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Rogers Park Participatory Budgeting Ideas Include a North-South Greenway

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Discussing proposals at a 49th Ward participatory budgeting meeting in 2011. Photo by John Greenfield.

Chicago aldermen traditionally use their $1.3 million in discretionary “menu” money for basic street, sidewalk and lighting improvements. However, this year a handful of wards are holding participatory budgeting elections. These often result in money being set aside for innovative transportation projects, and walking and biking infrastructure is a relative bargain. 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore, who five years ago became the first U.S. elected official to pioneer the participatory budgeting process, is once again holding a PB election, and a few walking, biking, and transit projects may be on the ballot.

The ward has hosted two community events so far, where residents have had the opportunity to discuss proposed projects. The final meeting takes place this evening at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church by the Lake, 7100 North Ashland. PB committee members will draw upon feedback from constituents to narrow down the candidates to a final ballot, according to Moore’s aid Bob Fuller. Early voting will take place from April 26 to May 2, with the final election happening on May 3. “We’ve been doing this for five years now, and by all accounts things are going smoothly this year,” Fuller said. “But it’s certainly a challenge finding consensus in a neighborhood of 56,000 people.”

The ballot will have a section where residents vote on what percentage of menu money should be spent on street and alley repaving, sidewalk repair and streetlights, from zero to 100 percent. The results are averaged – last year it was 62 percent – and the remainder of the money is awarded to nontraditional projects, according to how many votes they garnered.

The winning proposals in 2013 included funding a $30,000 pedestrian safety engineering study on hectic Sheridan Road, exploring whether bumpouts, signal timing improvements and other strategies could make the street more walkable. Voters also opted to spend $75,000 to install bike-and-chevron shared lane markings on Clark from Albion to Howard. Other proposals that won funding the restoration of cobblestones on Glenwood, and cherry blossom trees and a new water fountain at Touhy Park.

None of the above projects have been finished yet. “It definitely takes more than a year for some things to get done,” Fuller said. The traffic safety study and sharrows are pending the completion of gas line work on Sheridan and Clark.

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State Rep Want to Bus Students Who Currently Use “Safe Passages” Routes

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Mary Flowers. Photo: Associated Press

I’m sure state representative Mary Flowers, a South Side Democrat, had the best of intentions in pushing for new legislation requiring the school system to provide free bus service for students who currently walk to school along Safe Passages routes. The bill passed the Illinois House 73-39 on Thursday and now moves on to the Senate, the Sun-Times reported. However, it’s not clear this would be a wise policy.

When the CPS closed 50 schools last year, mostly in low-income areas on the South and West sides, ensuring students’ safety on their way to school gained new importance. Many kids are now required to cross gang lines while walking to their new schools. As a precaution, the school district budgeted $7.7 million to hire 600 “CPS Community Watch” workers to provide security on 53 Safe Passages routes between 91 schools.

Many residents feared there would be an upswing in violence as students made their way to their “welcoming” schools, but the school district claims the strategy is working. There have been no major incidents involving students near their new schools during program hours, about two hours before the morning bell and three hours after classes end, according to the CPS.

Flowers said the bill was motivated by her concern for the safety of students walking to school on Safe Passages routes, citing the brutal assault and rape of a 15-year-old girl on her way to school last December in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. The attack took place at about 6 a.m. near a Safe Passages route, although it appears to have been a random act of violence that had nothing to do with crossing gang lines. A legislative analysis of Flowers’ bill found that over 260 shootings and murders took place along the routes during the 2012-2013 school year, presumably not during the program hours.

State law already requires school districts to bus students who live 1.5 miles or more from their schools and don’t have access to public transit. The CPS currently only buses students with disabilities and students from recently closed schools whose welcoming school is more than eight-tenths of a mile, about a 15-minute walk, from their old school.

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Blue Line Construction Strands Shuttle Bus Riders Amid Detoured Traffic

Heavy traffic in Logan Square

Two southbound shuttle buses took about six minutes to travel 500 feet through Logan Square’s traffic circle.

Last weekend’s Blue Line track work, just one week of the months-long Your New Blue project, pushed rail riders onto shuttle buses that ran along Milwaukee Avenue — and right through a traffic jam created by the very same track work. Instead of following the designated detour, drivers diverted from Fullerton and Sacramento Avenues under the Blue Line piled onto Milwaukee Avenue and slowed buses to a crawl.

An alternative approach that I’d suggested earlier would have set up diverters on Milwaukee, preventing through traffic while still allowing access to all businesses and parking spaces. Since there were no diverters to keep Fullerton drivers off Milwaukee, many drivers continued on Fullerton and then — at the last minute — turned onto northwest-bound Milwaukee, adding more traffic to a stretch that’s already plenty busy during weekends. The resulting traffic jam paralyzed not only the Blue Line shuttle buses, but also the heavily used 74-Fullerton and 56-Milwaukee bus routes.

CTA Blue Line traffic detour

This diagram shows the intended detour in blue, designated by signs on the street, and the more commonly used detour in orange that slowed buses. Image: Adapted from Chicago Transit Authority

A small sign on Fullerton directed drivers to turn onto California, but the road ahead was wide open, and barriers didn’t force a turn off Fullerton until Milwaukee. Forcing a turn at California would have kept Milwaukee relatively clear for the many shuttle buses needed to carry Blue Line passengers, minimizing their delay and keeping the “rapid transit” service at least a little bit “rapid.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

The little detour sign that most westbound drivers on Fullerton ignored.

Gareth Newfield, a longtime Logan Square resident I interviewed while we both watched crawling, bunched-up shuttle buses from inside the Logan Square Comfort Station, noted that “the CTA always provides complete service” during construction projects, “but it doesn’t provide good service.”

Newfield suggested shifting priorities. “How about we say, ‘Getting people to the airport is such a priority that we’ll shut down a [traffic] lane to run express buses’ ” and maintain adequate service for Blue Line riders traveling through Logan Square. “The city isn’t taking [that trip] seriously, but the CTA does.” Newfield added that the few personnel dispatched to a site aren’t thinking about traffic jams as a system: “even a cop… isn’t thinking about it – ‘hold on folks, this bus needs to go first’ — or limit[ing] turns.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

Drivers line up to turn onto Milwaukee from Fullerton, instead of making the recommended detour earlier.

Even where there were additional lanes, for example through the square, no space was dedicated for transit; instead, both lanes were filled with cars. The CTA didn’t respond by press time to a request about shuttle bus speed data.

He later tweeted that “[I] probably could have walked faster.”

Police officers or Traffic Management Aides were not on scene to change or hold traffic signals, or to prevent turns onto Milwaukee when they saw a shuttle bus coming.

Erin Borreson was biking northwest on Milwaukee to the Comfort Station; she had to get off her bike and walk on the sidewalk because there was too much traffic. “Buses were [driving] so close to the parked cars,” she explained, “and there’s no way a biker could have gotten through.” Borreson said she was not only more comfortable on the sidewalk than in the jammed street, but added “I was faster on the sidewalk.”

The next Blue Line bus bridge along an equally congested stretch of Milwaukee will start Friday, April 4, replacing Blue Line service at Damen and Western. The shuttles will run a much longer route than the first weekend — from Western Avenue to the Clark/Lake station –  because it’s the only way to provide fully accessible service.

The same problems may recur that weekend, unless there are appropriately enforced detours. Whenever there are more buses on the road, that means more traffic. The city has a lot of options at its disposal to live up to the spirit of its Complete Streets policy, and to put transit riders first.

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Wicker Park Trader Joe’s: Good Company, Wrong Location

Wicker Park Trader Joe's development meeting

Trader Joe’s real estate vice president Brandt Sharrock discussed store operations at LaSalle II Magnet School.

Neighbors of a Trader Joe’s grocery store, proposed by Smithfield Properties for the corner of Division Street and Honore Street in Wicker Park, fear that the development will harm the work they’ve put into crafting a pedestrian-friendly street lined with locally-owned businesses. The store is welcome in Wicker Park, but neighbors say that the proposed location at Division Street and Honore Street isn’t the right one.

Scott Rappe, partner at Kuklinski + Rappe Architects, spoke up at the first public meeting earlier this month at LaSalle II Magnet School, which stands across Honore from the site. Rappe has worked with the East Village Association for 17 years, and I spoke with him to learn why this might not be the right place for Trader Joe’s.

Rappe recounted how EVA, now 33 years old, was launched to address the area’s caved-in sidewalks. Rappe said, “Most of the sidewalks had vaults [underneath], and they had collapsed in many cases — holes that you could fall into,” referring to an EVA newsletter with photos from the era [PDF]. He listed several policy changes that have enhanced and maintained Division Street’s pedestrian-friendliness:

  • Changing Commercial zoning to Business zoning. “Both allow mixed use, but [commercial] is much more conducive to automobile-oriented businesses.”
  • Liquor moratoria. Rappe said part of this is an economic decision to keep rents reasonable so retail stores stay. “Liquor sales are so lucrative,” he said, and as a result, bars and liquor stores can drive up rents. “When this happens, the only companies that can afford the rents are national chains.”
  • Pedestrian Street designation. This zoning overlay keeps a neighborhood’s sidewalks safe by disallowing drive-throughs, repair shops, and new driveways, and requiring human-scaled storefronts along the sidewalk.
  • The 1611 W. Division apartment building. This tower replaced a former Pizza Hut restaurant surrounded by car parking with 99 rental units and no tenant parking. Rappe said EVA asked Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno to extend the Pedestrian Street designation to Ashland and supported Moreno’s TOD ordinance (since augmented) that allowed the building to forego tenant parking. “This was a very considered [change], to encourage density near transit in the neighborhood.”

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Artists Share Their Ideas for South Red Stations With Local Residents

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McArthur Binion. Photo: Eboni Senai Hawkins

This week, the CTA held a series of community meetings where South Siders had a chance to meet the artists selected to create public art as part of the $425 million South Red Line rehab, from Cermak-Chinatown to 87th Street. The pieces are meant to improve the aesthetics of the stations and enhance the rider experience along the recently overhauled transit corridor.

The public input process for this station art is similar to what took place for 34 works previously installed along the Pink, Brown, and North Red lines, according to CTA spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski. First, CTA issues a call for artists, which is open to local, national and international professional artists. “A critical component to the public art program is community engagement,” Hosinski said. “For each art installation, CTA schedules meetings with local aldermen and hosts public meetings… to solicit input from members of the surrounding community.” After the artists are chosen, additional community meeting are held with the artist in attendance.

Wednesday’s meeting at Friendly Temple Church, 7745 South State in Chatham, covered the 63rd, 69th and 79th Streets stations and drew an engaged group of about a dozen people. The CTA’s public art coordinator, Elizabeth Kelley, outlined the Red Line South art program and the selection process for the artists, which took place in late summer and early fall of last year.

The first artist to introduce himself was McArthur Binion, whose work will be featured at 79th. He opened with a personal history, noting he was “born in Macon, Mississippi, the first of eleven children, and mov[ed] to Chicago in ‘93 to be a teaching artist because I didn’t want to get married for the third time without a salary.” He teaches at Columbia College and is represented by Kavi Gupta gallery.

Binion’s piece will expand on his ongoing  “DNA Studies” series, which started by incorporating elements of his biography like his birth certificate and old address books. For the project at 79th, he wants “to engage the DNA of the community… the names of people who actually live here,” and put out a call for address books from residents who live or have lived around 79th Street. Binion will incorporate prominent geometric shapes in his work, which will be rendered in ceramic tiles.

Doug Fogelson, the artist picked for 69th, said his work is inspired by the “era of pre-digital.” Fogelson still practices traditional photography and employs a diverse range of other techniques. He said that when he first examined the station, whose location in the median of the Dan Ryan he described as a “cacophony,” he realized that since the art would not be visible from the expressway, it would have to be all about creating a better environment for train riders.

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Transit-Oriented Development Around Metra Isn’t Always About “Density”

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The city will look at the potential for development and better access at residential Metra stations like 91st Street in Beverly. Photo: Eric Rogers

The Chicago Department of Planning and Development wants to dispel the notion that “transit-oriented development” only means high-rises. The agency will host two public meetings to gather ideas from residents who live near the city’s 77 Metra stations on the kinds of development and station changes they’d like to see in their neighborhoods. The meetings are part of a “typology study” to classify Metra stations relative to their surrounding neighborhoods’ shared characteristics and potential for development and public space improvements.

I talked to the city’s director of urban planning and design, Benet Haller, to find out why people should come out and participate. “Just because you say TOD,” Haller said, “doesn’t mean it has to be like the Loop or Lincoln Park.” He added that the city would like walkable development around all train stations, but “in terms of scale, it needs to be relative to the neighborhood as a whole.” These workshops will give local residents an opportunity to identify that appropriate scale and imagine how the station can integrate into the neighborhood.

Haller described what could be possible for the Beverly neighborhood, with its multiple Metra Rock Island stations. The first public meeting about Metra development was held in Beverly last week. ”You try to make sure it’s pedestrian-oriented, you formalize sidewalks and plazas, facilitate kiss & ride, and legalize community gardens,” he said, listing small changes that make the station experience more pleasant for commuters.

The next meeting will also be held on the South Side, in Avalon Park, while the third and final meeting will be in Lincoln Square. The focus on the South Side was deliberate, as there are more Metra stations there, Haller said.

“There are Metra stations on the South Side without a connection to CTA buses, in really low-density residential communities,” he said. “Sometimes the Metra station is the only thing keeping the neighborhood stable; it keeps a certain number of houses occupied. We want to use our existing assets to the greatest possible extent.”

Haller listed some of the improvements that might come up for some of these tucked-away stations. The Metra Electric’s State Street station, at 120th Place and State Street in West Pullman, has a single track, a single entrance, and a barn-like shelter. For a station in a “low density neighborhood like that,” Haller said, “you’re not really talking about development sites. You’re talking about little improvements in that immediate environment.” He said you could create a pull-in area for kiss & ride, better indicate the station’s presence, or install a better shelter.

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Building Another Strip Mall by a Red Line Stop Won’t Help Edgewater


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The former Piser Weinstein Funeral Home site.

Located just around the corner from the Red Line’s Berwyn station, the former Piser Weinstein Funeral Home site, 5206 North Broadway in Edgewater, would make an excellent spot for transit-oriented development. Sadly, that doesn’t appear to be its destiny.

Edgeville Buzz reports that the funeral home building, which has been vacant since the business relocated to Skokie a decade ago, and its massive parking lot have been acquired by Chody Real Estate Corporation, which owns the strip mall on the other side of Broadway. It looks like Chody is planning a similar car-centric development for the Piser Weinstein site.

The funeral home building is slated for demolition in the near future, and the developer intends to build a 20,000-square-foot “multi-tenant retail complex” – Edgeville Buzz speculates that it will include a Chipotle restaurant. Local alderman Harry Osterman told the website that he has informed Chody that local residents want a single-story development with no alley access. “I will be meeting with neighbors again as soon as the development moves forward to ensure this project is good for Broadway and good for the community,” he wrote. Osterman’s office didn’t return a call I made this morning asking for more info.

The neighbors’ demands rule out creating denser mixed-use development, as well pedestrian-oriented retail with parking in the rear, so this means this relatively bleak, car-oriented stretch of Broadway will be getting yet another strip mall with chain stores. Contrast it with the pedestrian-friendly Andersonville business district a few blocks west on Clark, with its thriving mix of locally owned businesses. Since Broadway runs right alongside the Red Line, it really should be a walkable retail district as well, instead of strip mall hell.

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South Shore Residents Resist Demolition of Walkable Retail Block

former Jeffery Theater

Monroe Investment Properties plans to demolish the bank to create a one-story building. Photo: Eric Rogers

South Shore residents have launched a campaign to rescue their neighborhood’s walkable retail core.

Reclaiming South Shore for All, together with The Planning Coalition (representing over 70 neighborhood groups and block clubs), is urging developers to retain a block of buildings at the busy transit junction of 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard rather than allowing them to be demolished for a fast-food drive-through and strip mall.

Urban Partnership Bank, which took over failed community development banking pioneer ShoreBank in 2010, will close their office on March 22. DNAinfo reported last month that Monroe Investment Partners is “under contract to buy the bank and parking lot,” demolish the two-story bank building and its neighbors, and replace the entire block between Jeffery and Euclid with a one-story building that could include a drive-through-only McDonald’s.

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Rahm Blinks, Agrees to Restore Metered Sundays on Some Retail Strips

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Lincoln Avenue in Lakeview, one of the neighborhoods where aldermen have requested restoring metered Sundays. Photo: Jarell Watson

After ten months of stonewalling, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is bowing to pressure from aldermen, chambers of commerce, and business owners and finally making good on his promise to bring back paid Sunday parking in some commercial districts. The Sun-Times reports the mayor plans to introduce an ordinance at the April City Council meeting that will eliminate free Sundays on select retail strips in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown, Wicker Park, and Portage Park. This is in response to longstanding requests from aldermen Scott Waguespack (32nd), Tom Tunney (44th), and John Arena (45th).

“We believe the vast majority of Chicagoans are pleased with free Sunday parking in neighborhoods that the mayor was able to provide with the renegotiated parking agreement,” said a statement from the mayor’s office explaining the recent decision. “But we understand that three out of 50 aldermen prefer to restore paid Sundays in certain areas where the businesses/residents support it. To that end, as promised, we intend to introduce an ordinance in April that will combine the requests of the few aldermen who requested paid Sundays be restored.”

Emanuel originally pushed for free Sunday parking outside of the central business district as part of last spring’s fishy reboot of the reviled parking meter deal. During Council hearings on the renegotiation almost a year ago, these aldermen, plus Michele Smith (43rd), asked about opting out of free Sundays and were promised they could eventually do so.

Last summer, after the new policy was implemented and parking turnover slowed down in their districts, hurting local businesses, some of the aldermen sent letters to the Emanuel’s office asking to bring back metered Sundays. In December, the mayor’s office asked them to resubmit their requests.

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Could Free Remote Cubs Parking Help Keep Cars Out of Wrigleyville?

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Clark Street and Addison Avenue, as seen from the top of Wrigley Field. Photo: systymf/Flickr

The Chicago Cubs are making good on their promise to provide free remote parking for up to a thousand cars plus shuttle bus service for fans attending weekend and night games. The new lot, which will be located at 3900 North Rockwell, near Irving Park and the Chicago River, will replace the current paid remote parking facility at DeVry University, which has about 500 spaces. Hopefully this strategy will help reduce the amount of driving in Wrigleyville on game days; the city should measure the its effectiveness with traffic counts.

It might seem odd for Streetsblog to be cautiously optimistic about a plan to double the amount of parking spots. It’s certainly true the Cubs and the city government should be doing everything in their power to encourage more transit, walking, and biking to the ballpark. But there’s reason to believe this strategy could lead to a decrease in total vehicle miles traveled. At any rate, it’s a much more sensible plan for addressing the traffic and parking nightmare around the ballpark than previous proposals to build more parking in the shadow of the stadium.

On Monday the Cubs announced they will be paying for the new lot, located about two miles west of Wrigley Field, and shuttle service, the Sun-Times reported. At the DeVry lot near Belmont and Campbell, roughly a mile south of the new one, fans were charged $6 a car to park and ride a shuttle to the ballpark, but the service was underused, partly due to the fee. 42nd Ward Alderman Tom Tunney had pressured the team to double the parking and eliminate the charge.

The Cubs agreed to provide the new lot as part of a deal with the city that allows the team to host additional night games, in conjunction with the $500 million Wrigley Field renovation project. Shuttles from the new lot will begin operating 2.5 hours before game time and run until an hour after the final play.

The new lot, located about two miles east of the Kennedy, is easily accessible for fans driving towards Wrigley from the northwest, west, and southwest. It can intercept fans driving towards Wrigley and keep them off of Lakeview’s narrow streets.

Removing the $6 charge may be just the incentive needed to convince them to leave their vehicles farther away from the ballpark, instead of driving the additional four-mile round trip to the stadium. That’s not even counting the additional circling of the neighborhood they might otherwise do while searching for expensive parking closer to the field, which presents a hazard to the huge number of pedestrians outside the stadium.

Sure, it would be great if all of these folks left their cars at home and found other ways to go root, root, root for the Cubbies (apologies to White Sox fans – I’m agnostic myself). But assuming it would difficult to persuade most of these people that there are practical alternatives to driving towards the ballpark at all, it’s great if they can be coaxed into not bringing their vehicles all the way to Wrigleyville. That would help create a safer and more pleasant environment for folks who do walk, bike, and take transit to games, or travel through the neighborhood for other reasons on game days.