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KaBOOM Promotes Placemaking as a Way to Encourage Play

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Detail from a sketch of “The Playable City of the Future,” brainstormed during the summit in Pilsen.

Active, creative, and social play has a number of benefits for children, especially those in low-income, urban communities. However, nowadays many kids don’t get enough opportunities for healthy play, according to staffer Janine Kacprzak from the nonprofit KaBOOM. The organization has helped build over 2,500 playgrounds across the country, including hundreds in Chicago, Kacprzak said.

KaBOOM recently shifted its focus from simply building playgrounds to encouraging cities to provide “corner stores of play” — opportunities for children to recreate close to home. At the Playful City USA Summit in Chicago last month, leaders from around the country took a tour of the Pilsen neighborhood, brainstorming play-friendly placemaking ideas that could work in any community.

One of the main reasons why many kids don’t engage in healthy play as often as they should is the issue of proximity, Kacprzak said. A park or playground can feel far away because a family has to drive or take transit to access it, or walk to a different part of the neighborhood.

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Kacprzak points out faded murals along the 16th Street rail embankment that could be refurbished to brighten up the block. Photo: John Greenfield

Unsafe or unpleasant conditions for walking or biking, including poor street design, crumbling infrastructure, or concerns about crime, exacerbate the problem. As a result, the majority of low-income families KaBOOM surveyed tend to take their kids out to play on weekends, sometimes for several hours at a time.

If this kind of play is the equivalent of a weekly trip to the supermarket, the nonprofit proposes creating “corner stores of play” through placemaking – activating underused public spaces. “The idea is to make smaller play areas throughout the city, so it’s not this huge hassle of getting kids ready for an outing, but something nearby,” Kacprzak said. She added that cities who use this approach in all kinds of neighborhoods, and prioritize investing in parks and play in general, benefit economically by attracting and retaining families and businesses.

212 municipalities of all sizes are participating in KaBOOM’s Playful City USA program by using play as a strategy to address challenges in their communities. Representatives of 12 of the cities convened at Blue 1647, a tech incubator space at 1647 South Blue Island in Pilsen, for the summit.

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Effective “Stop For Pedestrians” Signs Worth The Minimal Replacement Cost

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A city crew installs a “Stop for Pedestrians” sign on Diversey Parkway in 2012.

An article in Monday’s Tribune confirmed what we already knew: Chicago’s “Stop for Pedestrians” signs have been taking a beating from careless drivers. In 2012, the city began installing the placards by crosswalks at unsignalized intersections. The Trib reported that 78 percent of the 344 signs installed have been replaced after motorists crashed into them.

The Chicago Department of Transportation estimates that a total of $265,000 has been spent so far to install and replace signs. Material and labor for replacing a sign at one location costs $550. Usually, two are replaced at the same time, which costs $920. Even so, the amount the city has spent on sign replacement comes out to roughly five cents per Chicagoan.

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the Trib that this minimal expense is worthwhile. “The signs have gone a long way in increasing driver awareness of the four-year-old state law” requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians, she said.

Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said the same thing at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council Meeting earlier this month: “I think it’s worth $920 to put them out there, even at the frequency of every 6-12 months.”

The price tag for installing and replacing the signs pales in comparison to the price of losing life and limb to crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that pedestrian fatalities cost the Illinois economy $168 million in 2005. CDOT estimates the social and economic cost of each crash as $53,000 per injury, or $3.8 million per death [PDF].

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman endorsed the value of the placards, telling the Trib that his ward has “replaced our fair share of these signs, but people are slowing down and stopping” as a result. An Active Transportation Alliance study confirmed that signs are working. The report found that three times as many drivers stopped for pedestrians at Cook County crosswalks with the signs than at crosswalks without them.

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Eyes on the Street: The Case of the Missing Bike Lane Bollards

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The Broadway protected lanes before and after bollard removal. Photos: John Greenfield

Uptown’s Broadway protected bike lanes, installed earlier this year, are a great example of the power of a road diet with PBLs. By converting a former four-lane speedway to two travel lanes, a turn lane, and protected lanes, the city transformed a hectic, dangerous stretch of Broadway into one that’s calmer and safer for pedestrians and drivers, as well as cyclists.

Recently, however, all of the plastic posts that separated the curbside bike lanes from the parking lane mysteriously vanished. This isn’t the first time that posts, also known as bollards, have disappeared from Chicago PBLs. They’re commonly taken out by careless drivers and construction projects.

Last winter, one of the snowiest on record, was particularly rough on the city’s protected bike lanes. Snowplows knocked out plenty of PBL posts on Dearborn and Kinzie. By springtime, every single bollard on Milwaukee, the city’s busiest bike lane street, had been obliterated.

But we haven’t even had significant snowfall yet, so what happened to the Broadway Bollards? A few theories sprang to mind. Broadway is one of the few retail streets in Chicago with protected lanes. Perhaps business owners complained about losing access for curbside deliveries, so the posts were removed to make it easier for truckers to temporarily park in the lanes?

On the other hand, crews recently filmed scenes for the movie “Batman Vs. Superman” in Uptown. They temporarily turned the Lawrence Red Line stop into a fictional “Gotham Transit Authority” station. Maybe the producers felt that bike lane bollards would look out of place in the Caped Crusader’s hometown.

While the bollard removals are puzzling, some feel that plastic posts are superfluous on parking-protected bike lanes. For example, the posts generally aren’t installed along parking-protected lanes in New York City.

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Montrose Green Planner: The Time Is Right for Transit-Oriented Development

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Rendering of Montrose Green, a proposed mixed-use, parking-lite development by the Brown Line.

Montrose Green is a new mixed-use, parking-lite building proposed for a vacant lot at 1819 West Montrose in Ravenswood. The location has all the transit access you could ask for in a development. The parcel sits just west of the Brown Line’s Montrose station, and is served by the #78 Montrose and #50 Damen buses. There’s a Divvy station across the street, and Metra’s Ravenswood stop is three blocks north. The lot sits on a bustling pedestrian-oriented retail strip, full of shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Developer Harrington Brown plans to take advantage of the prime location, and Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, to build a five-story building with 24 rental units and 10 parking spaces. That’s far below the city’s standard requirement of a 1:1 ratio. “People are seeking opportunities to live, work, shop, and dine near transit hubs,” said Harrington Brown owner David Brown. “This approach reflects where we are as a society — not every single renter has a car or needs a car.”

The building would mostly be made up of one-bedroom apartments, with a few two-bedroom units. The 5,300 square-foot ground floor space would likely be leased to a restaurant. A 3,000 square-foot, penthouse-like structure on the 5th floor is planned as office space for tech startups and other innovative small businesses. The developer hopes to start construction next spring.

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The development would be in a transit- and retail-rich location. Image: Google Streetview

Harrington Brown purchased the land during a CTA auction five years ago, during the depths of the Great Recession, and Brown said it was his intention to hold onto the property until the real estate market improved. In the meantime, the space has housed the Montrose Green community garden, as well as events like an outdoor Irish Christmas market, held last December. “That turned out to be more of a Polar Vortex street party,” he joked.

Brown said he’s not a developer by trade, but comes from a public policy and urban planning background, and that his strategy for the new building reflects his planning philosophy. “What we’re finding in neighborhoods today is that the demand for parking among renters is much lower than what was previously perceived,” he said. “If we’re wrong about that, we won’t be successful in renting the apartments.”

Typically, Chicago parking requirements mandate the construction of at least one parking spot per residence. The city’s TOD ordinance relaxes the rules near transit, requiring developers to provide one parking spot for every two housing units in buildings within one full block of a transit station, or within a two-block radius on designated Pedestrian Streets. Harrington Brown is also taking advantage of a provision that allows developers to apply for a variance to reduce the number of spots by an additional 20 percent. The 10 spaces would be located behind the building.

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Why Did Divvy Stations Dance Around River West, Lincoln Square?

A station was moved from Lincoln and Eastwood to a Leavitt and Lawrence as part of the new streetscape and road diet on Lawrence.

A station was moved from Lincoln and Eastwood to Leavitt and Lawrence, as part of the new streetscape and road diet on Lawrence.

Divvy bike-share stations were designed to be easy to move around, with their modular construction and off-grid solar power. Sure enough, plenty of Divvy members have had their routines disrupted by station moves lately: 8,000 Divvy members received word this year that stations they’d recently used were on the move. One Divvy member forwarded two such emails to Streetsblog and asked why the stations had to be moved, since the new locations didn’t seem any more convenient than the prior locations.

Over in the heart of Lincoln Square, Divvy moved a station from Lincoln and Eastwood avenues, in the midst of a thriving retail district of small shops clustered around the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Davis cinema, one-third of a mile away to Leavitt Avenue and Lawrence Avenue. Even though the move will make Divvy trips to Lincoln Square businesses a bit less convenient, there’s another dock one block up Lincoln at the Western Brown Line ‘L.’ Plus, the move expanded Divvy’s reach into the neighborhood north of Lawrence, and gives a boost to a revitalizing shopping area on Lawrence Avenue.

Sean Wiedel, who manages Divvy for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said “we worked with the 47th ward office to better serve the new Lawrence Avenue streetscape and businesses that are opening in the corridor.” Winnemac Park residents were brought into the Divvy service area, he said, whereas before they would have to cross Lawrence – a mean feat before the diet – to access existing locations in Lincoln Square or at the Ravenswood Metra station to the east. Additional Divvy docks were added at the ‘L’ stop to accommodate potential new demand within the Square.

The second relocation moved a Divvy station from Milwaukee Avenue and Green Street in River West two blocks away, to Union Street and Grand Avenue. The previous location wasn’t perfect, since it was hidden behind a block of dilapidated buildings and all but invisible from the Blue Line station entrances half a block away – but the new location is even further from the Blue Line, and also across a busy six-way intersection.

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Couple Hopes Amenities Will Make Café a South Loop Cycling Hub

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The new cafe’s bike-centric logo.

Two members of Chicago’s XXX Racing team plan to open a new café at 18th and Indiana, with a number of features they hope will entice bike commuters to stop in for a cup, a bite, or a beer.

The eatery is named the Spoke & Bird, after its bike-friendly aspects and co-owner Alicia Bird. It will include ample bike parking, a repair stand in the patio, and possibly an on-street bike corral and/or a nearby Divvy station. The café is located a stone’s throw from the bike path and overpass near 18th and Calumet, which the owners point out is the only route to the lakefront between Roosevelt and 31st.

“We think our proximity to the Lakefront Trail, and all the activity in the South Loop, will make us a hub for people traveling on bikes between downtown, the South Loop, and beyond,” said Scott Golas, Bird’s business and romantic partner.

The café will be located in the former Café Society space. It’s housed within a three-story Chicago Park District fieldhouse, which recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation, including the addition of children’s science labs. Just east is the historic Glessner House, and to the south is a park that includes the Clarke House, Chicago’s oldest standing residence, built in 1836.

Golas, who founded the software firm Xmplify, and Bird, a designer and project manager who worked at Café Society since early 2013, bought the café in July and closed it for renovations last month. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising an additional $70,000 to overhaul the 4,200 square foot patio and renovate the kitchen.

Pending city inspections, the couple hopes to launch the Spoke & Bird on December 13. “When it reopens, it will be like night and day,” Golas promised.

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CMAP Seeks Its Own Dedicated Tax For Transit, Green Infrastructure

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CMAP executive director Randy Blankenhorn says the region needs a new funding source for projects that cross jurisdiction and program boundaries. Photo: CMAP

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning last week floated its own proposal to fix the region’s shortfall in transportation funding. It launched FUND 2040, a campaign calling upon the Illinois legislature to fund sustainable infrastructure through a quarter-cent sales tax across the Chicagoland region. CMAP says this increase would generate $300 million annually, which it would use to advance projects that fulfill the goals of its federally-required plan for the region, GO TO 2040.

GO TO 2040 aims to sustainably accommodate population growth across the seven county region by steering investment to already-developed areas, doubling transit ridership, carrying more people on existing highways with more buses and with managed High Occupancy/Toll lanes, and absorbing more rainfall on sites rather than sending it into the area’s overwhelmed sewers.

FUND 2040 would align capital investments with GO TO 2040, and to give the region greater autonomy in choosing which projects to fund. CMAP would award funds to projects in existing plans, based entirely on performance measures — a marked difference from how the Illinois Department of Transportation spends money on politically favored projects like the budget-busting, ill-conceived Illiana Tollway.

The new fund would also put CMAP on surer financial footing. CMAP, as a federally recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization, is funded through the state’s DOT, and cash-strapped IDOT has delayed reimbursing CMAP’s operations costs on multiple occasions.

CMAP’s executive director Randy Blankenhorn said that, while the Illinois General Assembly has yet to write FUND 2040′s enabling legislation, the bill “would outline specific goals” instead of listing projects, places, or formulas to be funded. The legislation, he said, would outline project selection criteria because “it’s a long-term fund, and needs and funds can change.”

Emphasizing general purposes, instead of individual projects, is how the new fund would complement existing funding schemes’ sharp divisions. Existing “state and federal funds are very specific,” Blankenhorn said. “One will build a multi-use trail, but not flood control.”

In keeping with the broad goals of GO TO 2040, Blankenhorn said that CMAP settled on a sales tax, and specifically not a gas tax, because its projects – transportation, parks, and water infrastructure – benefit everyone, both on and off streets. “We admit the sales tax is not the preferred option for many things,” he said, “but this is a broad-based tax, that all users of all of the infrastructure pay into.”

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Pawar, and an Army of Seniors, Lobby the CTA to Restore Lincoln Bus Service

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Pawar testifies at last night’s CTA budget hearing. Photo: John Greenfield

Last night, local community leaders and dozens of senior citizens showed up for the CTA’s 2015 budget hearing, imploring the agency to restore the full #11 Lincoln Avenue bus route.

The Lincoln bus previously ran between Skokie and the Blue Line’s Clinton station in the West Loop. As part of the CTA’s 2012 decrowding plan, which added service to 48 bus routes and most ‘L’ lines, the agency partially or completely cut service on roughly a dozen bus routes. The heart of the Lincoln route, from the Brown Line’s Western stop to the Fullerton station, was eliminated as part of these cuts.

The #11 still travels between Skokie and Western, and a new #37 Sedgwick bus now runs between Fullerton and Clinton. However, the total bus ridership on Lincoln has dropped from the previous average of 5,489 rides per weekday to 3,152 rides, RedEye reported. Overall, CTA bus ridership has dropped over the past few years.

When the bus cuts were announced, the CTA stated that affected #11 riders could instead take the Brown Line, which roughly parallels Lincoln between Western and Fullerton. In the past two years, the CTA has added 15 weekday Brown Line roundtrips per day, and increased service on eight of the ten bus lines that serve the area, RedEye reported. The CTA says the Lincoln route cut is saving the agency $1.4 million a year.

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Some sections of the affected stretch of Lincoln are a half-mile walk from the Brown Line. Image: Google Maps

However, some locations on this stretch of Lincoln are a half mile away from the nearest Brown Line station – a ten-minute walk for able-bodied people, and a significant distance for seniors and people with disabilities. The Brown Line was overhauled in the late Nineties, and all stops are currently ADA accessible. 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar has said bus cut has increased travel times for his constituents. Some are now choosing to drive instead of taking transit, or are avoiding destinations on Lincoln, he said.

The CTA has said it doesn’t plan to bring the Lincoln service back, arguing that the affected area is still one of the most transit rich parts of the city. Pawar has offered to use Tax Increment Financing money to help restore the service, but TIF funds can only be used for infrastructure, not operating expenses. Frustrated with the agency’s refusal to reverse their decision, the alderman has said he’s pulling his support for the Ashland bus rapid transit project.

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New Development, Investment Anticipates Future Bloomingdale Trail

New housing near the Bloomingdale Trail

A new residential and retail building replaced a vacant lot next to the Bloomingdale Trail this year, adjacent to an access ramp to the future path.

The Bloomingdale Trail is attracting new investment along its length, including the construction of new multi-family and single-family housing. The blocks bracketing the multi-use path and adjacent parks (collectively known as the 606) saw less construction than their wider neighborhoods during the 2008-2009 recession — but now construction is picking up. Investors and developers are confidently saying that the 606 will not just be a great amenity for their customers, but a crucial transportation link as well.

It’s no surprise that people would want to live around the 606. It brings a major new park to Humboldt Park and to open space-starved Logan Square, and will provide a safe and convenient car-free transportation link between those neighborhoods, the citywide boulevard network, Milwaukee Avenue, and the busy Wicker Park-Bucktown retail district.

Just this year, developers have built 21 condominiums and a single family home on what was previously vacant land where the Bloomingdale crosses over California Avenue in Humboldt Park, next to Moos Elementary School. The 40 or so new residents at this corner will live a stone’s throw from a ramp up to the trail. These 21 units comprise all of the multi-family housing permitted this year within a half mile of the trail, but dozens of new single-family homes are being built near the trail in Bucktown and Wicker Park.

There are plans for more new housing further west, where there are more vacant lots than on the more expensive east end of the trail. The Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA) is planning to build 42 affordable apartments in ten buildings on several vacant lots on Drake, Sawyer, and Kedzie avenues. All of the apartments will be within two blocks of the trail, and residents will be able to walk up to the trail from Drake, Spaulding Avenue (one block west of Sawyer), or at Julie de Burgos Park at Albany Avenue (two blocks east of Kedzie).

For an apartment that makes it truly easy to access the Bloomingdale Trail, though, Centrum Partners has proposed a seven-story apartment building with an entrance directly linking the second floor to the trail. The 128-apartment building will replace the Aldi grocery store at Leavitt Street and Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown. The proposed development would keep Aldi on the ground floor, have residential parking on the second floor, and fill five floors above with studio, one bedroom, and two bedroom apartments.  Read more…

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33rd Ward P-Streets Pass; Noon-O-Kabab Moving to Car-centric New Digs

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Noon-O-Kabab’s current pedestrian and transit-friendly  location. Image: Google Streetview

Albany Park just took a step towards a more walkable future. Last week, City Council passed an ordinance to officially zone stretches of Montrose, Lawrence, and Kedzie in the neighborhood as Pedestrian Streets, or P-Streets.

“This lets developers know what kind of vision we have regarding movement around the ward,” said 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell. On June 25, she introduced the ordinance to create P-Streets on Montrose from California to Kimball, Lawrence from Sacramento to Central Park, and Kedzie from Montrose to Lawrence. “We want to prioritize pedestrians, bikes, transit, and then cars, in order to improve safety and reduce congestion.”

Mell said the ward’s transportation advisory committee came up with the idea for the P-Streets after Walgreens proposed building a suburban-style drugstore across the street from the Kimball Brown Line stop. The designation will prevent this kind of car-centric development in the future.

The ordinance forbids the creation of new driveways, and requires that new building façades be adjacent to the sidewalk. Buildings’ main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and most of the façade between four and ten feet above the sidewalk must be windows. Any off-street parking must be located behind the building and accessed from an alley or side street.

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.

The ordinance passed City Council with no opposition. “I’ve heard from a lot of people in the ward who are really happy about this,” Mell said. That’s in sharp contrast to the nearby 45th Ward, where the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association unanimously voted to oppose a P-Street ordinance introduced by Alderman John Arena. That ordinance also passed the council earlier this month.

Interestingly, Mell originally planned to schedule a zoning committee hearing on her ordinance in early September, but she pushed the hearing back a few weeks to accommodate a local eatery’s plans to move into a car-centric new location. Noon-O-Kabab, a popular Persian restaurant at 4661 North Kedzie, is planning to relocate across the street to the former location of a Kentucky Fried Chicken with a drive-through.

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