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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Couple Hopes Amenities Will Make Café a South Loop Cycling Hub

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The new cafe’s bike-centric logo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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New Development, Investment Anticipates Future Bloomingdale Trail

New housing near the Bloomingdale Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, developers who build on P-Streets near transit stops can get an “administrative adjustment” exempting them from providing any commercial parking spaces. In effect, the designation ensures that future developments will be pedestrian-friendly, and blocks the creation of drive-throughs, strip malls, car dealerships, gas stations, car washes and other businesses that cater to drivers.

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

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

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Actually, Logan Square’s Neither Traffic-Choked Nor Overcrowded

Caption. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Rendering of a proposed development near the California ‘L’ stop. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Late last month, over 100 people crowded into a public presentation to hear about a proposed development of 254 housing units, plus 72 car parking spaces and retail, on what’s now a vacant lot around the corner from the California Blue Line ‘L’ station in Logan Square. The number of parking spaces proposed is 182 fewer than the city’s zoning would typically require, but recent changes to city laws make it possible for exceptions to be granted on sites near transit, and an adopted plan for this area encourages taller buildings with less parking.

Many attendees echoed the auto-centric concerns commonly heard at such meetings. Some said that the car parking proposed will prove completely insufficient, or that 300 or more new residents would result in unfathomable congestion. A flyer distributed door to door in the neighborhood sternly warned that in “High Rise City,” “They will make it impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.”

Here’s the rub, though: Traffic volumes on major streets near the development have dropped substantially, and so has the local population. If there are fewer people and fewer cars, how could it be that some perceive traffic congestion to be worse than ever?

Between 2006 and 2010 (the most recent year available), the Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the number of drivers on Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue declined by 17.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. Traffic volumes on both streets fell by thousands of cars per day: approximately 2,600 fewer cars on Milwaukee and 4,600 fewer cars on California.

Population loss in the area has also been dramatic, since household sizes are rapidly declining. The population in the area around this proposed development declined by over 3,000 people, or 16 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The number of housing units increased by 316, but that was more than offset by an average household size that dropped from 2.7 to 2.2. It’s unlikely that the population trends have changed much since 2010: Census estimates project that the development’s Census tract added fewer than 100 people from 2008 to 2012.

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Eyes on the Street: Metra Renovates 18th Street Electric Station

18th Street Metra Electric station renovations

A Metra Electric train passes the renovated 18th Street station on Sunday.

The South Loop-focused blog Sloopin reported last month that more residents in the Prairie District are using the Metra Electric service’s 18th Street station to catch a fast, on-time ride into the East Loop. A trip from 18th Street to Van Buren or Millennium Stations costs $2.75 and takes 10-15 minutes. A similar ride on the Chicago Transit Authority’s 3-King Drive bus would take over 20 minutes and cost $2.00, and no CTA rail stations are currently within walking distance.

The growing crowd using the previously rickety station will undoubtedly appreciate its recent facelift. Metra spokesperson Michael Gillis said they’re replacing the station’s wooden platform, shelters, and stairs. “We expect to be done,” he said, “by the next home game for the Bears on November 16.” The work appeared to be complete as of yesterday.

Chicago Bears football fans use the 18th Street station to walk to Soldier Field. Trains from 18th Street continue through the South Side and south suburbs, through Hyde Park, Pullman, University Park, Riverdale, and Blue Island.

During rush hour, the Metra Electric’s “main line” between downtown and Hyde Park – before the line splits into separate branches – runs with rapid transit-like frequency, with trains arriving downtown every 2 to 8 minutes. Few of these trains, though, stop at 18th Street. On weekday mornings, only four inbound trains will pick up passengers at 18th, but 30 trains always bypass the station. Sloopin’ is asking its readers to email Metra and request to have more trains stop at 18th, even if only as a “flag stop.” (Trains will only stop at flag stops if a passenger, either on board the train or on the platform, requests so.)

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The Real Reason There Are Speed Cams by Challenger Park

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CDOT crash map of the Challenger Park safety zone.

Uptown’s Challenger Playlot Park is the poster child for the anti-traffic camera crowd. Along with Mulberry Playlot Park, in the McKinley Park neighborhood, Challenger is frequently cited as a small, little-used park that’s not even visible from the locations of speed cameras that are supposedly there to protect park users. This is proof, according to the naysayers, that the camera’s true purpose is revenue, not safety.

Challenger is a roughly five-acre park located on a narrow strip of land, bordered by Irving Park Road, Montrose Avenue, Graceland Cemetery, and the Red Line tracks. Last year, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed three speed cameras nearby: two on Broadway north of Montrose and one at 1100 West Irving Park. State law dictates that speed cameras may only be installed inside Children’s Safety Zones, the area within one-eighth mile of schools and parks. These three cams sit within those boundaries.

The driver advocacy blog The Expired Meter noted that the southern half of Challenger is occupied by a parking lot, used by Cubs fans on game days. “[Challenger seems to defy the definition of what most people consider a park to be,” wrote the pseudonymous Mike Brockway. “It’s essentially a glorified parking lot next to train tracks. But now there’s a speed camera on Irving Park… protecting the thousands of dead behind the fences and buried in the ground of Graceland Cemetery from the speeders.”

The Uptown Update blog went ahead and implied the cams are a money grab:

The city’s new speed camera program says it exists to protect the children who play in Challenger Park, not to plunder your paycheck.  If children’s safety is paramount, we think it might have been a wiser move not to turn half of the park into a parking lot, but … oh well.  We all know why the cameras are there.

Although Challenger would, in fact, benefit from being de-paved, there are still plenty of reasons to walk there. A fenced in “dog-friendly area” at the center of the park is known as “Challenger Bark.” Just east is Buena Circle Playlot Park, which has a good-sized playground. And the northern half of Challenger is a nicely landcaped green space with walking trails. When I visited on a warm afternoon a few weeks ago, I saw a handful of people with pooches, and a couple of dads taking a walk with their toddlers.

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Eyes on the Street: A Cycle Track Rises Along Roosevelt In South Loop

Raised bike path in front of Trader Joe's

A raised bike path is under construction on the north side of Roosevelt, between Michigan and Indiana avenues, outside Potbelly and Trader Joe’s.

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Concrete formwork outlines the future route of the new bike path.

Next month, bicyclists of all ages will have a safe new way to get to the Museum Campus, Lakefront Trail, and Soldier Field from the South Loop once construction crews complete the city’s first raised cycle track. A two-way bike path along Roosevelt Road, between Wabash and Indiana avenues, is being built on the same level as the sidewalk on the north side of the street. This separated path will keep bicyclists out of a busy five-lane road that’s often filled with cars and buses traveling to or from Lake Shore Drive and the museums.

Raising the bike path up to the sidewalk’s level also circumvented the Illinois Department of Transportation’s ban on protected bike lanes along state routes like Roosevelt — also known as Illinois Route 38. This treatment is common in Europe, but is still rare in the United States.

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A rendering of Roosevelt and Wabash shows how bicyclists going east, towards Grant Park, will cross Roosevelt before proceeding on the raised bike path along the north side (next to Trader Joe’s). Rendering courtesy CDOT.

Crews working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction on the path this summer, moving utility lines beneath Roosevelt between Wabash and Michigan avenues. In September, crews demolished the previous curb line and poured a new, wider sidewalk on the south side of Roosevelt between State Street and Michigan. Bump-outs replaced no-parking zones at the corners of Wabash and Roosevelt, and the Divvy station was moved to one at the southwest corner of Roosevelt and Wabash. Now, crews have moved to the north side of Roosevelt to construct tree planters, a new sidewalk, and the new raised bike path.

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