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Policies and Politics, Not TODs, Are to Blame for Affordable Housing Crunch

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Logan Square’s “The L” transit-oriented development under construction last month. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday the Tribune’s Mary Wisniewski further explored a topic Streetsblog’s John Greenfield covered two weeks ago for the Reader. Virtually all of Chicago’s new transit-oriented development projects are upscale buildings in affluent or gentrifying neighborhoods. TOD advocates argue that adding housing in these communities will take pressure off the rental market. But some Logan Square residents say soon-to-open TOD towers in the neighborhood will encourage other landlords to jack up rents.

The rents at the Twin Towers and “The L” developments near the California Blue Line station will start at $1,400 for a studio. Activist groups like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square and Lifted Voices recently blockaded Milwaukee Avenue in front of the Twin Towers to make the argument that the buildings will speed the pace of gentrification and displacement.

The city’s TOD ordinance, first passed in 2013 and beefed up in 2015, has fueled the city’s recent building boom by reducing and then eliminating parking requirements for new buildings near rapid transit, as well as allowing for more density. For example, Rob Buono, the developer of the two towers in Logan Square, told John that he probably wouldn’t have built the apartments if the ordinance hadn’t passed.

The towers are big, conspicuous buildings, so it’s understandable that some people blame them for rising rents elsewhere in the neighborhood. But the TOD ordinance and the resulting increase in the number of housing units near the Blue Line isn’t to blame for the community’s displacement problem. Rather, prior to the ordinance’s passage, the number of allowable units near train stations was constrained by politics and growth-inhibiting policy.

TOD experts Wisniewski interviewed said that the trend towards dense housing near stations is a return to sensible pre-1950s city planning. A 2013 study by the Center for Neighborhood Technology found that Chicago actually lags behind peer cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco when it comes to development near transit. The article also noted that the Chicago Housing Authority demolished 6,000 affordable housing units that were near transit stations.

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Big Marsh could be a terrific bike park, but it’s not yet safe to pedal there

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A winter Slow Roll ride to Big Marsh. Photo: Slow Roll Chicago

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Last week I rode the Red Line to 95th Street with my cruiser bike in tow, then pedaled about six miles to the future site of Big Marsh Bike Park, just east of Lake Calumet. Boosters say it will be a world-class, family-friendly venue for BMX riding, mountain biking, and cyclocross racing that will also provide recreational and economic opportunities for residents of low-income southeast- side neighborhoods near the park.

The bike park will lie within Big Marsh, a 278-acre expanse of open space that the Chicago Park District acquired in 2011. Environmental remediation is currently under way, since the area was formerly a slag-dumping site for steel mills, and the Park District expects the facility will open in late fall.

But my ride from the el station would have been traumatizing for novice cyclists. It was comfortable at first—a bike lane led south on State Street, then another took me east on 103rd. But after I passed under the Metra Electric tracks at Cottage Grove, the bike lane disappeared and 103rd ballooned into a four-lane highway with fast traffic, including several 18-wheelers.

Next I rode south on Stony Island toward Lake Calumet, but things weren’t much better on that stretch of road. Although Stony and Doty, the two streets that circle the lake, offer scenic views of the remediated landfill, with its tallgrass, ponds, and a variety of wild birds, they’re also frequented by fast-moving trucks headed to and from industrial businesses. I got spooked by a huge gas tanker thundering by even though I spent six years of my life working as a bike messenger on the mean streets of the Loop.

Getting to Big Marsh is equally arduous if you’re coming from the Roseland and Pullman communities to the west, the East Side, South Deering, and Hegewisch neighborhoods to the east, or the Altgeld Gardens housing project to the south. There is no direct transit access to the park, although several CTA bus lines terminate at a bus garage a 2.5-mile bike ride from the park.

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Shop by Bike and Win Prizes During the “Ride & Seek Lakeview” Promotion

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This sticker in a shop’s window means they offer a discount to cyclists.

Smart community leaders brainstorm ways to get more butts on bicycles. After all, more people traveling in the neighborhood on two wheels instead of four means less traffic congestions and pollution. And when more shoppers access retail strips by bikes instead of cars, there are similar (or even better) economic benefits for the area, with less need for car parking. Plus, when people travel at slower speeds, they’re more likely to notice local storefronts and consider patronizing the businesses.

Accordingly, the Lakeview and Lakeview East chambers of commerce are partnering this year on a Bike-Friendly Business District program that promotes shopping local and helps promote the Lakeview neighborhood as a great place to shop by bike. The Lakeview chamber originally launched the initiative in 2014 through a partnership with the West Town Chamber of Commerce and the Active Transportation Alliance. The program includes improved cycling infrastructure, promotional materials and bike maps, plus educational and encouragement activities like workshops and rides, plus a discount program for customers arriving by bicycle.

Both the Lakeview and Lakeview East chambers have installed dozens of branded bike racks on their business strips featuring the names of the neighborhoods, paid for with Special Service Area funds. The Lakeview East racks have temporarily been removed for refurbishing.

Last year the Lakeview chamber installed a fix-it station at the Southport Brown Line station with a pump and tools for simple repairs. Unlike the fix-it stations that West Town Bikes recently installed on the Bloomingdale Trail, which sadly were vandalized soon after installation, the Southport facility hasn’t seen major tool theft problems, according to SSA 27 manager Dillon Goodson.

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Eyes on the Street: Tactical Urbanism Blooms on Broadway

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Looking east from Halsted at Broadway. Who can we thank for these cute planters that prevent illegal right turns? Photo: Justin Haugens

Last month when the city put up signs banning right turns from northbound Halsted onto southbound Broadway at Grace, eliminating a slip lane, the intersection became little safer. Thanks to what appears to be a guerrilla intervention by an unknown party, the site also became a little prettier.

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens recently spotted some attractive planter boxes places next to the crosswalk. I have witnessed drivers disobeying the “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs the Chicago Department of Transportation installed, so the planters serve to discourage such lawbreaking, as well as beautify the corner.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not immediately know who was responsible for placing the flowering plants.

The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition asking CDOT to reverse the turn ban, arguing that it disrupts traffic in the area. When I called chamber director Maureen Martino to ask about the planters, she laughed out loud and said she had know idea where they came from. She said she would look check in with CDOT about the matter.

Martino said the chamber is still fighting to reinstate right turns from Halsted onto Broadway. “The whole area was a hot mess during last week’s Cubs games,” she said. “Normally that right turn serves as a relief valve for traffic when Halsted gets jammed up.” Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that this location three blocks northeast of the stadium is ever not a hot mess during ballgames.

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Chicago’s First Metra-Oriented Development Proposed in Edgebrook

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The development, at 5306 West Devon, would be only a five-minute walk from Metra, and a short pedal to the North Branch Trail. Image: Google Maps

So far, almost all of the 30-or-so transit-oriented developments planned, under construction, or completed in Chicago have been near CTA stations and within a few miles of the Loop. However, it appears a four-story condominium building planned for the Edgebrook neighborhood on the Far Northwest Side would be the city’s Metra-friendly TOD, more than 11 miles from Daley Plaza.

To top it off, the new structure, located a short pedal from the North Branch Trail, is being marketed as a bicycle-centric development with the clever name “Bicycle Flats of Edgebrook.” The developer is Ambrosia Homes Inc.

Nadig Newspapers reported that that the condo project has been proposed for a 3,000-square-foot vacant lot at 5306 West Devon, about a quarter-mile east of the Edgebrook station on Metra’s Union Pacific-North Line, 5438 West Devon. Despite the long distance from the Loop, the train commute between Edgebrook and the Loop is only about a half hour, with some runs taking as little as 25 minutes.

The building would feature seven two-bedroom condos and one ground-floor live/work space, but only three car-parking spots. Thanks to the September 2015 update to the city’s TOD ordinance, new residential buildings within a quarter-mile of a station are no longer required to provide car spaces.

Meanwhile, the bicycle-themed project would provide 16 indoor bike parking spaces, plus outdoor racks for short-term parking. The developer is also looking into the possibility of paying the city to install a Divvy station in front of the building, as a South Loop developer did last August at a cost of $56,000.

Having a bike-share station available for condo residents, guests, and other Edgebrook residents who might like to check out bikes to take a spin on the North Branch Trail, located a few blocks west, would be an appealing amenity. The trail extends north from Devon about 18 miles to the Chicago Botanic Gardens, and the Cook County Forest Preserve District is currently building an extension that will take the trail three miles further southeast into the city, to around Foster and Pulaski.

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CNT’s “AllTransit” Tool Can Help Legislators Understand Transit Needs

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Metra stops only a few times each day at the Kedzie station in East Garfield Park (near Inspiration Kitchens), but AllTransit considers transit frequency when calculating a place’s transit quality. Photo: Jonathan Lee

A new tool shows just how much advantage residents in some Illinois cities might have over others accessing jobs with low-cost transit, and just how much difference state legislators could make if they chose to fund more transit. AllTransit, an analysis tool from the Center for Neighborhood Technology and TransitCenter (a Streetsblog Chicago funder), shows information about access to transit that residents and job seekers have in any part of the United States, using data about transit service, demographic information, and job locations.

CNT project manager Linda Young told me those Springfield legislators can use the tool to understand the quality of transit their constituents have access to. They can also compare their districts to those of their fellow elected officials. For example, Illinois state representative Mike Quigley would see that AllTransit gives his 5th district the highest score in Illinois, and, unexpectedly, the 22nd district, covering East St. Louis, Illinois, and parts south, represented by Mike Bost, is second. The 9th district covering northern Chicago, Evanston, and parts of northwest Cook County, and represented by Jan Schakowsky, comes in third.

While aldermen may also find it useful to see the plethora or lack of transit options their constituents have, the info isn’t broken down by Chicago wards. However, it is possible to search by ZIP code.

Young added that elected officials might also be interested to see how many jobs people who live in designated affordable housing can they get to within 30 minutes. “We see more and more that people are wanting to live in areas where there’s mixed uses and transit access,” she said.

Business owners can also benefit from AllTransit info since it can them how many people can access their business within a certain amount of time. If you look at the Inspiration Kitchens restaurant in East Garfield Park at 3504 West Lake, AllTransit reports that there are 438,632 “customer households” within a 30-minute transit commute.

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Cast Your Vote for the Milwaukee Avenue Bike Counter Design

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Wicker Park/Bucktown

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Comic Book

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1st Ward

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a chance to have your say on what Chicago’s newest piece of bike infrastructure will look like.

The real estate company LG Development, in conjunction with the Chicago Department of Transportation, is planning to install a bike counter in front of a transit-oriented development they’re building at 1241 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park. They received three different proposals for the image panels of the counter, a vertical, rectangular device called an Eco-TOTEM, manufactured by the Montreal-based company Eco Counter, and they’ve asked Streetsblog to host the poll to pick the winner

The proposed designs include “Wicker Park/Bucktown” by Transit Tees, “Comic Book” by J. Byrnes from Fourth is King, and “1st Ward” by Clemente High School. You can cast your vote by clicking on one of the buttons below. The poll will be open until Saturday, April 30.

A display at the top of the bike counter will show the number of cyclists who have passed each day. A vertical display will show the total number of bike trips on the stretch for the year. As in other cities, the nearly real-time data will be posted on a website, and CDOT will also have direct access to the info.

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Dozens of Residents Showed Up for This Week’s South Side Bikeways Meetings

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Tuesday’s meeting. Photo: Anne Alt

After poor turnout from locals at last month’s two West Side bikeways hearing, with a total of only five area residents attending, there was a much better turnout at the two South Side meetings this week. The input sessions are part of a strategy by the Chicago Department of Transportation to improve bike equity for these parts of the city, which have historically gotten sparser bike lane coverage than the North and Northwest Sides, where more residents have advocated for them.

Monday night about 20 people attended a hearing at the Vodak-East Side Library in the East Side neighborhood, according to CDOT officials. I went to Tuesday’s meeting in Pullman where about 40 people showed up, including a staffer for 9th Ward alderman Anthony Beale. Many Pullman residents were there, along with people from the Riverdale community area, Beverly, and South Shore. Both meetings focused on the area roughly bounded by Vincennes, 91st, the lake, Indiana, and the Calumet River.

CDOT’s Mike Amsden of CDOT did a presentation explaining the planning process for the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was released in 2012. “What happened to the Bike 2015 Plan?” asked one attendee. Amsden explained that Bike 2015 was all about policy, while Streets for Cycling focuses on building a citywide bike network.

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The South Side study area

Prior to these meetings, CDOT reps met with Beale, 10th Ward alderman Susan Sadlowski Garza, and staff for aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Greg Mitchell (7th). Aldermen Howard Brookins (21st) and Michelle Harris (8th) were notified but did not schedule meetings.

Additional meetings were held with community organizations and institutions, including Southeast Environmental Task Force, Southeast Chicago Commission Pullman Civic Organization, Chicago State University, LISC Chicago, and Beverly Area Planning Association.

CDOT is taking public input on a draft of the proposed route map and weighing it along with technical criteria (route and feasibility analysis, as described in the presentation) in order to prioritize which routes should be built next.

Funding for route design is available now, although construction funding is not available for all mapped routes. Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds can be used, but planning and approval for CMAQ-funded bikeways takes a few years. Locally funded projects can be built faster, but city and state budget issues limit that option.

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People Will Win if Wrigley Field Streets are Closed to Vehicle Traffic

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On game days, pedestrians fill the Addison/Clark intersection. Why bother keeping it open to vehicle traffic during these times? Photo: Peter Tauch

Two local politicians have proposed changing the streets around Wrigley Field to help defend it from terrorist attacks. Instead we should be looking at ways to protect the area from an excess of car traffic.

U.S. representative Mike Quigley (5th district) recently floated the idea of pedestrianizing Clark and Addison Streets during game days to prevent attacks. A spokesperson for Quigley clarified that while he hasn’t proposed anything specific yet, he’s interested in restricting private vehicle traffic during games but allowing buses and pedestrians to use Addison and Clark.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has previously rejected the idea of pedestrianizing these streets. But on Wednesday he announced he’d seek federal funding to widen the sidewalk on the south side (Addison) of the ballpark by four feet and add concrete bollards or planters to improve security.

“There [are] ways to achieve the security without shutting down Clark and Addison,” he told the Tribune. “We can do it in another way without all the other kind of ramifications that shutting down a major intersection [would entail].”

Quigley’s office released a statement yesterday endorsing Emanuel’s plan and offering help secure the federal funding.

While widening the sidewalk is a step in the right direction, more should be done to improve pedestrian and transit access to Wrigley. As it stands, motor vehicles can already barely get through Addison and Clark before and after games, when some 42,000 fans flood the intersection, and pedestrians in the street are at risk of being struck.

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After Driver Injures Senior at Devon/Greenview, City May Fix Intersection

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Devon and Greenview, looking east. Image: Google Street View

On Wednesday at around 4 p.m. a motorist struck and injured an elderly woman at the intersection of Devon and Greenview, on the border between Edgewater and Rogers Park.

The woman who was struck is 70 years old and she was taken to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition, according to Officer Kevin Quaid from Police News Affairs. As of Saturday afternoon, the woman was in intensive care. The driver, a 43-year-old man, was cited for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the roadway and driving without a license.

Local resident Alana Hanson saw the crash occur as she was walking to pick up her young son from a daycare center near the intersection. “It was horrifying to witness, but I can’t say it was surprising given how much harassment I face crossing that street with my son twice a day,” she said.

Hanson added that drivers on Devon, the main street, routinely ignore the intersection’s four-way stop signs and fail to yield to pedestrians crossing north-south. “I’ve had drivers lay on their horn, rev their engines at me, and zoom around me as I’m in the crosswalk with a stroller,” she said. She added that the Chicago Department of Transportation previously installed “Stop for Pedestrians” signs at the intersection, but they were both flattened within two weeks.

Devon is the border of the 48th and 49th Ward, and Hanson says she has contacted both offices to ask if other pedestrian safety improvements could be made at the intersection, such as restriping of the crosswalks, or the construction of curb bump-outs, a pedestrian island or raised crosswalks – which have proved effective in reducing speeding by Palmer Square park.

Hanson hopes the city will make robust changes to the dangerous intersection. “I feel like the only way to get anyone to drive considerately is to force the behavior with physical barriers,” she said. “Making drivers worry about damaging their cars is the only thing I’ve ever seen have a real effect on dangerous driving.”

Greenview jogs west north of Devon, which makes for poor sightlines. There are also curb cuts for a gas station at the northwest corner, and the parking lot of the Devon Market grocery store on the northeast corner, which present a hazard for pedestrians.

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