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Posts from the Neighborhoods Category

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Kamin on Placemaking Efforts: The Food Is Terrible, and Such Small Portions!

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The Lincoln Hub placemaking project. Photo: John Greenfield

Et tu Blair?

It wasn’t surprising when some disgruntled Lakeview residents launched a petition against the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which reclaimed asphalt at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection for pedestrians. After all, one purpose of the street remix was to increase safety by slowing down car traffic, and not all drivers are going to appreciate that. And, sure, the bright green-and-blue polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea.

But it was distressing to read a recent column by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin – who’s usually on the right page about urban planning issues – in which he picks apart several aspects of the design and laments that the new layout inconveniences motorists. “The aim of such projects is to ‘calm’ traffic, slowing vehicles and making conditions safer for cyclists and people on foot,” he writes. “It also aims to boost business by creating more inviting outdoor spaces. Yet this mission is far from accomplished.”

Kamin doesn’t have a problem with the colorful spots, and he notes that people on foot like the fact that they’ve been given more space through the use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, which shortens the crossing distance. He also concedes that, by slowing down drivers, the Lincoln Hub has enhanced traffic safety at the intersection, and may be helping turn the location into a place to spend time, rather than just pass through.

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

However, Kamin doesn’t like the fact that most of the seating in the new plazas is provided by round concrete stools rather than benches, which he thinks would be more comfortable. He laments the lack of shade at the intersection. And he argues that the on-street seating is located too close to traffic lanes, and there isn’t enough physical protection to make people feel safe using it.

There’s some validity to these criticisms, but it was disappointing to read this passage from a guy who’s supposed to be a well-informed urbanist:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs [to create pedestrian space], the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”

Kamin is referring to the elimination of the intersection’s slip lanes, aka channelized right turns, which have been incorporated into the curb extensions. That’s actually one of the best things about the Lincoln Hub. Slip lanes create longer crossing distances and additional conflict points between pedestrians and drivers, and they allow motorists to whip around corners at dangerous speeds.

Because of this, the Chicago Department of Transportation is generally no longer building slip lanes, and most six-way intersections in the city aren’t channelized. Rather than creating an aggravation for drivers, removing the slip lanes simply brought Lincoln/Wellington/Southport up to current standards for pedestrian safety.

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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Police, Park District Still Disagree About Late-Night Travel on The 606

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Photo: John Greenfield

Some 80,000 people live within a half mile of the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway that connects Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Bucktown, and Wicker Park. Many of these residents regularly bike commute home from work or entertainment after 11 p.m. It’s only logical that these people should be allowed to use this car-free route to get home safely, rather than take their chances with drunk drivers on busy North Avenue or Armitage Avenue.

However, that’s not currently how things work. As it stands, Chicago police officers are enforcing the city’s 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. parks curfew by clearing the Bloomingdale at 11 sharp. When they encounter people commuting on foot or by bike on the path after hours, they politely (according to all accounts I’ve heard) order the trail users to leave. When I looked into the issue two weeks ago, Officer Janel Sedevic from Police News Affairs confirmed that this is the department’s current protocol.

However, the police policy contradicts that of the Chicago Park District, which owns the Bloomingdale. Two weeks ago, spokeswoman Michele Lemons told me that – as on the Lakefront Trail – nonstop walking and biking are permitted on the elevated path due to an ingress and egress provision in the park district code. “This allows commuters to use paths through our parks, including The 606, for transportation.”

When I notified Sedevic and Lemons that the two policies were in conflict, they said they would get in touch with each other and resolve the issue. I made several follow-up calls to both agencies over the last two weeks, and was repeatedly promised an update in the near future.

In the meantime, I checked in with community leaders in the surrounding neighborhoods about the issue. Alderman Scott Waguespack’s 32nd Ward includes the Bloomingdale east of Western Avenue, where the trail is bordered by upscale housing. Prior to the path’s June 6 opening, constituents had expressed concerns that heavy foot and bike traffic would lead to a spike in crime. That fear hasn’t materialized, but there have been complaints about noisy skateboarders.

Waguespack seems to endorse the police-enforced curfew. “From early planning stages, the word was that the Bloomingdale Trail would be open during regular park hours only, and the hours would be enforced by the police or park district security,” he told me. “I don’t think that rule has changed and likely won’t.”

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Roger That! Low-Stress, North-South Bike Route Planned for Rogers Park

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Greenview north of Touhy, looking north. Image: Google Street View

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting about their clever proposal to install a contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood, between Ridge and Carmen, in Edgewater. More quietly, CDOT and the 49th Ward have been moving forward with an equally promising plan for a neighborhood greenway on Glenwood and and Greenview in Rogers Park.

CDOT staff declined to discuss the proposal, referring me to 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office. “Our main goal was to create some kind of route from Devon Street, the southern boundary of the ward, up to Evanston,” explained Bob Fuller, an assistant to Moore. Glenwood and Greenview are already popular bike routes in Rogers Park, with cyclists accounting for up to 25 percent of rush hour traffic. “Instead of high-traffic streets like Sheridan, Clark, and Western, it made sense to put the greenway on these residential streets,” Fuller said.

The draft plan is to have the route run along Glenwood from Devon to either Pratt or Farwell. From there, the greenway would jog west a block to Greenview and continue to either Howard or Jonquil. From there, cyclists could head west to Clark or east to Sheridan in order to get to Evanston. The roughly 1.7-mile route would work both northbound and southbound.

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150 Car-Free PlayStreet Block Parties Will Promote Health and Community

Unsafe streets and poor health outcomes are two of the biggest challenges facing residents in Chicago’s low-to-moderate income communities. Launched in 2011, the city’s PlayStreets program addresses both issues by creating car-free spaces for healthy recreation, which also supports crime-prevention efforts. Last year over 26,000 people participated in 140 block party-style events.

This year’s program, which kicked off on June 11, features 150 events — more than ever before – in 36 neighborhoods, from Roseland to Archer Heights to Rogers Park. Streets are pedestrianized for three or more hours to make room for sports, games, bounce houses, fitness classes, and more. This provides a safe environment for kids to play, and it’s also a chance for adults to get exercise and meet their neighbors.

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A PlayStreets event in the South Chicago community. Photo: Claretian Associates

The program is spearheaded by the Chicago Department of Public Health as a key part of the city’s Healthy Chicago plan, with more than 200 strategies to improve Chicagoans’ wellbeing. The Gads Hill Center, the Active Transportation Alliance, World Sport Chicago and Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago are coordinating this year’s PlayStreets events. They’re partnering with dozens of community-based organizations and churches (see the full list here) that are helping to run events in their neighborhoods and spread the word to clients and parishioners.

“PlayStreets is really about taking back public space for physical activity, healthy lifestyles and community building,” said Eric Bjorlin, who manages Active Trans’ school and education programs. “The hope is that these events will help get people active in lots of different ways.”

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Legalize It! Glenwood Route Will Make Contra-Flow Biking Safe & Predictable

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Rendering of the contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood.

Once in while, the Chicago Department of Transportation has a bikeway idea that’s so good, I wish that I’d thought of it first. Such is the case with the proposed Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route. This neighborhood greenway would run for 0.75 miles on Glenwood between Ridge and Carmen, and on Carmen for 0.25 miles between Glenwood and the Broadway buffered bike lanes. The project is expected to cost no more than $75,000, and CDOT hopes to install it later this summer.

The greenway would greatly improve the southbound route options from Rogers Park and northern Edgewater to Andersonville and Uptown. Currently, northbound cyclists can access Glenwood from Clark or Broadway via Argyle, just north of St. Boniface Cemetery.

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The project area.

Glenwood is a serene, leafy residential street that leads all the way to Rogers Park, providing a great alternative to the high-speed, four-lane stretches of Broadway north of Foster, and Clark north of the Andersonville retail district. The later stretch is designated as a recommended route on the Chicago Bike Map, but it really shouldn’t be, since speeding is common there.

However, southbound cyclists can’t legally make the whole trip on Glenwood because the street is one-way northbound between Ridge and Foster. I generally deal with this by heading west on Edgewater Avenue, located just south of Glenwood/Ridge, and continuing south on Clark along Andersonville business strip. That’s a reasonably bikeable stretch of Clark, but it’s probably a bit too hectic and stressful for less confident riders and families.

Many cyclists are already currently choosing to ride against traffic on Glenwood. Census data shows that four to seven percent of residents along the corridor bike to work, which is several times higher than the city average. CDOT counted up to 40 bicyclists an hour on the corridor during peak hours, representing 25 percent of traffic, with more than half of the cyclists riding against traffic.

Perhaps partly because drivers aren’t expecting southbound bike traffic on the northbound stretch of Glenwood, six bicyclists were injured in crashes there between 2009 and 2013. Half of them were under age 18.

CDOT plans to legalize southbound bike riding on the northbound segment of Glenwood by adding a contra-flow bike lane. The lane will be painted green near intersections to give motorists an additional heads-up, and shared-lane marking will be added for northbound bike traffic. Carmen, which is already two-way, will get shared lane markings in both directions. Stop signs and stop bars, and possibly bike traffic signals, will be installed for southbound cyclists.

The narrower travel lane for cars on northbound Glenwood will help calm traffic, and bike-friendly sinusoidal speed humps may be added as well. High visibility, zebra-striped crosswalks will be added, and other crosswalks will be refreshed. No parking will be eliminated. Therefore, the greenway is really a win for everyone involved: bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and neighboring residents.

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“Divvy for Everyone” Aims to Boost Ridership in Low-Income Areas

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A Slow Roll Chicago ride in Bronzeville. Divvy provides loaners for Slow Roll events. Photo: John Greenfield

Divvy bike-share has been a resounding success on many fronts, with 476 docking stations installed and more than four million trips taken since the system launched two years ago. However, like most bike-share networks across the country, there’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to access and ridership in low-income communities. Thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Better Bike Share Partnership, announced last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation will be taking steps to help close the bike-share gap with a campaign called “Divvy for Everyone.”

Bike-share user surveys in other cities have revealed that membership tends to be disproportionately young, white, male, affluent, and college educated. While the CDOT has stats on age and gender based on Divvy membership applications, it has yet to release a full report on demographics. However, when the first 300 stations were installed in 2013, they were concentrated in parts of the city with a high density of people and destinations, which meant that downtown and relatively wealthy North Lakefront neighborhoods got the lion’s share.

A few low-income communities on the South and West Sides did get Divvy stations in the first round, and many more – such as Woodlawn, Washington Park, Canaryville, and East Garfield Park — got access to the system when 176 stations were added this spring. That expanded the number of Chicagoans who live in bike-share coverage areas from about 33 percent to 56 percent.

Meanwhile, CDOT has dispatched its Bicycling Ambassadors outreach team to talk up the benefits of bike-share to local merchants and give residents tips on using the system effectively. However, when I recently visited most of the stations on the perimeter of the new coverage area on a nice day, I only saw one person using the system.

Plenty of people I spoke with on the South and West Sides said they were glad to have access to Divvy, but weren’t clear on how the system works. A credit card is also required to buy a $7 day pass or $75 annual membership, which also serves as a barrier to unbanked individuals.

The BBSP money, along with $75,000 in matching funds from BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois, the Divvy sponsor, will allow CDOT to work on removing barriers to bike-share use, and to shift its outreach efforts into high gear. The Chicago grant is part of nearly $375,000 in grants that the BBSP is awarding to recipients across the country working to make bike-share more equitable. The partnership is a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the PeopleForBikes Foundation and the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Other grants will go to improve bike-share access in New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, Austin, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The BBSP is also providing funding to researchers from Portland State University who will study Philadelphia’s Indego system to see how perceptions of bike-share, barriers to use, station siting, and specific interventions to increase use influence ridership. The PSU report will determine best practices for expanding access that can be used in other cities.

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Video: Ride the Bloomingdale Trail from End to End

Take a virtual bicycle ride on the Bloomingdale Trail, part of The 606, the 2.7-mile elevated greenway and access park network, which opened Saturday on Chicago’s Northwest Side. I pedaled the trail from its western terminus at Ridgeway Avenue, a stone’s throw from the McCormick Tribune YMCA, to its eastern trailhead at Walsh Park, between Marshfield Avenue and Ashland Avenue. I filmed this around 11 a.m. on Monday, the first weekday the path was open.

I noticed large numbers of parents and caretakers pushing children in strollers, and biking with kids in baby seats, or pedaling beside them. There were also plenty of other adults riding bikes for transportation, exercise, or relaxation.

Construction and landscape workers were busy improving Walsh Park and the access park at Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street. One of the construction workers was traveling between the job sites on a bicycle, which was a very cool thing to see.

What have you seen on the Bloomingdale Trail?

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More Parking Meters Would Help, Not Hurt, City Neighborhoods

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Another way the city can re-earn revenue from the meters is by encouraging more people to use the smartphone app to pay for car parking as the city collects a portion of the service fee after a minimum amount. Photo: Mike Travis

It turns out that, despite Chicago’s disastrous parking meter deal, the city government can still use meters to benefit neighborhoods. During a recent discussion of Chicago’s parking challenges and their accompanying report, Metropolitan Planning Council vice president Peter Skosey and research director Chrissy Mancini Nichols told me how the city can make lemonade out of this lemon of a deal. There are a few issues that need to be resolved first, and this turnaround would require installing more meters, but that would only be a good thing for neighborhoods.

In 2008, then-mayor Richard M. Daley pushed the meter contract through City Council, where the vast majority of aldermen voted for it. The deal turned over the next 75 years of meter revenue to private investors in exchange for a lump sum payment of $1 billion, most of which Daley quickly spent on balancing the budget.

That was likely billions less than the concession was actually worth. To add insult to injury, the city is now required to repay the Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, a company representing the investors, anytime meter revenue is lost due to festivals and other street closures. (The city has started charging contractors for lost revenue when they close roads for construction.) It also means that any time the city strips metered parking for other street uses like bike or bus lanes, they must compensate CPM by installing meters of equal or better potential revenue nearby.

However, Mancini Nichols explained, the contract does allow the city to collect 85 percent of the revenue from new “reserve” meters it chooses to install. Rather than lining the pockets of the investors, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council could opt to use that money to pay off Chicago’s pension debt, or for investments in the neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, we can’t start collecting that additional revenue until CPM gets the full annual revenue promised in the contract, based on the number of functioning meters that were available in 2009. Until CPM reaches that level of compensation, the city must use revenue from new meters to “true up” its payment to CPM at the end of every year. The meter availability is called “system in service,” and the 2009 level is considered 100 percent system in service. Currently, Chicago’s meters are at 96 percent system in service, Mancini Nichols said.

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The Bloomingdale, Chicago’s Awesome New Public Space, Makes Its Debut

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The Humboldt Boulevard bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In a 2009 Chicago Reader story, I noted that the best-case scenario for the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway would be a 2016 opening, in time for the Olympics, if then-mayor Richard M. Daley succeeded in winning the games. We all know what happened with the Olympic effort.

But here it is, only 2015, and thousands of Chicagoans of all ages and walks of life were already hanging out, strolling, jogging, biking, skating, and parading on the 2.7-mile path, last Saturday as part of the trail’s joyful opening celebration on a gorgeous spring day. The rails-to-trail conversion and the construction of several adjacent access parks never would have happened without tireless advocacy and activism from neighbors, particularly the grassroots nonprofit Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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One of the many opening day processions. Photo: John Greenfield

We also need to give some credit for the speedy delivery of the trail to current mayor Rahm Emanuel. In July of 2009, the city announced its choice of the contractor to design the trail, but when Daley left office nearly two years later, the contract still hadn’t been awarded. “The project was really creeping along,” acknowledged Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton at the Saturday opening. She has been involved with discussions on converting the rail line since 1987.

After he was elected in 2011, Emanuel announced his intention to open the trail within four years, which seemed next-to-impossible at the time. However, soon after he took office, the design contract was awarded, and not long after that the city lined up $50 million in federal funding to build the $95 million project. The Trust for Public Land was recruited to manage the project and raise the additional money through private donations.

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Emanuel takes a spin on the trail. Photo: John Greenfield

The opening was originally scheduled for fall of 2014, but the opening was pushed back after a brutal winter delayed construction. However, it was surreal to see the nearly completed path and parks filled with revelers on Saturday. “Mayor Emanuel galvanized support for the trail,” Luann said.

The Bloomingdale is still a work in progress – the east end near Ashland Avenue is largely a construction site, and unfinished handrails on the California Avenue access ramp created a potential hazard. TPL still needs to raise $20 million more to fund additional landscaping, public art, and other amenities, and Governor Bruce Rauner has frozen some of the state funding for access parks by the eastern and western trailheads.

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