Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

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Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. “If they don’t come, who am I going to serve?” he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It’s going to be a big experiment,” he said. “I’m kind of neutral. I’m not sure what to expect.”

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

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A Streetmix rendering of the new bike lane and parking configuration.

“In areas with higher parking demand, CDOT and IDOT identified locations on the adjacent street network to relocate as many parking spaces as possible [by implementing diagonal parking],” Tridgell said. “The current layout requires approximately 85 parking spaces and 40 feet of loading/standing zone to be removed along Clybourn, with 42 spaces lost north of Larrabee to Halsted and 43 spaces lost south of Larrabee to Division.”

However, the agencies identified opportunities to replace 15 of the lost spaces on Larrabee south of Clybourn, near New Zaika and Yojimbo’s, and five spaces Orleans Street south of Division Street. Thus, the net loss of 65 spaces.

IDOT and CDOT also identified several locations on adjacent side streets where on-street parking is readily available, but is not always fully occupied. These locations — Larrabee north of Clybourn, Scott Street south of Clybourn, and Ogden Avenue south of Clybourn — can provide approximately 30 available spaces on a typical day, Tridgell said. He added that CDOT has also worked with business owners whose loading and standing zones will be impacted to identify alternate locations for these curbside uses.

On top of all that, the project involves removing existing rush hour parking controls that currently ban parking on the east side Clybourn during evening rush hours. “That will allow residents and business owners to park in the spots that remain 24 hours a day,” Tridgell said. In short, the agencies are bending over backwards to make sure that the conversion of parking spaces for this key safety initiative will not negatively impact businesses.

If that’s not enough to reassure the merchants that the protected lanes won’t be a one-way route to the poorhouse, they should know that we’ve seen this movie before. In 2013, CDOT removed 15 on-street parking spaces to make room for protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue in River West, a much denser retail corridor.

There was plenty of resistance when the Milwaukee lanes were proposed, but almost zero complaints from businesses afterwards. One exception was the owner of the Silver Palm restaurant, 768 North Milwaukee, who told DNA that the parking conversions forced him to shut down for the winter. As it turned out, he was using the bike lanes as a convenient scapegoat to cover up for his own poor business acumen. The owner admitted to DNA that the Silver Palm nearly closed five years earlier but was saved by an endorsement from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

  • duppie

    I think your unfairly minimizing Mr. Rafiq’s concern’s here. I live close to a mosque and the ebb and flow of cars is remarkable. Multiple times a day it changes from nearly empty to full and back again, all in under an hour.

    If he cannot provide easy access parking to their customers, they might indeed go elsewhere, where they have easier access to parking and can minimize their “downtime” for praying and dinner.

    And thinking that, without changing his business model, he will attract significant clientele on bicycles from outside his community is farfetched at best.

  • BrownBrown

    I think your comment is fair, and obviously not all businesses will be affected in the same way by the changes, but in line with Mr. Rafiq’s comments, the street does indeed need to be made safer. The city and its streets need to change, and overall these changes will be great for city residents and business alike. Unfortunately, not every business will benefit from every change. I also don’t think it is clear-cut that his business will suffer from the changes. How many parking spots will be removed from the area? If you are blaming the demise of your business on the removal of a few parking spaces (a few potential customers), you probably had problems already!

  • I wrote that safer biking *and walking* conditions *could attract some* additional diners.

  • what_eva

    Baba Palace It was great cheap food.

    Nitpicking aside, I get that his business gets a lot of cabbies, but is that really the city’s responsibility to ensure he has sufficient parking? IMO, he should have found a location with an off-street lot if that’s such an important part of his business.

  • Not at all, I’m happy to admit when I’ve been out-retroed. There’s currently a Baba Palace at 334 West Chicago, also good. Not sure if it’s the same management.

  • kastigar

    Why a three-foot WIDE barrier? Isn’t that reducing the street width overall by six feet? Wouldn’t it be better to have a three-foot HIGH barrier with a lot less width?

  • Tom Foyer

    making an area safer for everyone promotes business. if he has good grub, they will come.

  • Tom Foyer

    Actually you need the three feet as a buffer zone for car doors. Part of the advantage of riding in a protected lane is that a car can be parked and have all it’s doors open and it doesn’t impede on your path. It also prevents cars from parking in he actual bike lane which they do most of the time unless it’s totally partitioned off by a curb. If you simply put up a little 3 foot high plastics stick cars just run right over them.

  • IDOT is doing it so pedestrians exiting the passenger door of cars have a very wide space to get out. It also happens to keep bikes out of the inside-edge door zone, which is nice, but the main reason is pedestrian feelings and anxiety about BUT I MIGHT GET A BICYCLIST UP MY BACK (if I don’t look before I open the door).

  • I think Bob is wondering why they don’t just put a curb like at the sidewalk edge, the same height as other curbs (6-8″? Depending on neighborhood) and about the same width, like this:

    http://keycity.co/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/seperated-bike-lane.jpg

  • Tom Foyer

    Yeah that type of curb totally works provided people are not parking there opening their doors and impeding on the bike lane. At least some type of partition is better than anything. Reflective infra is nice as well.

  • cjlane

    I think he’s asking for a Jersey barrier type wall.

    What happens is then cars park three feet away, anyway, and you still lose the street width, plus you have a really ugly 3′ high concrete wall.

    I would be *super* PO’d if they put in a 3′ high wall on any of the surface streets.

  • JacobEPeters

    It was not that great when I tried to get my indo/pak fix during lunch there 4 years ago.

  • Pat

    Thanks for the info, as I wondered about that myself. I do hope that in cases where there aren’t 3 (or 6) feet to spare, that it’s grounds to disqualify installing a PBL on a street with parking.

  • duppie

    John, your appetite for trying out ethnic cuisine is well documented and well ahead of the average American.
    If these cabbies go away, you and a few other folks visit’s wont keep Mr. Rafiq in business. He will need dozens of others to replace the lost business. I don’t see that happen.

  • Again, I never claimed that extra foot and bike traffic on Clybourn would make up for the loss of business if Mr. Rafiq loses all of his customers who drive.

    Rather, the point of the article is that it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a big parking crunch. Yes, there will be a net loss of 65 spaces. However, much of the parking on Clybourn was underutilized. On average, there were 30 empty parking spaces on side streets within a 5-minute walk of New Zaika, according to the parking study. The removal of rush hour parking restrictions on Clybourn will also provide more parking opportunities.

    My suggestion to Mr. Rafiq would be to publicize the fact that parking is available nearby on Larrabee, Scott, and Ogden. Sure, customers who drive may have to walk a bit further to access the restaurant, but the desire for rock star parking does not trump the need for a safer street configuration.

  • Yes, I agree that there’s plenty of parking right now, not only on Clybourn, but on Larrabee, which is steps away from Zaika restaurant. The entire area is currently extremely underdeveloped, but isn’t going to stay that way long, especially with the new huge shopping/entertainment mall opening north on Clybourn this fall, the new schools moving into the area, as well as all the future developments on Goose Island just to the west. And this is all in the Central Business District.

    Even after there’s more building done, I don’t think that any given store owner should reasonably expect that there be (mostly free) on-street parking provided for hundreds of customers to arrive all at once for one hour several times a day.

    In any case, I’m very much looking forward to the Clybourn protected lane going in and will definitely try both Zaika as well as Tabaq nearby, as I’ve been meaning to for a long time.

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