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Posts from the "Neighborhoods" Category


An Update on the Lawrence Streetscape and the Ravenswood Metra Stop


A curb bump-out and a pedestrian island makes it much easier to cross Lawrence than before, while a new bike lane encourages cycling. Photo: John Greenfield

The long-awaited Lawrence streetscape and road diet is is almost complete, and the project has already transformed a corridor that had been unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists into a much more livable street. Meanwhile, construction is also wrapping up on a new, supersized Metra station house on Lawrence.

First announced in 2010 and launched in July of 2013, the streetscape has changed the stretch of Lawrence between Western and Clark from a four-lane speedway into a much calmer street, with two mixed-traffic lanes plus a turn lane. This was formerly a “reverse bottleneck,” since it was the only section of Lawrence in the city with four lanes. The road diet has made room for wider sidewalks, which will provide space for café seating, plus non-buffered bike lanes, where there were formerly only shared-lane markings.

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The same intersection as the above photo, Lawrence and Seeley, before the road diet. Image: Google Maps

The section from Ravenswood – where the new Metra stop is located – to Western is largely completed. Many pedestrian islands have been built. In a few locations, there are also curb bump-outs that reduce crossing distances for people traversing Lawrence. Crosswalks made of eye-catching red asphalt, stamped in a brick pattern, have been put in at all intersections.

Workers have installed old-fashioned acorn-style streetlamps, as well as standard inverted-U bike racks, according to to Brad Gregorka, an assistant to 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. Benches and trash cans will soon be added. Two Divvy bike-share stations have been returned or relocated to spots by the Metra stop and at Lawrence/Leavitt.

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Now the Jeff Park NIMBYs Are Fighting Arena’s P-Street Proposal

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Surburban-style development next to the Jeff Park Transit center degrades the pedestrian environment. Image: Google Maps

The Jefferson Park NIMBYs are at it again. First they went nuclear over the city’s proposal for a road diet with protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, which would have reduced speeding and crashes, and created more people-friendly retail strips. Now they’re freaking out about 45th Ward Alderman John Arena’s proposed ordinance to designate a few blocks of Milwaukee and Lawrence as Pedestrian Streets.

At a recent meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, members voted unanimously to oppose the ordinance, according to a DNAinfo report. They argued that, by encouraging dense, pedestrian-friendly, car-lite development, the P-Street designation would make it harder to park cars in the neighborhood.

Arena has proposed creating P-Streets on Milwaukee from Giddings to Higgins, and on Lawrence from Laramie to Long. Located just south of the Jefferson Park Transit Center, served by CTA buses and trains, and Metra commuter rail, this X-shaped district is the heart of the local business district.

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The proposed Jefferson Park P-Streets.

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

The designation requires that the whole façade of new buildings 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 or a side street.

Since it’s easier to get around without a car in areas where walking is safe and pleasant, the city does not require new developments on P-Streets near transit stops to provide the usual number of parking spaces. Under the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance, new residential buildings within 600 feet of a transit stop only have to provide one spot for every two housing units, instead of the typical 1:1 ratio. If the building is also on a P-Street, it can be up to 1,200 feet from the station and still get the parking discount. New stores with less than 10,000 square feet of floor space also get a break on parking.

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Trib Bikelash Writer is Confused About the Real Threat to Pedestrian Safety

Stop bars and crosswalks are meaningless

Cars create an obstacle course for pedestrians at Western/Diversey/Elston. Photo: Steven Vance

The Tribune is a reliable source of bike backlash articles, and Monday’s op-ed by Ron Grossman was a particularly entertaining example, from a particularly confused reporter. The piece, titled “Maybe Chicago should ban bikes for a day,” argues that lawbreaking cyclists are the leading threat to pedestrians’ safe enjoyment of the city’s vibrant streets.

It’s understandable that Grossman was angered by a recent incident, in which a bike rider nearly struck him while he crossing Lincoln with a walk signal, and then shot him a middle finger. It’s certainly true that cyclists who disobey stop signs and traffic lights in a reckless manner, forcing others to stop in their tracks or slam on the brakes to avoid a crash, are a danger to themselves and others. They deserve to be ticketed.

Bicyclists do occasionally injure people on foot, and the recent, highly publicized crashes in New York’s Central Park serve as a reminder that it’s possible for bike-pedestrian collisions to be deadly. All road users need to travel in a mindful manner, and do everything they can to avoid causing harm to others.


Open Streets on Milwaukee. To create safe, relaxing conditions for walking, get rid of the cars, not the bikes. Photo: John Greenfield

That said, the danger to pedestrians posed by 200 pounds of bike and rider is trivial compared to that of a two-ton car. It’s worth noting that, while there are no records of bicyclists causing the traffic deaths of others in Chicago in the last few decades, drivers killed 48 people on foot here in 2012 alone.

In his article, Grossman, who specializes in writing about Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods, waxes rhapsodic about the rich tapestry of sights, sounds, and aromas one encounters on a stroll though the city’s diverse communities. “But it’s hard to enjoy when you have to be prepared to evade a bicycle with a quick move worthy of a toreador,” he sighs. The author seems oblivious to the way bad urban planning has degraded our city’s pedestrian environment, and how the danger, noise, and stink caused by too many cars makes walking riskier and less fun.

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More Noise About the Mulberry Speed Camera From the Anti-Cam Crowd


An anti-cam rally near Mulberry Playlot Park. Photo: John Greenfield

The backlash against the Mulberry Playlot Park speed camera keeps getting more surreal. Now, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas is calling for demolishing the park to get rid of the cam.

On September 4, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed the speed cam at Archer Avenue and Paulina Street, about 500 feet northwest of the park. Since then, the camera has been issuing warnings to drivers who speed in the posted 25 mph safety zone on Archer. After October 19, the cam will begin issuing tickets to motorists who go 35 mph or faster in the zone, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are usually fatal.

After resident Lupe Castillo posted a video that claimed that the playlot isn’t visible from Archer (actually, it is), and griped that the camera is a case of the city “stealing our money,” some drivers in the ward demanded that it be removed. Cardenas, who voted for Chicago’s speed camera ordinance, told earlier this month that the Mulberry cam is “nothing more than a money maker,” and said he wanted to get it relocated to nearby Ashland Avenue.


The park is actually easy to spot from Archer and Robinson. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT spokesman Pete Scales noted that Mulberry Park’s safety zone, the one-eighth-mile buffer within which speed cams can legally be installed, was in the top ten percent of Chicago safety zones for crashes. Between 2009 and 2012, there were 214 crashes near the park, including six causing serious injury or death. Speeding was a factor 68 of these collisions, and 47 of the crashes involved children.

Cardenas recently launched an online survey asking constituents whether the camera should remain in place, whether it should be relocated to the Archer/Ashland intersection – where the bulk of the crashes have taken place — or whether it should be removed altogether. Apparently, the alderman thought it would be a good idea to let a small sampling of 12th Ward residents — largely drivers who’ve complained about getting speeding tickets — dictate where the speed cam should go. Unsurprisingly, 67 percent of the respondents said the camera should be removed, with 23 percent saying it should be relocated to Ashland.

Emboldened, Cardenas came up with an even wackier idea for getting the Mulberry camera removed. In a letter to constituents, he said he wants to “rezone” the park, take down the playground equipment, and eventually demolish the green space. In theory, that would require CDOT to remove the cam. “I think that makes a lot more sense to me than having a playlot nobody uses and nobody can find,” he said.

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Neighbors Meet Artist Whose Work Will Grace Damen ‘L’ Stop

Damen Blue Line Station

The Damen station house. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

On Wednesday, the Chicago Transit Authority hosted a public meeting to introduce Wicker Park residents to artist Gaston Noques, whose team will create a new work for the Damen Blue Line station, adjacent to the busy Wicker Park intersection of Milwaukee, North, and Damen. The ‘L’ stop will receive substantial improvements as part of the Your New Blue project, which will also rehab the neighboring California and Western stations on the O’Hare Line. Noques’ artwork will remain at the Damen stop for at least five years.

The Damen station will be closed from October 20th to December 22nd, with CTA trains running express between Division and Western. While the station is closed, construction crews will repair and repaint the Damen station house, as well as install new platforms with improved lighting, new signage, and new bike racks. The CTA will temporarily increase service on the #56 Milwaukee bus line to serve Wicker Park and Bucktown customers while the station is closed.


Nogues’ “Air Garden” installation at LAX Airport. Photo: Joshua White

The Damen stop is registered as a local and national historic landmark. Built at the turn of the century, it currently handles about 12 million riders a year. The remodel aims to preserve the station’s historic integrity while making the station safer, more comfortable, and more pleasant to use. “[The station is] really cinematic,” Wicker Park resident Ashley Galloway commented during the meeting. ”Every time I’m at La Colombe [a neighboring coffee house], I feel like I’m in a movie. It’s the heart of this neighborhood.”

The CTA selected a proposal by Nogues’ Los Angeles-based art studio Ball-Nogues from 100 submissions received during a public call for artists. ”Our environment is very important,” Nogues told the attendees at the meeting, held at the Silver Room jewelry boutique. He showed photos of his design and fabrication studio, which is full of heavy machinery and large artworks in various states of assembly. “When you’re doing something, when you’re fabricating something, you have that connection to that artwork being made… Unlike a lot of people, we make what we design.”

Nogues compared his studio’s design and fabrication techniques to those of automobile magnate Henry Ford. “To create the Model T, he had to invent the production line,” the artisit said. “He had to invent the production line to create what we have outside right now — [car] traffic.”

Ball-Nogues’ version of the production line uses custom-built assembly machinery, as well as proprietary computer software that allows them to visualize many different potential versions of a project much faster than traditional modeling, Nogues said. Their creative process is rooted in playing with materials in innovative ways: inflating metal, burning items with a lens, or creating massive papier mâché works with concrete.

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Six Corners Businesses Welcome More Bikes, Fewer Drive-Throughs

City Newsstand and their sidewalk café will be getting an on-street bike parking corral if $10,000 is raised.

City Newsstand is slated to gain an on-street bike parking corral — if local businesses can raise $10,000.

Six Corners businesses are hosting a bike ride this evening to raise money for three bike parking corrals, which will provide 36 bike parking spaces in place of three car parking spaces. The Six Corners Bike Committee formed this summer to improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians around the business district surrounding the three-way intersection of Cicero Avenue, Irving Park Road, and Milwaukee Avenue. Wisconsin bike rack manufacturer Saris has said that, if the group can raise $10,000 before November 1, they’ll donate a fourth corral, increasing the number of bike parking spaces to 48.

Six Corners Association program manager Kelli Wefenstette said that more than 20 businesses have opened or will open this year around the corners. “As shopping increases,” she said in an email, “we want to increase safety for those of all ages and abilities traveling to our pedestrian shopping destination.” Six Corners may be taking a cue from its Milwaukee Avenue neighbors in Logan Square and Wicker Park, where bike parking corrals have proven popular.

The corrals would be installed at City Newsstand (4018 N. Cicero Avenue), the mixed-use Klee Plaza building (4015 N. Milwaukee Avenue), and the Slingshots teen center (4839 W. Irving Park Road). The fourth bike corral’s location hasn’t been determined.

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Experts Critique 28 Community Proposals for Logan Square ‘L’ Site

Table 16′s proposal, as illustrated by Canopy Architecture.

On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Planning Council concluded the Corridor Development Initiative, a series of three public meetings that brought area residents together to envision a new development atop the entrance to the Logan Square ‘L’ station. 35th Ward Alderman Rey Colón enthusiastically noted that this was by far the best-attended of the three meetings. The meeting, he also said, clearly demonstrated the difficult (and expensive) trade-offs necessary in the development process, and especially if this development will accommodate the many different goals that emerged during the meetings.

The two earlier meetings started with a broad discussion about community needs and then used wooden blocks to shape those ideas into three-dimensional proposals. While MPC is preparing a final report, they’ve set up an online survey to gather feedback from the public, including those who couldn’t attend any of the meetings.

The 16 small groups at the second meeting created 28 different development proposals. The average across all the proposals included four-story buildings (about the same height as surrounding structures), with 54 housing units, 9,000 square feet of retail, 40 parking spaces, and open space covering one-third of the site (i.e., about half an acre). Many of the proposals suggested housing (89 percent), retail (79 percent), affordable housing (63 percent), community space (62 percent), and fewer suggested an indoor market (41 percent) or offices (31 percent).

After that meeting, a panel of development industry professionals vetted each of the proposals for financial feasibility. They considered the different uses in each proposal, construction costs, operating costs, rental revenues, the cost of the land (estimated at $6 million), and advantageous financing sources like federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits and the city’s Tax Increment Financing. This analysis turned up a “funding gap” for every proposal, indicating that several million more dollars would have to be found in order to build the suggested structure.

Four of the 28 proposals, including the two pictured here, were studied in greater detail by the professionals and illustrated by architects. (All of the proposals were described and illustrated in materials handed out at the meeting and available at MPC’s website.) MPC presented these four scenarios, along the constructive suggestions that would make the scenario financially feasible. In the scenario illustrated above, for example, the financial analysis found that the proposal would need an additional $5.6 million to be buildable. Those funds, the panel suggested that one-fourth of the proposal’s open space be replaced with retail or residential buildings — but, when asked, the meeting attendees rejected that idea.

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New People Spots Are Part of Strategy to Energize Ho-Hum Stretch of Clark


“Color Guard” People Spot by Osteria De Pizza Metro. Photo: John Greenfield

In July, two new “People Spot” mini parks debuted on an Lackluster segment of Clark near Wellington, as part of a larger campaign to revitalize the business strip.

The new parklets are located in front of El Nuevo Mexicano restaurant, 2914 North Clark, and Osteria De Pizza Metro, 2863 North Clark. They cost a total of about $35,000, which was bankrolled by the local special service area, and they’re manged by the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, according to executive director Maureen Martino. “Sometimes it’s a challenge to activate a street,” she said. “We’re hoping this will bring more customers for local businesses.”

Judging from a recent report by the Metropolitan Planning Council, the People Spots should help make this somewhat sleepy stretch of Clark livelier and more profitable. About 80 percent of the merchants surveyed said that the parklets, which occupy space in a parking lane, increased foot traffic on their block and helped bring shoppers to their establishments. Some credited the People Spots with contributing to a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales since they were installed.


Parklet by El Nuevo Mexicano restaurant. Photo: John Greenfield

The parklet by the Mexican restaurant replaced a loading zone and one metered car space, while the one by the Italian eatery used two parking spots. In compliance with the city’s parking contract, the three spaces were replaced with new metered spots on nearby streets. The People Spots will revert to parking on November 1, and they’ll be reinstalled in the spring.

Both spaces feature café-style tables and chairs, plus free Wi-Fi. Duane Sohl, from Sohl.Architect, designed the one by El Nuevo Mexicano. It’s surrounded by metal planter boxes featuring framed panels designed by local artists.

The other parklet, created by Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design, is enclosed by a fence made of large PVC plastic tubes, which double as planters. The red, purple and green colors of the tubes playfully spill over onto the sidewalk as a rainbow-like paint puddle that leads to the restaurant’s storefront. The People Spot is titled “Color Guard,” and Martino said the name reflects the diversity of the neighborhood.

Signs on the People Spots make it clear that the seating is open to the public. However, since the spaces resemble sidewalk cafes, and are located by sit-down restaurants, some passers-by may assume that they’re reserved for paying customers. Martino said the chamber may change some of the seating next year to make the spaces more inviting for different uses, as is the case at more free-form parklets at Southport and Addison, and in Andersonville.

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Eyes on the Street: Construction Pushes Walkers Into Fullerton Ave.

Dangerous construction site conditions

One person walks in the construction site at Washtenaw and Fullerton, while another walks in the roadway.

Pedestrians walking along Fullerton Avenue in Logan Square have been forced off the sidewalks, and into the street, by Bigane Paving’s curb ramp construction. Bigane has failed to provide the required detour for pedestrians, so pedestrians have to walk in the street amidst busy traffic.

Worse yet, people who use wheelchairs aren’t able to use the now non-existent sidewalk at all. Local parent Gin Kilgore wrote us to say “a mother at Goethe School rolls with her child to school in a wheelchair, and said it’s very difficult for her to travel on Fullerton sidewalks now.”

Dangerous construction site conditions

A woman walks through the curb ramp construction site at California and Fullerton.

I notified the Chicago Department of Transportation on Thursday morning, after Kilgore informed me about the problem up and down Fullerton. The situation has persisted on both sides of Fullerton for more than a week. According to the city’s open data portal, Bigane is doing the sidewalk repairs before a larger contract to resurface Fullerton.

A CDOT official responded soon after my email yesterday, telling me that the contractor would have the sites changed by the end of Thursday. Yet this morning, the detours still weren’t in place. One resident had this to say in response to the conditions this morning:

CDOT’s rules and regulations specify that a contractor must develop a detour plan before disrupting a pedestrian or transit facility, and provide a protected walkway on the same side of the street when such disruptions happen. It also says, “Pedestrians should not be led into conflict with vehicles, equipment, and operations around the work site.”

Construction now blocks off the entire bus stop area

The construction area around the curb ramp on the southwest corner of Fullerton at California blocks people from boarding at the bus stop here.

Tell us where else you see contractors failing to provide detours around sidewalk construction.

Updated to add transit. 


MPC Study Provides Data on the Economic Benefits of People Spots


The Southport People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield

From a quick glance at a People Spot mini park filled with people enjoying the weather on a gorgeous afternoon, it may seem obvious that the extra foot traffic is providing a boost to nearby businesses. A recent study by the Metropolitan Planning Council attempted to quantify this economic benefit, and found that these parklets do, in fact, provide a significant shot in the arm for local retail.

Chicago’s People Spots repurpose asphalt in a street’s curb lane to use it as public space for residents, rather than parking space for private cars. These are facilitated by the Chicago Department of Transportation and paid for by local businesses. They consist of a seating area on a platform in the street, surrounded by planters, which shelter users from car traffic.

The design can range from a typical sidewalk café-style layout, with tables and chairs, to the imaginative free-form fixtures at the People Spot at Southport and Addison in Lakeview, which vaguely resemble a whale’s skeleton. Any displaced metered parking is relocated to another part of the ward. The parklets are removed each year by November 1, when the space reverts to car parking until the spring.


An MPC infographic on the benefits of People Spots.

In July and August of this year, MPC and Sam Schwartz Engineering observed activity from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays at Chicago’s eight People Spots in Bronzeville, Lakeview, and Andersonville, as well as the People Plaza seating area in the median of State and Lake in the Loop. Unfortunately, a People Spot that was proposed this year for the corner of Dearborn and Adams, outside the MPC offices, was kyboshed due to insurance issues. The researchers observed about 450 parklet users, and interviewed more than 100 of them, as well as some 40 business owners.

About 80 percent of the merchants surveyed said that the People Spots increased foot traffic on their block, and helped bring customers to their establishments. Some credited the parklets with contributing to a 10 to 20 percent increase in sales since they were installed. For example, owner Michael Salvatore of Heritage Bicycles, 2959 North Lincoln, said the café-style parklet in front of his store is “Instagram Heaven,” which encourages customers to spread the word about his cycles and coffee via social media.

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