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Posts from the "Neighborhoods" Category

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North Branch Trail Extension Inches Forward, Including Edgebrook Sidepath

Example side path on Harms Road in Glenview

The North Branch Trail’s southern extension will have a short side path along Lehigh and Central Avenues, much like this segment of Harms Road in Glenview. Image: Google Street View

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is proceeding with plans to extend its popular North Branch Trail three miles further into the city limits, via a sidepath along Central Avenue. The extension has been planned since 1995, and has been shown as a dotted line on the Chicago bike map for several years. Some neighbors, though, worry about how the sidepath will impact cars traveling on or turning off Central Avenue.

Last week the Forest Preserve hosted a meeting at the Matthew Bieszczat Volunteer Resource Center about the extension, which would start from the trail’s current southern terminus at Devon and Lehigh avenues (one block short of downtown Edgebrook) and end at Gompers Park, near Foster and Kostner avenues, in the Mayfair neighborhood The 18-mile trail carries 250,000 users a year between the city and the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, where a northern extension to the Metra UP-North line opens September 13.

Extending the trail into the city won’t be a walk in the park, though. While most of the existing trail runs along the river, the extension must skirt both busy Devon Avenue and the existing Edgebrook Golf Course. To do so, it will run alongside existing roads instead: crossing Devon at Caldwell, then following Central past the three-block Old Edgebrook neighborhood, then crossing Central at a new stoplight placed at an existing intersection that serves the golf course and the Volunteer Resource Center.

Some residents feel that the new traffic signal will “snarl traffic,” DNAInfo reported. This is unlikely, since the new traffic signal would be on-demand, and only change when a motorist exits the parking lot or when a bicyclist or pedestrian pushes a button.

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation examined several alternatives proposed by neighbors and found them wanting. In particular, re-timing the lights at the complicated intersection of Lehigh, Caldwell, Central, and Devon would cost $1 million, and building a traffic signal at Prescott or Louise would make existing traffic backups even worse.

Old Edgebrook residents also worry about how the Central Avenue sidepath would affect vehicle turns into or out of their neighborhood. Brian Sobolak attended the meeting, and recounted that some residents thought that the sidepath’s crossings of Prescott and Louise would be unsafe, and might block residents driving in and out. Similarly, Nadig Newspapers reported that some residents believe “it would be difficult to see bicyclists” crossing these two streets, the only routes into Old Edgebrook. Yet Central already has a sidewalk at this location, so drivers at these two intersections already must watch for crossing pedestrians.

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Without Planning, Mega Parking Lot Could Replace Megamall

Logan's Crossing rendering (looking west)

A rendering of a new building that could replace the Megamall, a longstanding indoor market that stretches for almost 700′ along Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Image: Sierra U.S.

Terraco and Sierra U.S., two commercial real estate firms, have started marketing to potential tenants space within a new development at the site of the defunct Megamall, along Milwaukee Avenue northwest of Sacramento Avenue in Logan Square. Marketing documents published by Curbed Chicago show a new building housing 166,390 square feet of retail, including a supermarket and a health club — and a whopping 426 parking spaces, both within the building and in a surface lot behind it.

The plan proposes nearly enough parking to fill an entire city block, but surprisingly, that’s just five percent more than the minimum of 406 spaces that Chicago’s zoning code requiresWhereas most of the retail customers, just as elsewhere in the neighborhood, would likely arrive by foot, transit, or bike, a huge parking garage would only appeal to drivers — and so plentiful parking would probably induce driving to the site. That’s even though the site is ”on a designated primary bicycle spoke route, a block from a major transit hub and a city-owned parking lot lonely for cars,” as local urban planner Lynn Stevens says. Stevens also points to a previous community workshop, where two-thirds of participants didn’t want additional parking in the area.

Stevens urges that local officials should develop a plan that could guide the fast-paced development along Milwaukee Avenue through Logan Square. In the absence of a unifying plan, the decades-old underlying zoning – amended piecemeal by developers and three different aldermen – becomes a de facto plan. Stevens, who writes the Peopling Places blog about Logan Square development, said, “a plan… would establish policy guidance for future growth and implementation of social, economic and physical [design] goals. Absent a plan, all we have is the Zoning Code that guides private physical development, but, as we know, [that] is subject to change at the whim of an alderman.”

She added that development policy for the area is done in “isolation” at many different agencies. In the absence of any plan, each “property owner envisions development to maximize profit under the existing zoning — or the zoning he thinks he can get out of the alderman.” And since existing zoning specifies conventional retail for the Megamall site, the result is the conventional Terraco/Sierra proposal.

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PBLs Off the Table in Jeff Park, But Milwaukee Still Needs a Road Diet

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CDOT rendering of Milwaukee with a road diet and protected bike lanes.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has proposed three possible street reconfigurations for Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. Unfortunately, the one that CDOT originally said would have had the greatest safety benefit for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers is now off the table.

The scenario where the current five-lane speedway would have been converted to two travel lanes and a turn lane, plus protected bike lanes, is no longer under consideration, according to 45th Ward chief of staff Owen Brugh. He said that Alderman John Arena and CDOT jointly concluded that PBLs weren’t a practical solution for this stretch, due to the high number of driveways.

Since protected lanes would have involved moving the parking lanes to the left side of the bike lanes, parking spaces would have had to be eliminated at each intersection and curb cut to ensure that cyclists and motorists could see each other. This would have required the removal of 20 percent of the parking spots on Milwaukee. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this section of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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Rendering of a road diet with wide buffered lanes.

The two other alternatives are still under consideration. One would involve a road diet with wide buffered lanes, which CDOT says would still have a significant safety benefit for all road users. The other would maintain all five lanes but add narrow buffered lanes, which would provide a minor safety benefit for cyclists and pedestrians, but have practically no effect on car speeds.

It’s a shame that protected lanes are no longer being considered, since this stretch of Milwaukee would greatly benefit from a major reboot. This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

Since speeding is the norm here, it’s not surprising that there’s a high crash rate. The project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

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Community Meeting Scheduled About Jeff Park P-Street Proposal

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The proposed Jeff Park P-Streets. Image: Google Maps

Interestingly, some of the city’s outlying wards are leading the way when it comes to creating pedestrian-friendly business districts. Last week, I reported how 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell has proposed an ordinance that would designate three Albany Park retail strips as Pedestrian Streets. Earlier this week, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena sent a letter to constituents announcing that he has filed an ordinance to do the same thing on two streets in Jefferson Park.

The P-Street designation is intended to preserve the existing walkability of business districts and foster future ped-friendly development. It blocks the creation of big box stores, gas station, drive-throughs and other businesses that cater to motorists by forbidding the creation of new driveways.

The designation requires that the whole building façade be adjacent to the sidewalk. The main entrance must be located on the P-Street, and at least 60 percent 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 the alley.

Arena wants to create P-Streets on Milwaukee from Giddings to Higgins, and on Lawrence from Laramie to Long. Located just south of the Jefferson Park Transit Center, this X-shaped district is the heart of the local retail area.

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The Pros and Cons of Divvy’s New Expansion Map

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The new Divvy expansion map with new coverage areas in pink. View a larger version.

In mid-July, Alta Bicycle Share’s Mia Birk told Marketplace that, due to pipeline issues, new bikes for the systems Alta runs probably wouldn’t arrive until 2015. At the time, I predicted that the Chicago Department of Transportation would soon announce that it wouldn’t be able to expand the Divvy system from 3,000 to 4,750 cycles this year, as previously planned.

More than a month later, CDOT finally announced yesterday that Chicago won’t be getting new stations until early next spring, but they cleverly softened the blow by releasing the locations for the 175 docking stations that will be added to the existing 300. Roughly 3,100 additional docks will be added, according to Divvy general manager Elliot Greenberger.

In the news release, CDOT also boasted that, with 475 stations spread over 87 square miles and 31 wards, Divvy will have the largest number of stations and the widest coverage area of any North American city. However, New York’s Citi Bike system will still have far more bikes, with 6,000.

The delay in getting new bikes for Alta-run systems was caused by the bankruptcy of Montreal-based supplier Public Bike System Co., also known as Bixi. CDOT spokesman Pete Scales told the Chicago Tribune that the department is confident that the expansion won’t be further postponed. “Alta is in the final stages of vetting multiple supplier options, all of whom have committed to spring delivery time frames.”

Chicago’s new map of planned stations was influenced by hundreds of suggestions residents made via a station request website. The new coverage area will stretch almost to 79th Street on the South Side, as far as Touhy Avenue on the North Side, and a bit west of Pulaski Road. Infill stations will also be added downtown, and on the Near South Side, the North North Side, and in Hyde Park.

In order to ensure the system would be financially viable, CDOT officials said the first round of 300 stations was concentrated in areas with a high density of transit stops, retail, employment nodes, and other destinations. Although low-income communities like Little Village, Pilsen, Bronzeville, and Oakland did get stations, some commenters and residents argued that the system was overly focused on affluent parts of town, and that too many poor neighborhoods were overlooked.

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The River of Traffic On Ridge/Hollywood Hurts Edgewater’s Livability

Ridge Avenue speed and traffic study

Walking across Ridge at Wayne can be dicey.

The Edgewater neighborhood along the north lakefront should be a pleasant place to walk. It’s the second-densest community area in the city, with 56,521 residents in an area just 1.5 miles across, and boasts lively commercial areas like Andersonville. Yet local residents say that their neighborhood is effectively cleaved into two by a roiling river of car traffic. The north end of Lake Shore Drive pumps tens of thousands of cars through the neighborhood, first onto Hollywood and then to Broadway or Ridge and onto Clark and Peterson.

To welcome this invading army of cars, over a dozen houses were leveled in the mid-1950s (animation below) to transform these local streets into four-lane traffic sewers — roads meant to move many cars, quickly. This turned Hollywood and Ridge into impassable barriers, according to local residents like Claire Micklin. She says it’s practically impossible to use marked crosswalks, because drivers simply refuse to stop. Even when traffic backups make it possible to get halfway across, fast-moving traffic thunders past in the other direction. Micklin says she dreads trying to cross, or even to walking alongside the streets — since parking is banned, the never-ending traffic runs right next to the sidewalk:

Drivers drive as if they are on an extension of Lake Shore Drive, grinding to a halt at the lights that break up the thoroughfare. The cars just keep on coming, and even two of the four lanes are clear, there are usually cars speeding by on the other two lanes. I have seen people push baby carriages into the crosswalk, hoping that the other two lanes of traffic will stop. Even with a baby carriage in the middle of the road, people do not stop, and the person usually has to do a quick reverse back to where they started to cross.

Micklin lives just north of the tangled intersection where Hollywood, Ridge, Broadway, and Bryn Mawr all meet within one block of one another. The most convenient retail to her is clustered around the Bryn Mawr “L” stop, just south of Hollywood, or in Andersonville, a few blocks southwest, and none of the nearest crosswalks to her have traffic signals. Even where there are signals, as at Ridge and Hollywood, the streets are obviously engineered for cars: The signal timing favors the Ridge-Hollywood through traffic, and requires pedestrians to press a “beg button” that’s inaccessible to children or people in wheelchairs. The intersection even features a highway-style, concrete Jersey barrier to keep skidding drivers from rolling right into someone’s home.

Kevin Zolkiewicz lives a block south of the speedway. Like Micklin, he has to cross Hollywood or Ridge to get to services like the restaurants or the library on Broadway. He calls the walk “miserable… [I] have to go out of my way to cross at a light,” Zolkiewicz said, adding that Ridge “acts as a barrier between Andersonville and the rest of Edgewater.”

The never-ending stream of cars at Ridge and Hollywood. 

Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens and I observed traffic at two problematic intersections that Micklin identified — Ridge/Wayne just west of the Ridge-Hollywood intersection, and Hollywood/Magnolia just to the east. These intersections are between traffic signals, so motorists are used to speeding up rather than stopping at these locations.

The two intersections both feature all four marked crosswalks, but the legs across the wider streets have faded nearly to black, neither have pedestrian refuge medians, and neither has a “stop for pedestrians” sign. (CDOT says that they will not install these on four-lane roads, due to the low probability that drivers in all four lanes will actually obey the sign.)

Micklin said that, due to the angled junction in between these two intersections, “there’s no visibility to see oncoming cars, and [thus] know that you can cross safely. I’ve been stuck in the middle of the road before, and people still don’t stop.” We noticed half a dozen people during our study doing just that: Wiggling between stopped cars headed in one direction, then waiting in the middle of the road before running across the other lanes.

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“Walk To Transit” Targets 20 CTA Stations For Quick Safety Fixes

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Passengers arriving at the Clinton Station often can’t find the Greyhound, Union, or Divvy stations.

A new “Walk To Transit” initiative by the Chicago Department of Transportation will target 20 CTA stations for a slew of simple pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. People walking to several Blue Line stations on the west side and along Milwaukee Avenue, along with stations on the south and north sides, will see safety and usability improvements like re-striped zebra crosswalks, curb extensions, repaired or widened sidewalks, and new signage.

Suzanne Carlson, pedestrian program coordinator at the Chicago Department of Transportation, said at the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting to weeks ago (theme: connectivity) that construction on a first phase of ten stations should begin in the spring of 2015. CDOT has grant funding for another ten stations, yet to be identified. She said that the designs [PDF] were published in March “at 30 percent,” but only one minor design element has changed since then. 

Some stations will get new and improved wayfinding signage. New signs outside the Blue Line’s Clinton station, hidden underneath a Eisenhower Expressway overpass, will direct CTA riders to Metra, Amtrak, and Greyhound, and vice versa. Even among the majority of American adults who carry smartphones, figuring out where to go from the Clinton station can be a puzzle: The other stations aren’t immediately visible from any of the station’s four dark exits. Adding “breadcrumb” sign posts along the way would help. CTA and CDOT managing deputy commissioner Sean Wiedel have had conversations about adding Divvy wayfinding signs within stops like Clinton, where Divvy is similarly hiding around the corner from the station entrance, “but we haven’t reached a definitive agreement at this point.”

This is where Divvy signage should be displayed

Signs within the Clinton Blue Line station point CTA riders to Greyhound and Metra, but not Divvy — and once above ground, no further clues are available.

Above the Blue Line station at Grand-Milwaukee-Halsted, CDOT proposes reprogramming the signal with “leading pedestrian intervals,” which will give people walking across the street a green light before drivers can make a turn. New curb extensions (bulb-outs) at Ohio Street, between the station and Milwaukee’s bridge over the Ohio Street Connector, will slow down drivers and prevent them from driving down Milwaukee’s faded bike lane.

Around the Pulaski Blue Line station in West Garfield Park, which is within the median of the Eisenhower Expressway, recommended improvements include curb extensions to slow turning drivers at all corners of Harrison and Pulaski, a pedestrian refuge island within Pulaski at Van Buren, and signs that will direct bicyclists to and from the station from Keeler Avenue — a nearby “neighborhood route” under the Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.

Outside the 63rd Street Red Line station in Englewood, new trees will enliven a dull corner at Princeton Avenue — and also replace a dangerous gas station driveway, which eliminates the conflict between cars turning across the sidewalk into the gas station, right by a bus stop. Such dangerous curb cuts are not forever, since they have to be renewed annually.
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No Longer Marooned: U. of C. Unifies Campus With New Pedestrian Spaces

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The new pedestrian street on 58th, across from Robie House. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also ran in Checkerboard City, John's column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings]

I’ve long thought that the gray, Gothic confines of the University of Chicago were designed as a fortress against the outside world. However, in recent years, the school has made an effort to physically open up its grounds to the rest of the Hyde Park community, as well as to connect various parts of the campus that had previously seemed remote, by creating better spaces for pedestrians.

Several construction projects have improved connectivity and made it safer and more pleasant to walk across the 211-acre campus. Meanwhile, sections of roadway have been converted into attractive walkways and plazas, which encourage spontaneous interactions between students, employees and neighborhood folks.

Last year, changes included a new pedestrian space on the west side of campus, by the University of Chicago Hospitals, a new passageway through the administration building, and the completion of the Midway Crossings, bridge-like structures uniting the north and south sides of campus. In June of this year, the university finished converting a block of 58th Street, between University and Woodlawn avenues, into a lively promenade.

“The outdoor spaces on campus can be as important as the indoor spaces,” said university architect Steve Wiesenthal in a statement in spring 2013, before most of the construction started. “These projects will connect parts of campus that have felt distant from each other because of features of our buildings and landscape. They will contribute to our sense of community and the integrated nature of the University.”

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One of the Midway Crossings on Ellis Avenue. Photo: John Greenfield

A few years ago, the university began building the Midway Crossings, a roughly $8 million streetscaping project, designed to provide better connections between the main campus and buildings south of the Midway Plaisance. Although the Midway, located between 59th and 60th streets, is only one block wide, psychologically the distance felt much longer, especially during the winter, and many people felt unsafe crossing the parkland at night.

To make the trek across the Midway feel shorter and safer, the school created the new walkways along Ellis, Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues. The design was inspired by the green space’s architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, who originally conceived the Midway as a water route between Jackson and Washington parks, traversed by bridges. Workers completed the construction of the crossings in spring 2013.

The Midway Crossings treatments include wider sidewalks, which make it easier for people to travel in groups. Illuminated railings, retaining walls, and lighting masts, dozens of feet tall and affectionately known as the “light sabers” by the students, further increase the sense of security by increasing visibility in general and making it easier to see the faces of other pedestrians.

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Local Architects Envision “Meeting Place” At Empty Logan Square Plaza

Nushu's orange chairs at the Logan Square Blue Line station

Sitting and staying, exactly as Nushu architects intended.

This past Sunday, the usually forlorn bus transfer plaza above the Logan Square Blue Line station suddenly looked very different. Architects Krista Petkovsek and Kara Boyd had scrounged nearby alleys, rounded up a couple dozen used chairs, painted them orange, and scattered them around the plaza to spark a conversation about how to enliven the empty space, which is surrounded by an ever-increasing number of shops and restaurants.

Petkovsek and Boyd placed the chairs in two axes spanning the plaza last weekend, spurred by the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks placemaking contest. The duo, co-founders of Nushu Studio, found out about the contest from Katherine Darnstadt. Her firm, Latent Design, won last year’s MPC placemaking contest for Union Station with its Blah Blah Blob! entry.

The two picked the Logan Square Blue Line station plaza as a prime example of the contest’s call to “choose a space in the city that needed a little attention,” Petkovsek said, and “to make some suggestions about what could happen in this space in the future.” A splash of color and a place to sit, she explained, could be a “starting point to grab people’s attention.”

Not coincidentally, MPC will host three meetings in September about the plaza, part of a long-term Corridor Development Initiative that MPC is managing in Logan Square. The meetings, according to Petkovsek, are where people can tell the city “what they’d like to see happen here.” The chairs are a good way to draw some attention to the plaza and advertise the upcoming meetings, “because not everybody sees social media,” she said.

In preparing for the event, Petkovsek discovered that 7,000 people pass the plaza each day: 5,625 enter the Blue Line subway there every day, 300 get on or off the 56-Milwaukee bus on the northbound side, scores of people use the Divvy station there, hundreds board and alight the 76-Diversey bus, and plenty of people just walk through.

Petkovsek and Boyd wanted to create a focal point for all that motion and activity precisely “because it’s such a transit hub.” Petkovsek cited the Akita dog statue at Tokyo’s Shibuya rail station: ”There’s a whole story behind it, and everyone uses it as their meeting place. It’s really cool.” Read more…

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Plantings, Art, Down-A-Clown Enliven Unloved Ravenswood Lot

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Brainstorming ideas for the under-used lot. Photo: Bohuslav Jelen

Last weekend, community groups across the city staged placemaking events in under-used lots, plazas and corners, all part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Old Place, New Tricks contest. The Grow Space Picnic, held in a gravel parking lot at Ravenswood and Wilson, was a great example of how fun, games, and art can energize ho-hum spaces – and help build community.

The lot, located next to an engraving workshop, under Metra’s UP-North Line, is normally an eyesore, according to Gene Wagendorf from the Ravenswood Community Council, which hosted the picnic along with the Midwest Pesticide Action Center. A large brick wall next to the space is a frequent target of graffiti, so many residents dislike walking past it, Wagendorf said.

However, the block gets plenty of foot traffic from the nearby Ravenswood Metra station and nearby homes and businesses, so Wagendorf says the lot is an ideal space to revitalize with a community asset, according to Wagendorf. The picnic, which ran from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., was designed to test that notion by activating the “blighted” spot with greenery, art, music, kids’ activities and refreshments.

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The transformed parking lot. Photo: Gene Wagendorf

The nearby American Indian Center, which has a program to build gardens with native plantings, and Artreach, the nonprofit sister organization of Lill Street Learning Center, also helped put on the event. Patch Landscaping contributed temporary landscaping, covering the lot’s driveway with sod-covered hills topped by small Japanese trees.

“We thought that if we were going to have a theme of green space, we needed to have more than just a gravel parking lot,” Wagendorf said. “I spent half the day sitting over there. When it was shady, I could have slept there.”

He estimates that 80 to 100 neighbors, many of them kids, showed up to play carnival games like Crazy Cats and Down-A-Clown, color worksheets featuring garden scenes and insects, and enjoy free ice cream and lemonade. They decorated a chain-link fence next to the wall with a textile-and-yarn installation, and chalked ideas for the space onto a blackboard.

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