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Posts from the Neighborhoods Category

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Developer of Bucktown TOD Grilled Over Lack of On-Site Affordable Housing

1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno gracefully – given the circumstances – moderates the meeting.

1st Ward Alder Proco “Joe” Moreno speaks in 2014 about a TOD proposal in his ward in Logan Square that would include affordable housing units.

Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved River North-based developer Vequity’s proposal for a new transit-oriented development in Bucktown. This puts the plan for a six-story building with 44 units and ten car parking spaces at 1920 N. Milwaukee Ave. on track for approval by the full City Council. However, it didn’t happen without a heated debate about the lack of on-site affordable housing in the project.

The architect, David Brininstool of Brininstool and Lynch, seemed to succeed in persuading the commissioners that the building would successfully reactive the southeast corner of Western and Milwaukee Avenues, currently a shuttlered title loan store. He argued that the new tower would “celebrate the corner” with more foot traffic and transit-oriented retail. But the developer doesn’t plan to include required affordable units in the building, and the developer wasn’t able to convince all the members of the commission that this decision is justified.

According to the city’s affordable housing law, developers that request a zoning change or receive a subsidy from the city, including tax-increment financing, are required to provide ten percent of the units – 20 percent if they get a subsidy – at an affordable sales price or monthly rent. Those details are managed by the city and adjusted annually based on Census figures, and represent what should be affordable to an individual or family of different sizes earning 60 percent or less of the region’s median income.

The developer can either build the affordable units on-site, pay a fee into the city’s low-income housing trust fund to build the affordable units elsewhere, or do a combination of the two. Before the city’s Affordable Requirements Ordinance was revised last year, simply paying into the trust fund was always an option, unless the local alder insisted on on-site affordable units.

Now, however, developers must build at least a quarter of the require affordable units on-site, or else in a different building within one mile of the development getting the zoning change or subsidy. The other three-quarters of the affordable units can be bought out for a fee per unit. The fee depends on the building’s location.

Vequity, like all of the other developers that had their projects approved at yesterday’s plan commission meeting, applied for approval before the new affordable housing ordinance took effect. They’ve opted to pay $100,000 into the trust fund for each of the five affordable-designated units they’re not building, a move that was condoned by local alder Scott Waguespack (32nd).

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South Siders Spar Over Proposed Stony Island Protected Bike Lanes

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Elihu Blanks and Waymond Smith on Stony Island, a few blocks north of the Skyway access ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

[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.]

For much of its length, Stony Island Avenue is basically an expressway with stoplights. Located on the southeast side between 56th and 130th, it generally has eight travel lanes, the same number as Lake Shore Drive, although it carries half as many vehicles per day—35,000 versus 70,000. Due to this excess lane capacity, speeding is rampant.

The city has proposed converting a lane or two of Stony between 67th and 79th into protected bike lanes. Some residents, and Fifth Ward alderman Leslie Hairston, fear the “road diet” would cause traffic jams, and argue the street is too dangerous for bike lanes. Other neighbors say Stony is too dangerous not to have them.

According to the Chicago Crash Browser website, created by Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, 53 pedestrians and 16 bicyclists were injured along Stony Island between 67th Street (the southern border of Jackson Park) and 79th Street (where access ramps connect Stony with the Chicago Skyway) between 2010 and 2013.

Two pedestrians and a person in a car  were killed in crashes on this stretch between 2010 and 2014, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. Last year was unusually deadly, with two fatal pedestrian crashes and two bike fatalities.

The complex intersection of Stony Island, 79th, and South Chicago, a diagonal street, is particularly problematic. Located beneath a mess of serpentine Skyway access ramps, the six-way junction has terrible sightlines. It was the site of 444 traffic crashes between 2009 and 2013, the most of any Chicago intersection, according to CDOT.

Adding protected bike lanes could change this equation, making Stony, among other things, a useful bike route. Due to the Chicago Skyway and other barriers like railroad tracks, cul-de-sacs, and a cemetery, it’s one of the few continuous north-south streets in this part of town.

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44-Unit TOD Building Proposed at an Abandoned Drive-Through in Bucktown

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity/YouTube

A rendering of the proposed building at 1920 N Milwaukee Ave. Image: Vequity

A proposal for a transit-oriented development in Bucktown is going before the Chicago Plan Commission for approval this Thursday. River North-based developer Vequity wants to build a six-story residential tower with minimal parking at the southeast corner of Milwaukee and Western avenues in Bucktown, right next door to the Western stop on the Blue Line’s O’Hare branch.

Vequity needs the Plan Commission to approve a zoning change from the current manufacturing and low-density business designation to slightly higher-density mixed-use zoning. A shuttered title loan store has occupied the property for a few years. Before that it was a Checkers drive-through burger joint.

The proposal calls for 44 apartments but only ten car parking spaces, plus 6,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, or about three shops. The revised TOD ordinance passed last year eliminated the minimum parking requirement for residential buildings within two blocks of rapid transit stations.

Street view of 1920 N Milwaukee Ave

An abandoned title loan store, formerly a drive-through fast food restaurant, occupies a site that may become a mixed-use TOD building. Image: Google Street View

Vequity’s sales video (below) points out the fact that a Bloomingdale Trail access point is a block away. It also highlights how busy the intersection is, noting that over 6,000 people use the Blue Line station daily, while over 43,000 motorists and 6,000 bicyclists pass by each day.

By restoring the urban street wall at the corner and adding over 50 new residents, the new building would help make the intersection more vibrant. At six stories, it would be one level higher than the tallest nearby building, located across the street. Adding housing and retail density, without adding a lot of new parking, will make the neighborhood less car-dependent. Hopefully, pressure from neighbors won’t result in a shorter building with more parking spots.

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Report: In Chicago, Bike Amenities Correlate With Gentrication

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The Division Street bike lanes in Humboldt Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The idea that new bike infrastructure is linked to of gentrification is nothing new in Chicago. Leaders of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community originally opposed bike lanes on the neighborhood’s Division Street business strip because they believed the city was installing the lanes mostly for the benefit of new, wealthier residents. And while the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway has attracted an economically and ethnically diverse crowd of users, many longtime residents are worried that a real estate boom around the trail will displace low-income and working-class families.

Researchers at McGill University and the University of Quebec in Montreal wanted to lend credibility to the claims that cycling infrastructure and gentrification are related. In a study presented this week at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, Elizabeth Flanagan, Ahmed El-Geneidy and Ugo Lachapelle found a correlation between bike infrastructure and socioeconomic indicators related to gentrification in Chicago and Portland.

For the report, titled “Riding tandem: Does cycling infrastructure investment mirror gentrification and privilege in Portland, OR and Chicago, IL?,” the researchers looked changes in the rates of home ownership, home values, college education, age, employment, and race in neighborhoods between 1990 and 2010. Then they mapped these demographic changes alongside the locations of bike lanes, bike rack, and, in Chicago, Divvy stations.

While they found that dense neighborhoods and areas close to downtown tended to have infrastructure, they also found that demographic characteristics were a big factor. In Portland, changes in home ownership and education level had the largest influence. However, in Chicago, probably because our city is more diverse, race and home value also played a large role.

The study found that Chicago neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of residents are people of color are less likely to gentrify and have bike infrastructure. Interestingly, however, it also found that, in neighborhoods where 60 percent or more residents are white, a higher percentage of people of color corresponds with more bike infrastructure.

I haven’t had a chance to fully digest the report yet, but it appears that, unlike a recent League of American Bicyclists study that incorrectly claimed that Chicago’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 is inequitable, the Montreal researchers used accurate bike infrastructure data. It probably helped that Flanagan worked as a transportation planning intern at Bronzeville Bikes in the summer of 2014, which included discussing transportation equity issues with Chicago Department of Transportation and Divvy staffers.

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South Side Groups: Make the Metra Electric Run Like the CTA ‘L’

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The Metra Electric line stations in Kenwood, Hyde Park, and South Shore supports their walkable neighborhoods. Photo: Eric Rogers

A dozen neighborhood organizations, along with the Active Transportation Alliance and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, are calling for the Metra Electric line, with its three branches that run through several South Side communities, to operate like a CTA ‘L’ line.

The fourteen organizations signed a letter to the editor of the Chicago Maroon, the independent student newspaper of the University of Chicago, stating that if Metra Electric trains were operated more like the Blue and Red Lines, “[it] could unlock the enormous development potential of the South Side and South Suburbs.” They described the neighborhoods and places the trains already reach:

The Metra Electric serves many key destinations on the South Side, such as the University of Chicago, the Pullman district, Chicago State University, the Museum of Science and Industry, Governor’s State University, McCormick Place, the South Shore Cultural Center, and the proposed Lakeside Development. The communities surrounding its stations are densely populated and walkable, ideal areas for rapid transit development.

The groups are absolutely right that the areas around the stations would be ideal for rapid transit service. They specifically ask transit agency heads and elected officials to make the following happen:

  • integrate fares and schedules with CTA and Pace operations, because the Metra Electric “is hampered by a fare structure more appropriate for suburban lines”
  • allow for discounted transfers among Metra and CTA and Pace
  • increase frequencies to 10-15 minutes

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Divvy Adding More Stations in Black Communities, Fewer Bikes Than Planned

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Photo by Wei Sun.

Back in September 2014, former Illinois governor Pat Quinn announced a $3 million grant to help expand the Divvy system into Oak Park and Evanston, as well new areas on Chicago’s West Side and in the Rogers Park neighborhood. The plan was to install 70 stations and 700 bikes by spring or summer of 2015.

Last summer, Chicago added 175 stations and 1,750 bikes, bankrolled by federal and city money, which expanded the original coverage area in all directions. But the state-funded equipment still hasn’t materialized yet.

Today, after introducing to City Council two intergovernmental agreements with the suburbs regarding Divvy, Mayor Emanuel announced a change to the state-funded expansion plan. Instead of 70 stations and 700 bikes, 96 stations and “more than” 250 bikes will be added to the system, with the roll-out taking place next summer.

Oak Park and Evanston, which are providing a combined $200,000 in matching funds to help fund the expansion, will be getting 13 and eight stations, respectively. Chicago, which is providing $550,000 in matching funds, will get 75 stations within the city.

Adding more stations and fewer bikes means that this year’s expansion will grow the service area faster, to include more Chicago neighborhoods than originally planned. The city had previously announced that the predominantly African-American, low-to-moderate-income Garfield Park and Austin communities on the West Side would be getting stations, as well as new sections of ethnically and economically diverse Rogers Park on the Far North Side.

However, today Emanuel said the expansion will also include several LMI or middle-class neighborhoods on the South and Southwest Sides. These include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, and Englewood. All of these are heavily African-American, except for Brighton Park, which is mostly Latino.

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Developer Proposes Better Active Transportation Access for Goose Island

Bike-ped bridge to Goose Island

R2 Companies wants to build a bike and pedestrian bridge, and published this sketch inspired by the Snake bridge in Copenhagen, from Ogden Avenue to Goose Island to bring in new workers to commercial space it plans to build.

Property developer Zack Cupkovic said he didn’t really discover Goose Island until four years ago, even though he grew up in the nearby Lakeview neighborhood. The man-made island was created in 1857, when the North Branch canal was completed on the east side of the land mass, separating it from the mainland. When you drive across the island on Division Street, Cupkovic said, “it barely seems like you’re going over an island.”

He works for R2 Companies, which published a land use and transportation vision for the island’s next decade, dubbed the Goose Island 2025 Plan. They propose adding more workplaces, as well as new transportation infrastructure that will make it easier for the new employees to get to work without driving.

While Cupkovic said Goose Island is in an ideal location, near ‘L’ lines and downtown, he feels the site hasn’t yet reached its full potential for commercial activity and transportation access. The only direct transit transit access is via the CTA’s #8 Halsted,  #70 Division, and limited service #132 bus route.

The 2009 opening of the Cherry Street pedestrian and bike bridge on the north side of Goose island made it easier to walk there from the Red Line’s North/Clybourn station. But, due to the lack of a bridge, there’s no way to directly access the island from the nearby Chicago Blue Line stop.

Last year, R2 hired local design firm PORT Urbanism to draft the plan to increase transportation access for the thousands of new workers Cupkovic says the island can support.

Their plan proposes two new car-free bridges. The first one would be located at the former footings of a bridge that formerly existed at the southwest side of the Goose Island, back when Ogden Avenue crossed the island. That bridge, and the rest of Ogden north of the Chicago River, were removed completely by 1993. The new bridge would create the missing link to the Chicago Blue Line stop.

Currently, a walking trip from the station to 909 W Bliss St., where R2 wants to rehabilitate an industrial building for commercial space, is three-quarters of a mile, and the new bridge would cut that to less than half a mile. Cupkovic’s company already owns the building, but there are only about three people working there on a daily basis — he says the company can bring in 600 workers. In another building they plan to build, Cupkovic said they could fit 1,000 workers.

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Raised Crosswalks Have Finally Come to Palmer Square

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One of the Palmer Square speed tables. Photo: Ella Revzin

Thanks to advocacy from neighbors, the wide roadway on the north side of the Palmer Square green space has been calmed. Last month, the Chicago Department of Transportation converted two marked, mid-block crosswalks to raised crosswalks, aka speed tables. As a result, drivers are hitting the brakes on street where speeding was formerly the rule, making it much safer to walk the park and play within it.

Neighbors have been calling for the safety infrastructure for years, because this quarter-mile stretch of Palmer Boulevard has three westbound travel lanes, with light traffic volumes and no stoplights or stop signs, which encourages speeding.

When Streetsblog writer Steven Vance and contributor Justin Haugens measured speeds during the evening rush with a speed gun, they found that 75 percent of motorists were breaking the posted 25 mph speed limit. About a third were driving over 30 mph, and a handful were going faster than 40 mph next to a park that gets heavy use by families with small children.

A road diet would have been a logical solution to the speeding problem. However, nearby churches use the central travel lane for Sunday parking, which isn’t technically legal but has been tolerated by aldermen for many years. Therefore removing one of the lanes might have been politically challenging.

But getting the raised crosswalks put in turned out to be surprisingly challenging as well. In 2013, Andrea Keller, who lives on the block with her young family, said she collected over 100 signatures on a written petition in favor of the speed tables in 2013. The following year, she launched an online petition, which garnered over 70 signatures. Logan Square Preservation and the Homeowner’s Association of Palmer Square eventually endorsed the idea, and 35th Ward alderman Scott Waguespack said he was open to funding the speed tables with ward money.

The only thing that was stopping Waguespack from approving the project was a handful of residents who repeatedly contacted him to oppose the idea, according to his chief of staff Paul Sajovec said. Some of this resistance was likely due to confusion between the difference between speed humps and speed tables. The latter have a longer cross-section, so they’re unlikely to cause cars to bottom out or create loud noise as vehicles pass over them.

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Eyes on the Street: Many West Side Bike Lanes Are Snow-Blocked

Franklin Boulevard bike lane wasn't plowed

There was no evidence that the city attempted to clear snow from the protected bike lane on Franklin Boulevard, which normally has flexible posts, in East Garfield Park between Sacramento (pictured) and Central Park Avenue (3/4 miles).

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Biking on the West Side has been a mixed bag each time it’s snowed this winter. When it snowed on the weekend after Thanksgiving it took more than two days for the protected bike lanes on Lake Street to be plowed. With last week’s snowfall it’s been over a week, and the protected bike lanes on Franklin and Jackson Boulevards still haven’t been cleared as of Monday afternoon.

The conventional and buffered bike lanes in the area had varying levels of cleared snow. Some blocks on the same street were totally clear, others had snow from motorists clearing their own cars, and the remaining seemed like the plow missed a whole eight feet.

At the quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting last month, Mike Amsden, assistant transportation planning director for the Chicago Department of Transportation said “We are committed to maintaining our protected bike lanes year round so people can bike in them year round.” The goal, Amsden said, “is to get to each of the locations within 24 hours.” If you notice a bike lane hasn’t been cleared he said you can email cdotbikes@cityofchicago.org.

Lake Street protected bike lane was perfectly cleared of snow

The protected and buffered bike lanes on Lake Street were well-cleared from Kedzie, at a minimum, to the border with Oak Park last week, but it’s unclear if they were done within 24 hours of last Monday’s snowfall.

CDOT and the Department of Streets and Sanitation use myriad equipment to do this, including the normal large plows, pickup trucks, and smaller vehicles. To increase the number of protected bike lanes that could be cleared with the regular plows, Amsden said that CDOT would remove the flexible posts from streets with the two inch snow ban, or where there’s no on-street parking. He specified Broadway in Uptown, Jackson in East Garfield Park, Lake, Vincennes in Auburn Gresham, Franklin in East Garfield Park, and Halsted in Bridgeport.

The posts were removed from Franklin but not Jackson, and neither street was cleared. The other protected bike lane in the area, Lake Street, was cleared well from California Ave. to Oak Park, an about face from the Thanksgiving snowfall. East of California, though, snow banks, patches of ice, a frozen pond, and a string of garbage bins blocked the path this morning.

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Solving The Problem of Snow Being Pushed Into Protected Lanes

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No, this is not an expanse of arctic tundra, its one of the Broadway protected bike lanes. Photo: John Greenfield

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

In general, protected bike lanes are great for encouraging “interested-but-concerned” folks to try urban cycling. However, as I discussed last week, when the lanes aren’t maintained well during the winter, they can actually make cycling more difficult. And when snow- or ice-filled PBLs force bike riders to share narrow travel lanes with motorists, that decreases safety.

Even when the Chicago Department of Transportation does a good job of plowing the protected lanes, there’s often a problem with snow later being pushed off sidewalks in front of businesses, into the curbside bike lanes. Last fall the city passed an ordinance that makes it clear it’s illegal to do this, as well as raises fines for property owners who don’t shovel their sidewalks, but CDOT officials said there were no plans to increase enforcement.

It’s great when merchants are conscientious about clearing their sidewalks for pedestrians. However, many business owners, or at least the people they hire to shovel, seem oblivious to the fact that plenty of Chicagoans use the protected lanes year-round, and that it’s illegal to dump snow in them.

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The Clybourn bike lane, after Unity had it cleared. Photo: Marcus Moore.

The good new is that once people are made aware of these facts, they may change their behavior. After a cyclist contacted Unity Manufacturing, 1260 North Clybourn, and asked them to stop pushing snow off their sidewalk into one of the Clybourn curb-protected lanes, the business had a path cleared for bike riders.

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Last year, I took Broadway PBL snow clearance into my own hands. Photo: Justin Haugens

The protected lanes on the short segment of Broadway between Wilson and Montrose, one of the few stretches of PBLs in Chicago along a retail strip, are especially prone to being filled with shoveled snow. Last winter, I took matters into my own hands and shoveled out a section of the bike lanes myself.

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