Actually, Logan Square’s Neither Traffic-Choked Nor Overcrowded

Caption. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects
Rendering of a proposed development near the California ‘L’ stop. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Late last month, over 100 people crowded into a public presentation to hear about a proposed development of 254 housing units, plus 72 car parking spaces and retail, on what’s now a vacant lot around the corner from the California Blue Line ‘L’ station in Logan Square. The number of parking spaces proposed is 182 fewer than the city’s zoning would typically require, but recent changes to city laws make it possible for exceptions to be granted on sites near transit, and an adopted plan for this area encourages taller buildings with less parking.

Many attendees echoed the auto-centric concerns commonly heard at such meetings. Some said that the car parking proposed will prove completely insufficient, or that 300 or more new residents would result in unfathomable congestion. A flyer distributed door to door in the neighborhood sternly warned that in “High Rise City,” “They will make it impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.”

Here’s the rub, though: Traffic volumes on major streets near the development have dropped substantially, and so has the local population. If there are fewer people and fewer cars, how could it be that some perceive traffic congestion to be worse than ever?

Between 2006 and 2010 (the most recent year available), the Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the number of drivers on Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue declined by 17.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. Traffic volumes on both streets fell by thousands of cars per day: approximately 2,600 fewer cars on Milwaukee and 4,600 fewer cars on California.

Population loss in the area has also been dramatic, since household sizes are rapidly declining. The population in the area around this proposed development declined by over 3,000 people, or 16 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The number of housing units increased by 316, but that was more than offset by an average household size that dropped from 2.7 to 2.2. It’s unlikely that the population trends have changed much since 2010: Census estimates project that the development’s Census tract added fewer than 100 people from 2008 to 2012.

Logan Square towers density has decreased
Population density in the Census tract east of California, on both sides of Milwaukee, decreased from 2000 to 2010. Source: Census Bureau, via Daniel Hertz

A corridor plan to revitalize Milwaukee Avenue through eastern Logan Square was adopted in 2008 after an extensive public process. At that time, neighbors thought little of the area’s many underused parking lots [PDF], and approved of the idea of replacing them with taller buildings of up to 11 stories. All of those same parking lots and “opportunity sites” remain today: this site, at Family Dollar across the street, at Cozy Corner after its breakfast rush, and in the strip mall housing Chase Bank and the Bubbleland laundry.

Developer Rob Buono expects that few of the new building’s residents will want to own cars. Buono’s earlier development at 1611 W. Division Street in Wicker Park includes 99 apartments and zero residential parking spaces. Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno had to pass an ordinance in 2012 to allow the building to forego parking, and the law was expanded in 2013 to apply to transit oriented developments citywide. As of May, over 90 percent of the units at 1611 W. Division had been rented, and yet it is not “impossible” to drive or park in its vicinity.

The area around the California ‘L’ stop already is less car-dependent than the norm: Over half of residents in the two Census tracts closest to the development commute car-free, and about one-third of households in the two tracts don’t own cars. Meanwhile, broader national trends show that young people, the primary market for small apartments in this area, are less likely to own cars or obtain driver’s licenses, and want to live in places that have transportation choices. A site 150 feet from the 24-hour Blue Line, two bus routes, and next to dozens of new businesses, offers plenty of ways for residents to fulfill their daily needs without driving.

New apartments here would also fix a mismatch in the neighborhood’s housing stock. Over one-third of the residents within the Census tract are singles living alone, but only one-fifth of the housing units in the Census tract have zero or one bedroom. Streetsblog reader and local resident Jacob Peters pointed out at the meeting that new apartment buildings can help to meet the demand for smaller residences in this area, while keeping neighboring single-family houses and two- or three-flats intact.

The Blue Line’s convenience is spurring reinvestment all across the Northwest Side, and as Chicago grows it should allow more people to have access to this important part of our transportation system. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Your New Blue project is improving the line’s capacity with redesigned stations that ease passenger flow, smooth new rails, and new rail signals that will allow trains to run more frequently and with fewer delays. CTA is already planning to add two more rush hour trains to the Blue Line in 2015, and is awaiting new or refurbished cars that will permit running even more trains.

And, falling traffic counts here and across Chicago means there’s room on Milwaukee and California for buses, bikes, and even cars.

  • duppie

    That is some interesting data, particular about decreasing household sizes and density.

    One problem with the new residents moving into Logan Square maybe that they are not as concerned about long-term developments as the existing residents are. I am guessing that many of them are renters, and they may not stay in Logan Square forever. So they are less likely to show up at neighborhood meetings. As a result, in the meetings older residents (property owners) are over-represented.

  • Great article Steven. Refresh my memory, does the development need alderman approval or can they build it by right.

  • They need a zoning change, to B3-5. It will also be a planned development, required for any development with more than 100 units or of a certain area. By right they could build what was there before (a 1 or 2 story contractor’s hardware store) or something like 4 stories mixed-use.

  • Your comment speaks to what Daniel Hertz has been writing about: shouldn’t the people who want to live in a neighborhood have a say about what kind of housing should go into that neighborhood?

  • Our style guidelines at Streetsblog usually discourage us from going into the weeds on the specifics of zoning laws, since such arcana can be reader-unfriendly. As we do more stories like this in the future we might find a reader-friendly way to add some of those in.

  • Scott Sanderson

    Some good evidence-based opinion right here.

  • duppie

    I think Daniel Hertz is saying something else than what I am saying. I think that property owners have more interest in participating in these neighborhood meetings than renters do, since their assets are tied into their property, and they are less mobile than renters, who can simply move to a new block or new ward if they don’t like what the neighborhood has become.

    I notice this myself. After living in a condo for 15 years, we bought a single family home earlier this year in a nice neighborhood existing almost exclusively of owner occupied SFHs. in my new neighborhood, there is much more talk about potential developments that would impact us. There is a more direct line with the Alderman’s office. If a development like the one you describe would be up for discussion on my new ‘hood, I would expect a lot my neighbors to show up. And yes, these residents would likely vote to preserve the status quo.

  • Joe Kopera

    What is not known is the problem these new projects will
    cause the community. Currently the Congress Theater is close to being
    sold to Michael Moyer. He was the guy that rehabbed the downtown Bismark
    Hotel into the Cadillac Palace Theater and the Allegro Hotel. Word is
    that he plans to invest up to $20 Million dollar to renovate the
    Congress Theater just as he has done to the Bismark Hotel. Plans will
    include 3 to 5 shows a week at the Congress once renovated which will
    result into up to 5000 people per show. Do you really think those people
    will be using public transit? He will also be buying the lot on
    Rockwell and Milwaukee and be develop another apartment building on that
    corner. Wake up Logan Square and Greater Goethe Neighbors Association
    before you bury the neighborhood will all these TOD projects. 253 Units
    on Max Gerber Property, 135 Units at Talman and Milwaukee Ave, 56 Units
    on California across the street from the post office.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    As a former block club president, I can tell you it is very difficult to interest renters in regular meeting attendance. Even homeowners don’t show up unless its something that will directly impact them.

    And just how do you reach out to people who want to live in a neighborhood, but don’t live there now?

    As for density decrease, this is mostly due to two flats being converted to SFH and older apartments that were previously cut up into smaller units going condo. When that happens the number of units have to comply to the current zoning. As an example, up until a year ago, the six flat next door to me had 16 legal units. When it was converted to condos, it had to go back to 6.

    And density can be sold if done right. My issue with this particular project is (aside from the fact that it looks like something from a suburban office park) is that it doesn’t appear to have much to add to the liveliness of the street. The big wall separating the two towers on Milwaukee Avenue is flat and uninviting and goes against a lot of the principles Streetblog wants in urban development. A long wall between the two tower bases with no activity like store fronts is a real bore.

  • qpurkey

    Following the slippery slope straight to logical fallacies I see.

  • duppie

    This is indeed exceptionally bland.

    Also, 11 and 14 stories? I am all for density, but it has to have some proportion to the existing building stock in the neighborhood. That height seem completely out of place for the neighborhood. How about cutting it in half?

    After all, this is not West Loop or Lakeview where these developments would not look out of place.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Single family home owners are more likely to vote.

  • ohsweetnothing

    I’m often the first one to point out that “the plural of anecdote does not equal data” but I can’t help but share my experience as a renter at one community meeting in particular. My input was roundly dismissed by most in attendance because I didn’t own property and merely rented in the neighborhood. This is not an assumption I made, it is a statement that several of the attendees said aloud in response to my input.
    I’m still fairly involved in community meetings when I can make it from work, and I’ve encountered that attitude several times over. Most recently at the MPC Logan Square event re: the Logan Blue Line stop. Maybe I’m just an unlucky attendee, but I suspect this is indicative of an attitude pervasive in community meetings in general. I can’t help but imagine that this contributes to the lack of renter involvement.

    I have several friends in the same boat as me, we rent…but we’ve rented in the same neighborhood for years now with an eye towards buying once we’ve saved enough. We care deeply about developments in the neighborhood, but I’d argue our eye is more on the future than the status quo/past.

  • ohsweetnothing

    ps – Yet another reason I think input from local community meetings is incredibly overrated. Too often policy considerations are the first thing to fly out the window.

  • TripleA325

    “Do you really think those people will be using public transit?”

    yes.

  • Dingus

    Does anyone know roughly how many units would be in an apartment building if they didn’t build these towers, and instead it was your typical 3-4 story building occupying that entire large lot? I have a feeling that number would be pretty high too. Just curious how it would compare if the design was more conventional for the neighborhood.

  • undercover epicurean

    Logan Square is certainly not overcrowded, the housing stock was built to house a much larger population than resides there now. The total population of the community area is about 65% of what it was in 1930.

  • Gil

    A few thoughts: The problem with renters having a deciding vote in neighborhood development is that renters come, and renters go. I don’t know the average stay of a renter in Logan Square – some stay 1 year, some 10 years – but on average it seems the younger tenants stay 1-3 years before moving due to relationship and/or job changes. Home/building owners, on the other hand, tend to stay much longer, measured in decades. Therefore, it seems counter productive to mold an entire community to the desires of short-term renters. Thus, granting parking slot variances based on transit proximity SEEMS like a good idea now, perhaps … but will it work in 20 years? 20-30 somethings may like to take the L or ride a bike to work now, but when they are 50, will they? It may be that these variance developments will forever have to be targeted to young, transient renters – but is that what builds a strong, lasting community? I do not know the answer, but do suggest that such developments be strictly limited in size and location. For example, the Gerber site proposal is just around the corner from the Car Wash site proposal, which is also seeking a TOD parking variance. BTW, my experience as a landlord is that young transit-oriented tenants do not eschew car ownership. Many do own cars – they just don’t drive to work. But they do drive to go shopping, go to the doctor, visit friends, go home to see their families, drive their babies around, etc. In the meantime, their cars need to be parked somewhere – which is going to have to be on the street. Perhaps one solution is a lease provision that forbids car ownership entirely during the tenancy. And if we are going to eliminate parking requirements for multi-unit residential builds and forbid car ownership by those renters, perhaps the parking requirements for strip mall and big box stores should be eliminated, along with street parking – since it is being posited that area renters won’t be driving anymore. These, by the way, are not reductio ad absurdum arguments against these TOD proposals. Rather, they are big picture views of the issues they create.

  • duppie

    In 1930 there were more residents per housing unit. Multigenerational families lived in one building. Are you suggesting we go back to an era when your grandparents, parents, and children lived in the same building?

  • sdfasdf

    I’d suggest you re-read his comment instead and try not to completely miss the point this time. At no point did he even come close to suggesting we go back to multigenerational families living in one building.

  • duppie

    You bring up a good point: will the decisions we make today work in 20 or 30 years?. Reality is that we don’t know for sure. All we have is long-term demographic patterns to lead us.

    The problem with your argument is that you assume that long-term home owners keep the future in mind when deciding about neighborhood developments. That of course isn’t true. Homeowners will typically vote according to how it impacts them today, because just like everyone else, that is all they know. In other words, is voting against TOD development the best option for homeowners 20 or 30 years from now? We can’t really know because we don’t know what the community will look like in 20 or 30 years.

  • carwash

    Well this is an apt. building so it stands to reason (as you already said in your post) that people who move in during the 20s will not still be renting in this building 3 decades later in their 50s. Also, the fraction of housing that truly qualifies as TOD is so low that you can’t begin to compare car usage among all young tenants with car usage in TOD buildings. One thing’s for sure, building an apt with 1-2 spots per unit sure as hell will encourage more car usage than a building with a TOD-allowed spot to unit ratio. Especially when tenants are denied permit parking (which has happened to residents of the Division/Ashland TOD building).

  • undercover epicurean

    I’m not suggesting anything of the sort, just stating a fact.

    But since you brought it up, I don’t actually see anything wrong with living close to one’s family.

  • duppie

    If we want to increase the density with the existing housing stock -which is what I read in your statement-, we will need to reduce the amount of sq ft occupied by each individual. Multi-generational families is just one possible solution.

    Multi-generational families living in the same building is actually an emerging mini trend, especially in first or second generation immigrant families.

    However, the homes currently designed for multi-generational families typically have multiple separate entrances, so that grandma can come and go through her own exit. It is the internal passageways that connect these units that make them multi-generational or multi-family.

  • MJVD

    As an owner, I’m also very involved in my local neighborhood group, and you are completely correct. It infuriates me to hear some of the older, home-owning members disparage renters (or even condo owners like myself), but they do indeed have that attitude. To me, it seem that the anti-development attitudes of most neighborhood organizations become self-fulfilling — more pro-development people are made to feel so unwelcome that they stop attending meetings. I’ve fought through it and try to make every meeting, but I can’t blame others if they don’t want to put themselves through that.

  • Dingus

    Sadly…at the community meeting, people were presented with census data. And people actually cheered when a guy yelled out “Census. Makes no Sense-us!” The mentality of some people is very depressing to me.

  • Already many of these buildings (like the 99-unit one Buono has already built) have as a precondition that their residents are not eligible for permit-parking privileges on nearby permitted streets.

  • Those views are going to bring a rent premium.

  • Some definitely will. Others can use nearby multistory garages.

  • It’s RIGHT by the train station, so very attractive to people commuting to the loop (especially people with jobs that mean they fly out of O’Hare a lot). I think those residents will bring lots of money to local businesses within foot-radius.

  • Slippery Slope is a great dance club.

  • Thank you, Scott.

  • Thank you!

  • Kind of…the courtyard building, which is prevalent in Logan Square and Humboldt Park, has a density approaching these towers. The developer could achieve the same or similar density with a different design. The minimum parking requirements complicate that, though.

    I think this blog post was written specifically for your question:
    http://danielkayhertz.com/2014/11/12/height-can-be-deceptive-when-15-4/

  • The great thing about your first question (which wasn’t proceeded by a question mark) is that we CAN know how the average stay of a renter in Logan Square. We can even find out how old they are and what transportation mode they usually take to work.

    In the Census Tract containing the Towers, 2214, 69% of workers 16+ (meaning they had a job when they were surveyed) live in rental units. The most popular mode of transportation for renting workers is transit. People who live in owned units are WAY more likely to drive alone to work. You can see this information on Census Reporter.

    Renting is more common in this Census Tract than owning, and fully 26% of rented households have ZERO vehicles available. Only 2.2% of owned households have ZERO vehicles available. Assuming the people who rent in the Towers are like the people living in Logan Square in the period of 2008-2012 (the time of the survey) then a quarter of the households won’t have a car. The developer is responding to that by providing car parking spaces for 1/3 of the households, so more than is possibly needed, given the most recent statistics.

    I’ll address length of stay in a separate comment.

  • So how long do renters in Logan Square stay there? You can find that information on Census Reporter, for this Census Tract, in table B25011, but it may be a little awkward to read.

    The most common renter situation is to be in a family household, but that’s barely a larger portion of situations than non-family households (of which the person living alone is the most common). But for length of stay, we have to look at table B25026.

    That tells us that 46% of renters in this Census Tract moved here between 2000 to 2009, inclusive. Owners haven’t lived there any longer: 50% of people in owned units in this Census Tract moved here between 2000 to 2009, inclusive.

  • “Perhaps one solution is a lease provision that forbids car ownership entirely during the tenancy.”

    This is not a good regulation. There is not a problem finding street parking in this area – there is only the problem of finding it in front of your home or next door.

    I find the lack of using garages to store cars problematic. The zoning code requires at least one off-street parking space for each housing unit, sometimes even more. This area has a lot of single-family homes (which probably have 2-car garage), and two or three flats (which also probably have 2-car garages).

    As I’ve demonstrated in the article text and in other comments, people don’t own that many cars in this area to be filling up the streets AND filling the garages.

  • Maybe they’re using their garages for other purposes and parking 1-3 cars per owned household on the street? Not terribly uncommon in my neighborhood (Wilson and Springfield) for owned units.

    I own a house whose incredibly generous garage could be used to park 5 cars (if you fit them in carefully and didn’t need to be able to get all of them out in random order). It is mostly full of shelving, with enough floor space left free to take our household’s one car (and three bikes of varying size). We are sometimes a 2-car household (we have friends whose car we borrow when we are in needing-two-cars weeks), in which case one of them is parked on the street.

    Many of our neighbors park their cars on the street nearly every day and walk to the front doors of their houses. Some of them have garages (though I’ve not seen inside them).

    Not saying policy should work to ENCOURAGE this habit, just that many homeowners bemoaning lack of available parking may be unwittingly contributing to the problem themselves.

  • BlueFairlane

    Where are there multistory garages nearby? The only one I can think of is at the movie theater on Western, and that’s at least a half mile from here.

  • qpurkey

    That it is!

  • TapDanceMom

    Just an FYI — At the public meeting, the developer said that this may NOT be an apartment building but rather condos. He said the final decision had not been made.

    Another FYI — In the 16 years I have lived in Logan Square, the traffic at that intersection has remained constant.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    But your average family size has decreased since the 1930s, my 3 bedroom house in Edgewater had 8 people living here in 1930. A lot of 3 bedroom 1 bath six flats went condo as 2 bedrooms 2 baths. S there has been a significant retrenching in not only householdcsize, but living space.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Badly designed TOD, is just plain bad for everyone. I think this one is a stinker. Creating an expansive blank wall on the street between two buildings to basically hide the parking garage that contains fewer parking spaces so you can call it TOD? And that’s the problem here. Proprty located so close to transit should be developed to create a lively and walkable street. The wall between the buildings on what should be contiguous ground floor commercial will now be stagnant and static. A canyon between two buildings. But as long as you can hang a scalp on you belt and say we’ve reduced mandatory parking and created this mythical TOD. You are losing the opportunity to create great urban design. So sad.

  • Dan Vickerman

    So true… I had to stop going in LP.

  • I’ve heard that the complaints about the blank wall between the two buildings, which are shared widely, have been communicated to the developer from the planning department.

  • There was also an attendee who said the Census never came and asked him. It seemed that some were unaware of what the Census is or what the Census bureau does.

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