New People Spots Are Part of Strategy to Energize Ho-Hum Stretch of Clark

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“Color Guard” People Spot by Osteria De Pizza Metro. Photo: John Greenfield

In July, two new “People Spot” mini parks debuted on an Lackluster segment of Clark near Wellington, as part of a larger campaign to revitalize the business strip.

The new parklets are located in front of El Nuevo Mexicano restaurant, 2914 North Clark, and Osteria De Pizza Metro, 2863 North Clark. They cost a total of about $35,000, which was bankrolled by the local special service area, and they’re manged by the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, according to executive director Maureen Martino. “Sometimes it’s a challenge to activate a street,” she said. “We’re hoping this will bring more customers for local businesses.”

Judging from a recent report by the Metropolitan Planning Council, the People Spots should help make this somewhat sleepy stretch of Clark livelier and more profitable. About 80 percent of the merchants surveyed said that the parklets, which occupy space in a parking lane, increased foot traffic on their block and helped bring shoppers to their establishments. Some credited the People Spots with contributing to a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales since they were installed.

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Parklet by El Nuevo Mexicano restaurant. Photo: John Greenfield

The parklet by the Mexican restaurant replaced a loading zone and one metered car space, while the one by the Italian eatery used two parking spots. In compliance with the city’s parking contract, the three spaces were replaced with new metered spots on nearby streets. The People Spots will revert to parking on November 1, and they’ll be reinstalled in the spring.

Both spaces feature café-style tables and chairs, plus free Wi-Fi. Duane Sohl, from Sohl.Architect, designed the one by El Nuevo Mexicano. It’s surrounded by metal planter boxes featuring framed panels designed by local artists.

The other parklet, created by Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design, is enclosed by a fence made of large PVC plastic tubes, which double as planters. The red, purple and green colors of the tubes playfully spill over onto the sidewalk as a rainbow-like paint puddle that leads to the restaurant’s storefront. The People Spot is titled “Color Guard,” and Martino said the name reflects the diversity of the neighborhood.

Signs on the People Spots make it clear that the seating is open to the public. However, since the spaces resemble sidewalk cafes, and are located by sit-down restaurants, some passers-by may assume that they’re reserved for paying customers. Martino said the chamber may change some of the seating next year to make the spaces more inviting for different uses, as is the case at more free-form parklets at Southport and Addison, and in Andersonville.

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People Spot at Clark and Farragut in Andersonville. Photo: John Greenfield

The city’s rules for People Spots currently don’t allow them to be used for table service. Martino said she’d like to see an option created where eateries could pay to locate outdoor seating specifically for their patrons in the parking lane, similar to the permitting process for sidewalk cafes. “We allow food trucks to use street space,” she said. “Why not give brick-and-mortor businesses the option to use that space as well?”

While nearby retail districts on streets like Broadway, Halsted, and Southport have seen increased business in recent years, Martino said commerce on this stretch of Clark between Belmont and Diversey has declined. She said part of the problem has been relatively fast car traffic on Clark, narrow sidewalks that don’t provide room for comfortable walking or sidewalk cafes, and a lack of trees and green space.

“We’ve been a big advocate for trying to widen the sidewalks for the last decade,” Martino said. Although the chamber has lobbied local alderman Tom Tunney and the Chicago Department of Transportation about this, one issue is that the current sidewalks are vaulted, which makes them expensive to rebuild.

Martino said that the recent addition of buffered bike lanes on Clark has helped somewhat, by slowing down car traffic. “When you calm traffic, it makes people more likely to notice things around the area,” she said.

Last month, the Clark Street Task Force released the North Clark Street Strategic Plan, with ideas for addressing the strip’s challenges. The task force is made up of the chamber, local property and business owners, city officials, and the urban planning firm Lakota Group.

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Proposed layout for Clark with wider sidewalks, bumpouts, and “priority bike lanes.”

The report includes a bold vision of what the strip could look like if it was reconfigured to make it more people-friendly. One streetscape proposal calls for widening the sidewalks to 12 feet, while creating 13-foot-wide travel lanes that would include green “priority bike lanes.” Although 13 feet would normally be considered too little road width for a car lane plus a mixed-traffic lane, under this set-up motorists would be permitted to enter the bike lane when necessary.

Other ideas in the plan include large sidewalk bumpouts to shorten pedestrian crossing distances, and provide space for street trees, planters, and sidewalk cafes. If the task force succeeds in making this vision a reality, it should go a long way to make the business district safer, more vibrant, and more prosperous.

  • duppie

    That first photo shows part of the problem: Housing development turned away from the street, interrupting the retail corridor. It is a common issue in many retail area’s that has no simple solution. People spots may be nice, but are only a minor part of a long term solution.

  • B0nes

    You advocate for all this retail than you propose to eliminate public parking. You can’t have it both ways. Let it happen organically, or give the nanny state/centrally planned street the support it needs.

  • Ryan G-S

    Glad you mentioned the North Clark Street Strategic Plan. I must have missed its release last month. There are some great recommendations in there and I hope even a fraction of them become reality.

    Widening the sidewalk there and adding some greenery is the most important step, but I hope the existing bike lane isn’t compromised as a result. There’s so much garage (and surface) parking around that the street parking in this stretch is often underutilized, so eliminating it would be a great option, if not for the constraints imposed by the meter deal.

    I was also inordinately excited to see the proposal for turning Clark Street Dog’s corner parking lot into a beer garden. I’ve been preaching this idea for years!

  • BlueFairlane

    One of the issues I have with people spots, though, is that they also are turned away from the street. They’re all walled off and enclosed, and more than a little claustrophobic, when they’d be far more effective as open space where a person could stretch their legs.

    Too often, I think urbanophiles equate “lively” with “packed too tightly to breathe.”

  • Jim Angrabright

    This one the most densely populated neighborhoods outside of central city and the majority of people in that area do not own cars.

  • duppie

    They are indeed turned away from the street. Because they are turned toward the sidewalk. They are geared towards making the space more inviting for pedestrians, not moving cars and their drivers.

  • duppie

    That organic development is needed is what I was alluding to when I said that there is no simple solution. We are saying the same thing.

    But a Master Plan can definitely give some direction for developers.

    As far as parking goes, those concerns are overblown. See Ryan’s post

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    People spots are fine. They are supported mostly by the local Special Service Areas tax assessments on the businesses in the SSA.

    My only comments would be while the people spot may have a direct impact on the businesses in front of the people spot and businesses adjacent to the people spot, if you are in the tax area of the SSA and your business is located blocks away from the people spot how much benefit are you deriving from the people spot even though you are being assessed by the SSA for the people spot.

    Should the people spot be periodically moved? Might be nice.

    Should there be more people spots in the SSA? Could be possible, but I think a previous discussion said the costs vary between $30,000 and $60,000. That’s a significant amount of the SSA budget, which also pays to clean the streets, clear snow, and run other programs for businesses like facade rehabs.

    To expand the people spot program in an SSA, one would have to show all the contributors to the SSA how much benefit is from the people spot and show businesses the real dollar impact of having a people spot even if the people spot is not located near their business.

    While giving brick and mortar restaurants the ability to expand their sidewalk cafe’s to a people spot, businesses should pay for this themselves as they are the ones reaping the benefit and probably will not let neighborhood walkers/strollers sit down without placing an order. And these businesses should pay the full cost of lost parking meter income, because eventually the city is going to run out of parking spaces that can be converted to metered spaces.

  • These two spots averaged about $17.5K each.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Still its a cost associated with the SSA and should you be kicking in to the SSA, you may not necessarily see the benefit unless they are moved around.

  • T.G. Crewe

    Actually there are studies that suggest that Pedestrians and Cyclists spend more than drivers do on a monthly basis in neighbourhoods.

    Additionally having too much parking is a detriment to an area as well.

  • T.G. Crewe

    Hah, troll be trolling.

  • Guys, please refrain from personal attacks — these will be deleted and repeat offenders will be blacklisted. Thanks.

  • T.G. Crewe

    Actually it is playing out in New York, London, Toronto, Melbourne, and here in Chicago. Neighbourhood strips like Lincoln Square/Park, Wicker/Bucktown etc you will find that shops there receive a far higher % of pedestrian and cycle traffic than automobile.

  • T.G. Crewe

    Nothing has been moved.

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