Chicago’s First “Shared Street” on Argyle Is Officially Open for Business

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The Chinese Mutual Aid Society’s dragon dancers perform at the opening of the shared street. Photo: John Greenfield

This afternoon in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman, and other local officials cut the ribbon on the Argyle “shared street,” a pedestrian-priority design inspired by similar streets in Asia and Europe. By calming traffic and blurring the lines between spaces for walking and vehicles, as well as providing more room for sidewalk cafes and special events, the streetscape should increase safety while giving a boost to businesses on Chicago’s Southeast Asian retail strip.

Emanuel, who spent part of his childhood living nearby on Winona Street, said the project has improved the aesthetics of the dining and shopping district, “inviting people from all around the city and the area to come and experience the cultural diversity” of the neighborhood. He indicated that Chicago may try similar people-friendly street designs in other neighborhoods in the future.

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The east half of the shared street as it appeared today. Photo: John Greenfield

The makeover of three-block stretch of Argyle, located between Broadway and Sheridan, raised the street up to sidewalk level, eliminated the curbs, delineated different uses of the right of way with various colors of pavers and street furniture, and made the strip fully wheelchair accessible. The roughly $4.5 million project was funded through a combination of tax-increment financing, ward, and Department of Water infrastructure funding.

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A new pedestrian island with a decorative pole featuring (with colors inspired by Vietnamese cuisine?) on Broadway at Argyle. Photo: John Greenfield

Green elements of the design include more efficient streetlights, permeable pavers, and infiltration planters to soak up rainwater. The latter were recently landscaped with small trees and flowers, so the concrete basins are finally full of vegetation instead of garbage.

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The planter basins have finally been landscaped. Photo: John Greenfield

Sensors have been installed in the planters as part of a pilot project from City Digital, a UI LABS collaboration, for monitoring the green infrastructure’s performance. These sensors will provide real-time information about the water management capabilities of this project.

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Text was recently added to warn drivers on cross streets to slow down as they approach Argyle Street, which has been raised to sidewalk level. Photo: John Greenfield

A city ordinance lowered the speed limit on the strip to 20 mph, and the configuration of the planters and parking creates chicanes to slow down vehicle traffic. However, months after the colored pavers were installed, some drivers are still confused about where to park, which can result in the drivable portion of the street being narrower than it’s supposed to be.

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Drivers are supposed to park directly to the left of the narrow strip of dark-gray pavers, but that’s still not always happening. Photo: John Greenfield

Drivers are supposed to park directly to the left of the dark-gray pavers, but today some cars were still parked a few feet away from this line, which meant they partly obstructed the drivable portion. While there still aren’t any signs to explain this counter-intuitive parking situation, CDOT recently created a video demonstrating how road users are supposed to navigate the shared street.

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Osterman (green sweater), Emanuel, and Vien (blue blazer) cut the ribbon on the shared street with community members. Photo: John Greenfield

At the opening ceremony, Osterman lauded the project as one that celebrates Argyle Street’s cultural history while modernizing the strip with forward-thinking design. “This goes beyond bricks and mortar,” he said. “It’s a commitment to community, innovation, safety, and the business community.”

“The way that the street is designed is very Asian,” said Yman Vien, who cofounded the local organization the Chinese Mutual Aid Society in 1981. “It wraps around you and welcomes you.” She added that the streetscape will make Argyle’s successful summer Night Market weekly events even more vibrant.

Have you checked out the shared street recently? Tell us what you think of the finished design in the comments section.

  • tooter turtle

    I don’t mind that drivers don’t understand where to park. Narrowing the drivable part of the street slows cars down even more, which is all good IMO.

  • UptownArtsCouncil

    Beautiful!

  • The only people that CDOT video will teach how to park on Argyle are the staffs of the other city departments–and Alderman’s office–to whom they show it. There obviously needs to be signage.

  • Drivers are supposed to park directly to the left of the dark-gray pavers, but today some cars were still parked a few feet away from this line, which meant they partly obstructed the drivable portion.

    I fail to see how that’s a problem. The drivable portion of the street is overbuilt anyway, so this is the best possible outcome. It presents an environment that might actually keep speeds low (pavers alone will NOT) and provides more pedestrian space.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The new street design already narrowed the driveable portion by a few feet. Soon after the street was reopened, when no one was parking as intended, there were sometimes bottlenecks where it was tricky for two motor vehicles to pass each other at any speed.

  • Jacob Wilson

    $4.5 million is an outstanding value for this. There are many homes in the region that cost this much and only benefit one family. This will benefit thousands, we definitely need more of this!

    That said, 20mph still seems WAY too fast for a street that is supposed to be shared with people and cars. 20mph in a grocery store parking lot would be consider reckless.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I agree with Marvin Norman, there’s no reasons for cars to whizz down streets like this. Cars can wait a few seconds if someone’s coming the other way.

    Time will tell, but I think the “illegal” parkers have got it about right.

  • Features not a bugs. All three of the cars above who parked “wrong” probably felt guilty that they were parking over the “curb” and onto the sidewalk. I love. it.

  • Not obvious to me. It is a very open fluid design that encourages micro decisions by all the users that appear to be creating win-win situations for everybody. imho.

    I agree that the video will have zero effect. Again one more feature rather than a bug.

  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Maybe the most interesting thing about the whole project to me is this excerpt: “Sensors have been installed in the planters as part of a pilot project from City Digital, a UI LABS collaboration, for monitoring the green infrastructure’s performance. These sensors will provide real-time information about the water management capabilities of this project.” So, potentially we’d now be able to quantify the amount of stormwater these bioswales are able to divert from the sewers? That would be an amazing step forward in terms of talking about the benefits of these bumpouts.

  • I’m really failing to see how that’s a problem, especially in a place that’s supposed to be oriented for people–is that no longer the goal? What makes or breaks a good shared space is almost entirely due to the presence (or lack thereof) of motor traffic. The improper parking is inadvertently creating pinchpoints and forcing Argyle to function as a yield street. You really should be hoping that the City doesn’t make a bigger push to correct that, especially since it just officially opened. The first few weeks are crucial as motorists are unsure of what exactly to expect. If they keep running into “traffic”, have to slow down, or otherwise can’t speed through, they’ll learn to avoid using Argyle as a through route. But if the City makes a play to maintain the through function of the design by aggressively enforcing parking off the driving portion, especially in these early weeks, people will expect it to remain a through route and cars will dominate in the natural sorting that occurs. If (or when) that happens, further steps would need to be taken to limit motor traffic; I’d recommend making it one-way (except for bikes) from Winthrop out to Broadway and Kenmore out to Sheridan, leaving just the segment between Kenmore and Winthrop as two-way (or perhaps even completely pedestrianizing that segment).

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