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Manor Greenway Could Become City’s Best By Cutting Cut-Through Motorists

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

The Manor neighborhood greenway builds two new connections to Horner and Ronan Parks, and adds biking and walking infrastructure to an on-street segment highlighted in green.

Last week, the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed its proposal to connect riverfront paths, reduce cut through traffic, and make it safer to walk and bike along streets in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood. CDOT developed the plan for a “neighborhood greenway” between Horner Park and Ronan Park along the north branch of the Chicago River over the past two years, at the request of 33rd Ward Alder Deb Mell, and the Transportation Action Committee she started.

I’ve been a member of the TAC since its beginning, and I know the plan well. While I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I think that Patty Wetli’s article in DNAinfo thoroughly captured the concerns people have.

The project was initiated because there’s a gap between two riverfront trails in Horner and Ronan Parks, and Ravenswood Manor residents have been complaining about cut-through traffic, motorists who roll past stop signs, and speeding, for decades. The neighborhood greenway plan includes redesigning a handful of intersections, laying down a short multi-use paths to connect the parks to the streets, and pilot what would be a pioneering traffic diverter.

Homes abut the river in Ravenswood Manor, so there is no public space along the river on which to build a trail. The neighborhood greenway  would be an on-street connection.

On the project’s south end, CDOT would build a small path in the park so people in the park could reach the start of the on-street route at the intersection of Montrose Ave. and Manor Ave. To create a safer crossing here, CDOT would build a concrete island with two waiting areas, one for people using the route, and another for people walking on the sidewalk. This way, people can cross one direction of traffic at a time. The island blocks left turns from Manor Ave. onto Montrose Ave. and left turns from Montrose Ave. to Manor Ave. would use a dedicated lane. CDOT would build a raised crosswalk across Manor Ave. to slow incoming motorists.

CDOT showed this rendering of how the traffic diverter. Previous versions used concrete to physically prevent going straight. Image: CDOT

CDOT showed this rendering, looking north on Manor at Wilson, of how the traffic diverter would work. Previous proposals, presented to the TAC, used concrete to physically prevent vehicles from going straight. Image: CDOT

On the north end, CDOT proposed building a new, short trail on an extended parkway along Lawrence between Manor Ave. and the Ronan Park entrance. A traffic island that’s nearly identically to the one at Montrose would offer a safe waiting area for people to cross in two-stages. There would be another raised crosswalk here at the entry of the neighborhood greenway.

The neighborhood greenway’s on-street route would be the city’s third. The first was installed on Berteau Avenue in Lakeview in 2014, and the second, albeit without any infrastructure changes, was built on Wood Street in Wicker Park.

The best way to increase safety for people walking and biking on neighborhood greenways is to limit speed and reduce the number of cars. Manor Ave.’s speed limit is already 20 m.p.h. but residents had said it was common to see people driving faster. The neighborhood’s many families, a park and a ballet school, all mean that lots of children are crossing Manor Ave. Read more…

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West Garfield and Austin Got Divvy Bikes Last Week. Will Anyone Use Them?

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Rob, an Austin resident and substitute teacher, by the new Divvy station at Austin Park. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last November the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Imagine if the Chicago Transit Authority, a public transportation system that’s subsidized by taxpayer dollars, were mostly serving wealthy white folks. That would be messed up, right?

Last year the Chicago Department of Transportation admitted to a similarly lopsided situation with the publicly funded Divvy network, which was launched in 2013. Its survey of annual members revealed that, as is the case with most U.S. bike-share systems, membership skewed heavily white, affluent, well educated, young, and male.

That finding was no surprise. Arguably, Divvy got off on the wrong foot from a social justice standpoint in 2013, when the city concentrated most of the first 300 docking stations in dense, well-off areas downtown and on the near-north lakefront in an effort to make the system financially sustainable.

And while stations in these areas were generally installed with tight quarter-mile spacing, making it easy to walk to and from the docks from many destinations, the rest of the city typically got less-convenient half-mile spacing. Moreover, the $75 (now $99) annual membership fee and credit card requirements were financial barriers to low-income and unbanked Chicagoans.

To its credit, CDOT has recently taken steps to address Divvy’s equity problem. When the system added 175 more stations last summer, many of them went to low-to-moderate-income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities on the south and west sides.

And last July the department rolled out the Divvy for Everyone (D4E) program, which offers onetime $5 annual memberships to Chicagoans making $35,310 or less a year and waives the credit card requirement. More than 1,300 residents have signed up so far, well over CDOT’s target of 750 for the year.

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Here’s How the Wood Street Greenway Could Better Prioritize Bicycling

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The Wood Street neighborhood greenway is supposed to be specially designed to make cycling safer and more convenient. The black line shows where a curb could go to solidify the turn as part of the route. Image: Google Street View

Over the past few years the city has built a handful of “neighborhood greenways,” projects that involve small changes to side streets that can have a big impact in making them more bikeable, while connecting residential areas to the wider network of bike lanes. If the Chicago Department of Transportation picks up the pace on building these bikeways, it could actually create the kind of “8 to 80” bike network that the department says is its goal, and the Active Transportation Alliance and other advocates have been pushing for.

Neighborhood greenways can involve a number of different strategies that discourage cut-through traffic and speeding on residential streets, while making cycling more efficient and comfortable. For example, Chicago’s first neighborhood greenway on Berteau between Lincoln and Clark, completed in 2013, involved removing four-way stop signs at an intersection and replaced them with a traffic circle. This forces drivers to slow down to maneuver around the circle, but it doesn’t hinder bicyclists.

The Berteau route also includes sections of contraflow bike lane that allow two-way cycling on one-way segments of the street; a reduced 20 mph speed limit; curb bump-outs that shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and discourage fast turns by drivers; and a pedestrian island at Clark with a special cut-through that allows eastbound contraflow bike traffic to turn north onto Clark.

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The route of the Wood Street greenway between Division and Milwaukee. Image: Google Maps

However, the city’s second neighborhood greenway, completed in 2014 on Wood Street between Augusta and Milwaukee, doesn’t include any concrete infrastructure but only street markings. As such, the project was less effective making the street more bike-friendly. A bike infrastructure design from the Netherlands offers inspiration for additional changes that could be made to Wood that would emphasize the greenway’s role in the network and pilot a new kind of traffic calming in Chicago.

The Wood bike route makes three turns at Ellen, Wicker Park Avenue, and Wolcott – all within the span of two blocks. At the tricky “T” intersection of Wicker Park and Wolcott, bicyclists aren’t given any sort of priority.

Southbound bicyclists have to make a left turn from Wolcott to Wicker Park Ave. Signs here tell southbound cyclists that the greenway continues to the left, but they’re placed too close to the intersection. By the time a cyclist is close enough to read the sign and realize they need to turn left, it’s a little too late to conveniently merge left, and it’s also necessary to yield to oncoming traffic on Wolcott before turning. I’d argue that this doesn’t embody the safe and comfortable riding experience you’re supposed to enjoy on an neighborhood greenway.

In contrast, when you’re biking on a Dutch “fietsstraat” (bicycle street) in a town like Nijmegen (nigh-may-hen), cycling is prioritized even when the bike route turns from one street to another at a “T” intersection. This is indicated with signs and the red pavement – kind of like a red carpet – which is used throughout the Netherlands to denote bike-priority and bike-only routes. As the bikeway turns from one street to another at an intersection, the red pavement does, too.

“Shark’s teeth,” white triangular street markings that point in the opposite direction of traffic, indicate that those cyclists and motorists outside the red pavement must yield to those riding and driving on the red route.

Read more…

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Why a Viral Tweet Blaming Divvy for School Funding Problems Is Misguided

Chicago residents have every right to be angry about the sorry state of the Chicago Public School funding. But don’t scapegoat the Divvy bike-share system, a bargain for local taxpayers that could have a positive effect on our city’s wealth inequality problem.

The above tweet, implying that Divvy is a frivolous project paid for by money that should have been spent on schools, has been retweeted over 1,200 times this month. I understand the sentiment that the city invests too much money on downtown tourist attractions while neglecting the neighborhoods, but bike-share doesn’t belong on this list.

First of all, Divvy is a smart investment for the city. After the system, which launched in 2013, expands this summer, it will include almost 6,000 bikes and 584 docking stations and serve 37 of Chicago’s 50 wards, so it’s evolving into a citywide public transportation network.

The total cost for all of the city’s bike-share infrastructure, plus some of the wages for siting the stations, is $35,838,780, with 80 percent of the bill covered by federal and state transportation grants. (The suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park lined up their own funding for ten and 13 stations, respectively).

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A Divvy station outside Comer High in Grand Crossing. Photo: John Greenfield

$36 million sounds like a lot of money but – like most bike enhancements — it’s a drop in the bucket compared to car infrastructure costs. For example, the current work to expand Chicago’s Jayne Byrne (formerly Circle) Interchange is costing $475 million. That’s more than 13 times the price tag of the city’s entire bike-share network, for a project that many transportation experts say won’t achieve its goal of reducing congestion.

Moreover, the federal and state grants that paid most of the cost of Divvy can only be used for transportation infrastructure. Chicago doesn’t have the option of spending that cash on schools.

OK, you might ask, but how about the 20-percent match the city had to provide – couldn’t that roughly $7.2 million have been spent on the CPS? Yes and no. According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, the local match was largely funded by ward “menu” money (which can also only be used for infrastructure), Divvy’s $12 million sponsorship deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, and payments from real estate developers who purchased docking stations to go in front of their buildings.

However, it is true that some of the $7.2 million came from Chicago’s tax-increment financing program, which has been widely criticized because it diverts property tax revenue from schools, parks, and other taxing bodies. But if we’re going to have a TIF program at all, spending a few million to fund Divvy stations is in line with the original intent of the program: earmarking tax revenue from a designated district for investments that benefit residents of that district.

As for the expenses associated with running and maintaining the system, CDOT says operations costs are currently being covered by user fees and revenue from the ad panels on the stations.

Read more…

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Divvy Releases Odd-Looking New Service Area Map, Announces New Initiatives

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The new Divvy coverage areas are shown in Red. Click to Enlarge.

These are exciting times for Divvy bike-share users as the city begins its second major expansion during the system’s three-year history. At the same time, Divvy is rolling out a bunch of new features and services, which they say will make the network function better than ever.

The expansion will add 85 more stations on the South, Southwest, West, Northwest, and Far North sides of the city, as well as 10 stations in Evanston and 13 in Oak Park. After the installations are completed, the system will include 584 stations and almost 6,000 bikes, maintaining its title as one of the largest in North America in terms of stations and cycles. The new coverage area is spread across 100 square miles, so Divvy will continue to be (as the city is fond of pointing out) the largest system on the continent in terms of service area.

The city released the new coverage area map last week, and a few interesting aspects spring to mind. As with last year’s expansion, the new areas generally get half-mile station spacing, as opposed to the quarter-mile spacing that was implemented downtown, and in dense, affluent North Lakefront neighborhoods, during the original 2013 rollout. The system is more convenient to use in areas with a higher station density, since it’s more likely there will be a station within a short walk of your trip’s origin and destination.

On the other hand, the new expansion helps make the system more equitable because most of the new Chicago neighborhoods served are low-to-moderate-income communities of color. The new communities include Burnside, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Brighton Park, Englewood, East Garfield Park, West Garfield Park and Austin.

The Divvy service area has previously expanded outward from the Loop in a fairly logical manner, with a roughly equal amount of coverage north and south of Madison Street, although the service area didn’t expand nearly as far west. However, the new expansion map is a little odd, with panhandles of service stretching west to Oak Park and north to Evanston.

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This station in Englewood was installed during the 2015 expansion. Photo: John Greenfield

Since the two suburbs were willing to apply for state funding to pay for their stations, as well as chipping in the required 20 percent local match, it makes sense for the Chicago-owned system to expand in their directions. Although the city of Chicago doesn’t have to spend any money for those 23 suburban stations, their presence makes the system more useful for Chicagoans. For example, it will make it easier for West Side residents to access jobs in Oak Park.

But it would be understandable if residents of neighborhoods closer to downtown, but just outside of the panhandles, such as Lawndale, West Humboldt Park, and West Rogers Park, are upset because they got passed over this round in favor of the ‘burbs. The Chicago Department of Transportation would be wise to spread the word that no Chicago funding is being spent on the Oak Park and Evanston Stations.

There’s an odd little node of four new stations being installed on the Northwest Side in the 45th and 39th Wards this round. That’s likely because the local residents and aldermen have been strongly advocating to get stations.

Read more…

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CTA Will Begin Off-Board Fare Collection Pilot, But Not on the Loop Link

Photo: Cragin Spring

Starting Monday, the CTA will test collecting fares on the sidewalk for the westbound 77-Belmont at the Blue Line station, so boarding the bus takes less time during rush hour. Photo: Cragin Spring

The Chicago Transit Authority plans to test off-board fare collection – where riders pay on the sidewalk before boarding the bus – in an unexpected location. Previously, the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation announced they would pilot prepaid fare collection at the Dearborn/Madison station on Loop Link. Instead, the first off-board fare collection will be tested in Avondale on the northwest side.

Flyers posted yesterday at the Belmont Blue Line station, on buses, and shared on Twitter, told riders that the Chicago Transit Authority is going to test a new boarding procedure for the westbound 77 Belmont bus at the station.

Starting Monday, June 6, riders heading west during the 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. rush hour from the subway station will pay and enter a “paid area” before waiting and boarding the next bus. The CTA will set up a mobile fare collector at the entrance to a designated and sheltered “paid area.”

In other U.S. cities with off-board fare collection for buses, there is no “paid waiting area.” To ride a Select Bus Service route in New York City, riders exchange their fare for a receipt at a special vending machine. If a fare inspector comes, you must show the receipt.

Muni, the bus and light rail operator in San Francisco, implemented all-door boarding in 2012, which requires those who enter the rear door to tap a Ventra-like card at a card reader in the back of the bus, or have a valid pass. Fare inspectors may ask you to show the pass, a transfer receipt, or check your card to see that you checked in to the bus.

The pilot will last for six months. The CTA said in a statement that “prepaid boarding is expected to provide customers with faster boarding and reduce bus delays that occur from the high volume of customers.”

Many outbound Blue Line riders who get off at the Belmont station transfer to the Belmont bus, and after each train stops, a crowd of people walk up to the westbound or eastbound waiting areas at the same time and form long queues.

CTA’s press release also said “current boarding times during evening peak periods can take as long as 5 minutes due to heavy ridership” and since buses come every four to five minutes during rush hour, the slow boarding process sometimes results in bus bunching and trip delays.  Read more…

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Rotterdam’s Boulevards Demonstrate How to Make Chicago’s Bike-Friendly

Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling.

Is this Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago, or a boulevard in Rotterdam? Both of them have a main drive and two service drives. Only one is designed for safe and convenient bicycling. Photo: Steven Vance

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I’ve discovered few similarities between the city of Rotterdam, where I’ve been living for seven weeks, and Chicago. The most striking similarity is the nearly identical layout of the boulevard streets. While biking from my apartment in Rotterdam towards the cool neighborhood of Witte de With, I realized that as I was cycling on the side road of a wide street, I was really biking on a facsimile of Kedzie Boulevard in Chicago.

In the middle was a two-way “main drive,” where through traffic and buses ran, and on both sides, separated by a landscaped area, were one-way service drives for access to individual houses or apartment buildings – just like in Chicago. Other Chicago streets with this layout include Franklin Boulevard and Ogden Avenue.

The difference was that the city of Rotterdam implemented “filtered permeability,” by preventing motorists from driving more than one block at a time on the service drives. As a motorist driving on the service drive approaches the next intersection, there’s an “exit ramp” that carries vehicles over the landscaped area and onto the main drive.

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These two maps show boulevard layouts in Chicago (left) and Rotterdam (right). Where service drives meet main intersections on this street in Rotterdam, motorists must return to the main road while bicyclists can continue straight (in the dashed blue lines).

Side streets that intersect the boulevard can only be entered from the main drive, eliminating the possibility of using the service drive to get around a backed up intersection on the main drive in order to turn right.

A bike path connects the “end” of this service drive to the start of the next one, on the other side of the intersection. Of course, the sidewalks are continuous. Doing a similar layout in Chicago would require eliminating only about one car parking space per block.

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Purple Ride: Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass Pays Tribute to Prince

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Members of Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass at the Prince mural by Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

“I put her on the back of my bike and we went riding / Down by Old Man Johnson’s Farm.” – Prince, “Raspberry Beret”

OK, it’s true that the Purple One was talking about a motorcycle, not a bicycle, in that beloved pop song. And, sure, one of his biggest hits compared a lover to a “Little Red Corvette.” But there are plenty of photographs out there proving that the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson enjoyed cycling.

So it’s appropriate that Chicago’s South Side Critical Mass bike group paid tribute to the self-proclaimed “purple Yoda… from the heart of Minnesota” with a Prince tribute ride last Friday. They made a pilgrimage to a new mural in his honor on the side of an auto repair shop in the Avalon Park nieghborhood, and then pedaled east to purify themselves in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I mean Michigan.

South Side Critical Mass, a spinoff of the larger Chicago Critical Mass rides that leave from downtown, meets every third Friday of the month at 6:30 p.m. at Nat “King” Cole Park, 361 East 85th Street, departing at 7, and drawing a mostly African-American ridership. For the Prince ride, they wore their finest purple garb and towed a sound system blasting songs like “When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” and “Pop Life,” to the delight of passers-by.

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The full group at Nat “King” Cole Park. Danielle McKinnie and her sister Alisa Holman are in the center with T-shirt’s bearing Prince’s symbol. Photo: South Side Critical Mass

Danielle McKinnie, a technical trainer at Lurie Children’s Hospital, showed up for the cruise with her sister Alisa Holman, who made special T-shirts featuring The Artist’s mysterious symbol. McKinnie says the ride seemed like a natural way to honor the man whose music had brought them so much joy. “You know he rode his bike just before he passed away,” she noted.

From the park, the group pedaled in the 83rd Street bike lanes towards the mural, singing and grooving to the funky tunes while spectators waved and beeped their horns in approval. “People seemed pleased and a little surprised to see us out on our bikes, especially with the South Side having such negative connotations because of violence,” McKinnie said. “We always get that reaction – people are really happy to see us.”

They stopped by the mural at 8051 South Stony Island, painted last month by artist Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes in the wake of the legend’s untimely death. Prince appears as he does on the cover of the “Purple Rain” album, astride a violet motorcycle, but with angel wings.

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Did the CTA Set up the Lincoln and 31st Street Bus Reboots to Fail?

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Waiting for the #11 Lincoln bus in Lincoln Square. Photo: John Greenfield

[The Chicago Reader recently launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

Community activists who lobbied for years for the restoration of the Lincoln Avenue and 31st Street bus routes rejoiced last November after CTA president Dorval Carter Jr. made a surprise announcement that the routes would be coming back on a trial basis in 2016. The CTA board voted earlier this month to relaunch each of the bus routes as a six-month-long test to determine whether there’s enough ridership to bring back the lines permanently. But transit advocates say the way the agency devised the program’s bus schedules ensures the pilots will fail.

While the restored #11 Lincoln line will debut on June 20, the #31 bus won’t return until September. South-side activists say that will undermine the pilot because summer ridership towards 31st Street Beach won’t be counted. Worse, residents say, both bus lines will run only on weekdays between 10 AM and 7 PM, so they’ll be useless for morning rush-hour commutes. And while the Lincoln buses will run every 16 to 22 minutes, 31st Street buses will arrive only every half hour.

“It looks like it’s set up to fail,” Tom Gaulke, pastor of First Lutheran Church of the a and member of the Bridgeport Alliance, a social justice organization, told DNAinfo last week in regards to the #31 bus. “It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.” Commenters on social media were also dismissive of the limited Lincoln bus schedule. “No availability on the weekend or morning hours for commuting doesn’t appear to make this a true ‘test’ of whether there is demand for the #11 bus,” north-side resident Brendan Carter wrote on Facebook.

The CTA says, on the contrary, that the schedules were actually devised to make sure the pilots succeed.

So how did it come to this?

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More Thoughts on the TOD Debate as the Boom Moves Into Its Next Phase

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Somos Logan Square helped organize a protest against upscale development and evictions last Saturday, drawing an estimated 200 people.  Photo: Bob Simpson

One thing’s for sure: As the current transit-oriented development boom unfolds along Milwaukee Avenue it’s bringing major changes to the affected neighborhoods. Many people agree that adding dense, low-parking development near Blue Line stations is a good strategy for reducing car dependency. But there’s been debate about whether the new wave of high-end TOD buildings is fueling the displacement of working-class residents in these areas, especially Logan Square, or if the increase in housing supply will take pressure off the existing rental market.

A recent article in Curbed provided a snapshot of the changes that are taking place as thousands of new apartments, virtually all of them in TOD buildings, are being built along the Blue Line. It noted that as Wicker Park continues to gentrify, small businesses along Milwaukee are being replaced by chain stores than can afford higher rents.

Meanwhile, hundreds of units are being built in Logan Square with rents ranging from $1,400 for a studio in the Twin Towers to $3,900 for a upper-floor three-bedroom in the “L” building. Ten percent of the apartments in these building will be affordable units, as defined by the city’s standards.

But Curbed noted that, despite the fact that many Chicagoans would never be willing or able to spend thousands of dollars a month on rent, well-heeled folks seem to be lining up to sign leases. A 40-unit TOD at 1515-1517 West Haddon in Wicker Park is over 70 percent leased, two and a half months before it opens, according to developer Mark Sutherland of Wicker Park Apartments.

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Rendering of the TOD at 1515-1517 West Haddon.

The building, located a block from the Division Blue Line station, will have 41 apartments (none of which are affordable units) and 21 parking spaces, and rents are similar to the Logan Square TODs. And like the Logan buildings, the Haddon building will include plenty of upscale amenities and perks to partially justify the high rents, including 45 bike parking spaces and a CTA Transit Tracker screen in the lobby.

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the rents in these new TODs are expensive not because of the fact that they’ve got relatively few parking spots but in spite of it. Garage spots cost tens of thousands of dollars each to build so, in theory, by providing fewer spaces developers should be able to pass on the savings to their tenants.

But while we know that new construction is expensive, we don’t really have a way to judge whether the companies are charging premium rents in these buildings because they have to in order to turn a profit, or simply because they want to make as much money as possible. Developers like Rob Buono of the Twin Towers have told me that, were it not for the easing of parking mandates brought about by the city’s new TOD ordinance, they probably wouldn’t be building these projects.

Similarly, when anti-displacement activists like Somos (“We Are”) Logan Square have pushed for the percentage of onsite affordable units in local TODs to be increased from 10 percent to 30 percent and the developers have argued that this would prevent them from attracting investors or making a profit, we have no way to tell if this is true. Somos also wants the definition of “affordable” for these units to be changed so that they’re within reach of residents making 30 percent of the Chicago region’s Area Mean Income, rather than the 60 percent mandated by the city.

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