and rents. A lot of places there have a hard time making it past its third year. And even Deb Mell won’t always be there.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Can you show any decrease in car traffic on Clark Street in Andersonville? Can you quantify that Andersonville is safer and easier to shop just because of it’s P street designation? As compared to before the P street designation?

  • SlamOrDont

    A before/after would be a poor experimental design. A more appropriate comparative measure would be to evaluate two like commercial areas initially meeting the P-street criteria for designation, then compare one where the ordinance was enacted against the one where no ordinance was passed. The point being, the P-street designation serves to prevent walkability and pedestrian safety from dipping below the initial baseline by prohibiting the introduction of physical characteristics that degrade the pedestrian environment (e.g. curb cuts).

  • HJ

    A P-street designation does not create a “time lock”. It simply restricts the way in which buildings address the street. Zoning remains the same in areas over 1200 feet from a L station, and within 1200 feet properties become eligible for density bonuses and diminished parking.

    Plenty of new development coinciding with preservation occurring along the Division P-Street, and the Milwaukee Ave P-street stretch from Ashland to Damen.

  • HJ

    Business owners do not have to provide off street parking for customers, developers are not required to build as many parking spaces for new developments, TOD density bonuses extend an additional 600 feet on P-streets compared to non P-streets, TOD parking minimums extend an additional 600 feet on P-streets compared to non P-streets, fewer curb cuts mean less opportunities for accidents, fewer curb cuts mean more spaces for metered curbside parking.

  • HJ

    “There is nothing dense about those areas, compared to other areas of Chicago.”

    Albany Park on the whole has a density of 27,000ppsm, which compares favorably to other traditionally “dense” areas of Chicago.

    Near North Side: 30,000ppsm
    Lakeview: 30,000ppsm
    Uptown: 24,000ppsm
    Edgewater: 33,000ppsm
    Rogers Park: 30,000ppsm
    West Town: 18,000ppsm
    South Loop: 19,000ppsm

    If someone wanted to go census tract, Im sure the numbers would be even stronger for the area of Albany Park in question.

  • SlamOrDont

    The crux of your argument–“when you restrict growth, generally you cause prices to go up”–needs some additional background. Considered theoretically, who commands the highest rents on urban commercial real estate? Chain stores (I believe). Chains are better positioned to site stores in the locations that provide the best access to consumers at the least amount of risk to the chain. As we’ve seen with the Walgreens at Lawrence and Kimball, chains prefer to build lots with curb cuts where possible. With a P-street in place, the chain might then choose to site in a location that they believe is more advantageous for their operations. It could be argued that this sort of zoning designation makes an area more resistant to chain intrusion, which might help to preserve the existing commercial real estate prices on the corridor. Restrictions might artificially cap the supply of desirable inventory, but in the case of P-streets, levels of inventory susceptible to scarcity–intact continuous storefronts–are maintained. This is all is very loose. I would like to see the literature that exists to support your claim.

  • Alex Oconnor

    “There is nothing autocentric about letting businesses choose where to put their parking lot. It’s called freedom of choice. They don’t have to do it…..There is nothing dense about those areas, compared to other areas of Chicago…..

    FYI NYC is not comparable to Chicago.” — St0ng

    FYI

    Granting of of a curb cut or multiple curb cuts across a public ROW ( ie the sidewalk) interferes with the right to choose. And it inherently makes the choice to walk or to travel by any other mode more costly. On the other hand handing over a public ROW to subsidize auto transit makes the decision to drive less costly at the expense of other modes. Things being equal reducing the cost of an good / service will lead to it being over consumed vis-a-vis another good / service especially where the increased cost of the one alternative is raised relative to the other in order to subsidize the latter.

    FYI

    Incidentally, how is this for quantifiable the census tracts that abut kimball and lawrence are 1402 and 140701 AND they respectively have population densities of 39,166 people / sq mile and 33, 270 people per square mile.

    Both of those are more dense that NYC taken as a whole incidentally surrounding census tract range between approx 45,000 people / sq mile and approx 25,000 / people per square mile again on par or more dense than NYC taken as whole.

    I suggest you are neither familiar with Albany Park, NYC as a whole or the meaning of choice or quantifiable.

  • Str0ng

    keep blindly drinking the kool aid. I bet you also think that Scandavia’s social programs can be applied to the entire United States.

  • Str0ng

    On the other hand handing over a public ROW to subsidize auto transit makes the decision to drive less costly at the expense of other modes.

    what public ROW is being handed over? Pedesitrians still have ROW at a driveway. It costs pedestirans no more $ than it does without driveways.

  • No personal attacks, please. Future attacks will be deleted.

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