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Orange Dots and Balloons Jazz Up the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall

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Photo: John Greenfield

First built in 1975, the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall is a leafy, car-free walkway that runs for two blocks between Beacon Street and Magnolia Avenue in Uptown’s Sheridan Park section. With its benches, plantings, and mosaic-covered pillars, it should be a popular place for all kinds of positive activity, along the lines of Lincoln Square’s Kempf Plaza.

However, the Uptown space functions largely as a place to pass through while traveling to other places, according to neighbor Ginny Sykes, a restaurant owner and artist who’s a member of the Sunnyside Mall Committee. “What I observe is a lot of people walking through here on their way to and from the Red Line,” said Sykes, who has lived near the mall for almost 28 years. “They walk their dogs, they bring their kids out to throw balls and maybe play a little bit. They sit on the benches and have conversations. Children walk use it to walk to school.”

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Photo: John Greenfield

While she feels the space already works fairly well, Sykes would like to see more programming at the mall, such as the art fair and the movie night that recently took place. “The more positive energy that goes into the space and the more people that get involved, the better it will be,” she said.

In order to come up with a long-term vision for the plaza, the Sunnyside Mall Committee is inviting community members to show up for a community input meeting in the plaza on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be a chance to brainstorm ideas for a master plan that can be implemented over time.

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Dense Thinking: CNT Staffers Discuss the TOD Reform Ordinance

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This TOD development at 2211 N. Milwaukee will have 120 units but only 60 parking spaces. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Believe it or not, back in the early nineties, ex-mayor Richard M. Daley was planning to tear out an entire branch of the El system. “The Lake Street branch of what’s now the Green Line had terrible slow zones and you could almost walk to Oak Park faster,” recalls Jacky Grimshaw, the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s vice president for policy. “The mayor and the CTA president wanted to take it down.”

Grimshaw says this moment of crisis was the birth of Chicago’s transit-oriented development movement, a push to create dense, parking-light housing and retail near rapid-transit stations in order to reduce car dependency. CNT and the West Side community organization Bethel New Life teamed up to present the CTA with a plan for TOD near the Lake/Pulaski stop, but it fell on deaf ears.

However, after Grimshaw penned a “woodsman spare this tree” op-ed for the Tribune, Daley apparently took notice. Soon afterwards, she says, the CTA managed to find $364 million in funding from leftover projects to pay for rehabbing the Lake Street branch, according to Grimshaw.

Chicago’s TOD movement has picked up steam over the past couple years. In 2013, City Council passed its first TOD ordinance, sponsored by First Ward alderman Proco Joe Moreno. The city’s zoning code generally mandates a one-to-one ratio of parking spots to housing units in new or rehabbed buildings. However, the 2013 law cuts that requirement in half for parcels within 600 feet of a rapid-transit stop, 1,200 feet on a designated Pedestrian Street, and allows higher density within these districts.

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North Carolina: Tell State Lawmakers Not to Outlaw Road Diets — Today

Raleigh's highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

Raleigh’s highly praised Hillsborough Street road diet would have been illegal under legislation proposed by state lawmakers. Image: NC DOT

The language of a bill being hashed out right now in Raleigh could determine whether North Carolina cities have the freedom to redesign streets to improve safety and promote a healthier range of transportation options.

A provision of House Bill 44 — specifically Section 7 — would prohibit reducing the width of state-managed roads to add bike lanes if they:

  • A. Carry more than 20,000 vehicles a day, or
  • B. If projections show the road diet would reduce the Level of Service — an engineering measure of vehicle congestion — below a certain level (D) within 20 years.

According to local advocates the language is the result of a single lawmaker who is unhappy about a road diet in his jurisdiction. That lawmaker was responsible for adding the language banning road diets on state controlled roads into the wide-ranging bill, which includes items such as the regulation of signs, beekeepers, and beaches.

HB 44 passed in both the House and the Senate, but the language of each bill was different enough that additional work is needed before it can proceed. State senators and representatives met in conference committee yesterday where advocates were hopeful a compromise would be hashed out that would eliminate or alter the road diet provision. According to Lisa Riegel of BikeWalk NC, the final decision may come today. That group is urging supporters to contact their elected representatives and urge them to remove Section 7.

“It is not too late,” said Riegel. “The conferees are close, but the bill is not done. We need to urge all that would like to see this provision removed to contact the Senate and House conferees today.”

Don Kostelec, an Asheville-based planner, says some of the road diets the state’s cities are most proud of — like Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street and Asheville’s College Street — would have been prohibited as the bill is currently written. The Hillsborough Street project [pictured above] is used as an example of a great complete streets project by both the North Carolina DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.

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Eyes on the Street: The New Normal on Clybourn Avenue

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Bicycle rush hour on a new curb-protected lane on Clybourn. Photo: John Greenfield

The Lakefront Trail. Milwaukee Avenue. The 606. And Clybourn Avenue?

The first three Chicago routes are known for having massive amounts of bicycle traffic during rush hours, and anytime the weather is nice. With the advent of its new curb-protected bike lanes, it looks like Clybourn is joining this elite club.

The Illinois Department of Transportation began building this new bikeway in May, with assistance from the Chicago Department of Transportation. It includes Clybourn from Hasted Street to Division Street, and Division from Clybourn to Orleans Street. Read more details about the project here.

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Photo: John Greenfield

The fact that the state is building it is particularly notable because IDOT previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state jurisdiction roads within the city of Chicago. After cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larrabee Street, the state announced they would pilot the curb-protected lanes at this location.

The curbs are already largely completed on Division and the northwest-bound side of Clybourn. The southeast-bound bike lane is partially finished. IDOT plans to wrap up the entire bikeway this month, according to a press release.

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Eyes on the Street: Checking Out the “Mistake by the Lake” Parking Garage

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Photo: John Greenfield

I have a confession to make. When I wrote Monday’s post about the brand new parking garage that billionaire developer Jennifer Pritzker opened at Sheridan Road and Sherwin Avenue in Roger Park, I hadn’t actually checked it out in person.

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The house that the garage replaced. Photo: Kelly Loris

However, a visit yesterday during the evening rush confirmed most of the criticisms about the structure. The monolithic, 250-spot facility looks out of place alongside historic buildings on Sheridan. It replaces a colorful, 90-year-old house that formerly housed a meditation center, which had an attractive yard with several tall trees. Since the garage has zero retail and presents a blank face to pedestrians, it’s a much less interesting property to walk past.

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This streetscape isn’t awful, but it would be more interesting with retail. Photo: John Greenfield

The parking structure is a five-minute walk from the Red Line’s Jarvis stop, and a two-minute stroll to the beach, so it occupies valuable land that would have been much better utilized by housing. And the garage entrance and exit on Sherwin further degrades the pedestrian environment by forcing people on foot to watch out for cars crossing the sidewalk.

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Cars entering and leaving the garage will be a hazard for pedestrians. Photo: John Greenfield

It was hard to gauge how much impact the facility will have on traffic congestion in the neighborhood, since — probably due to its newness — the garage was mostly empty when I stopped by. But it’s safe to predict that the structure will encourage more tenants of the nearby, Pritzker-owned Farcroft by the Lake rental tower and visitors to Frank Llloyd Wright’s Emil Bach house to bring cars into the neighborhood. Other residents can rent monthly spaces for $125, which further promotes car ownership.

That said, seeing the facility with my own eyes also confirmed that it’s probably one the most attractive structures ever built that has no function whatsoever except to stack automobiles. The garage also gets points for its louvered green glass panels, which provide plenty of airflow, eliminating the need to use power for a ventilation system. And it’s certainly a good thing that the structure has spaces for car-sharing vehicles, plus an electric vehicle charging station.

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Moore OKed Pritzker Projects That Will Bring Hundreds of Cars to Rogers Park

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People walking on Sherwin now have to watch out for cars entering and leaving the new garage. Photo: 49th Ward

As I’ve written before, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore is one of the more progressive members of City Council, and he’s generally got a good record on walking, transit, and biking issues. However, Moore and billionaire real estate developer Jennifer Pritzker have become a dynamic duo when it comes to bringing auto-centric structures to Rogers Park. These buildings will only make the neighborhood more car-dependent.

Pritzker, too, deserves credit for being a historic preservationist and a bike advocate. But her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, recently completed a 250-spot parking garage a stone’s throw from the Lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis station. Her next project is a 45-unit rental complex with a whopping 75 car spots, virtually next door to the Morse ‘L’ stop. Moore has enabled Pritzker to move forward with both of these car-focused projects by approving the necessary zoning changes.

The alderman signed off on the garage in June of 2013. Located at the southeast corner of Sheridan Road and Sherwin Avenue, it replaced an attractive, 90-year-old home that formerly housed the Shambhala Meditation Center. The new structure will serve two nearby, Pritzker-owned buildings: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, and Farcroft by the Lake, an upscale rental tower. 60 parking spaces are reserved for Farcroft residents, 84 spaces are set aside for short- and long-term paid parking for the general public, and 106 spaces will be used during Bach House events, and will be available to the public at other times.

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While the garage isn’t hideous, it’s pretty boring to walk past.

Many local residents bitterly opposed the garage for several reasons. They argued that the monolithic structure would be out of place besides historic buildings on Sheridan and, with zero retail and a blank façade, it would make the business strip less lively. Worse, drivers entering and exiting the garage would endanger people walking on Sherwin.

Meanwhile, the hundreds of new parking spots would serve as a massive traffic generator. More cars in the neighborhood would make it harder for pedestrians to cross the street, and create traffic congestion for bus riders and more hazardous conditions for bicyclists.

In a message to constituents this morning, Moore heralded the recent opening of the parking structure. “This is not your run of the mill parking garage,” he wrote, touting its high-quality materials, roughly 5,000 square feet of ground-level green space and 800 square feet of greenery on the roof. While I don’t agree that the structure is “a stunning addition to Sheridan,” I’ll concede that it’s about as attractive as any building can be whose sole purpose is to warehouse autos.

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Burke: Don’t Bend Over Backwards to Facilitate Driving at the Lincoln Hub

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Aerial photo of the Lincoln Hub by traffic reporter Sarah Jindra. Compare this with the original plan for the hub below and you’ll see that the plazas at the lower-right side of the photo have been modified to make driving easier.

The Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which created curb extensions and seating plazas at Lakeview’s Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection with posts, planters, and colorful paint dots, has been highly controversial. Pedestrians have said they like how the initiative makes walking safer and more pleasant, and every time I’ve visited, traffic was flowing smoothly. However, the chief of staff for local alderman Scott Waguespack told me the ward has received many complaints from drivers who claim the street redesign is causing traffic jams.

The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the project, has already worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to narrow some of the plazas to make it easier for motorists to pass left-turning vehicles. Yesterday, after chamber director Lee Crandell gave a presentation on the Lincoln Hub at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting, I asked him if any more changes are planned. In response, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke made a good argument for why we shouldn’t go overboard with modifying the hub to appease drivers. Here’s a transcript of the discussion.

John Greenfield: I talked to Alderman Waguespack’s chief of staff recently and he said they’ve been getting overwhelmingly negative feedback about the project from residents. It seems like there might be some pressure to further modify the Lincoln Hub to accommodate drivers. Is anything in the works with that?

Lee Crandell: I don’t have anything in the works to share right now. We’ll continue working with CDOT and Alderman Waguespack’s office to review the project and determine if we do have any changes we need to make. We’ve made some tweaks already. If we need to make any additional tweaks, that’s something that we’re very much open to. We want to ensure that it’s a successful project that works for everybody. [Crandell went on to discuss the fact that this is a temporary street redesign, but the chamber hopes it will eventually become a permanent streetscape.]

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The Case of the Missing Andersonville “People Spots”

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Brian Bonanno, in ballcap, and crew members reinstalled the Farragut parklet in mid-July, a couple months late. Photo: John Greenfield

[This article also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s transportation column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

As the Tribune’s Blair Kamin recently pointed out, it’s embarrassing that San Francisco will soon have more than eighty “parklets”—parking-lane space repurposed as picturesque seating areas—while our much-larger city only has a handful of them. Dubbed “People Spots” by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which runs the program, eight of these have been put in on business districts in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Lakeview and Andersonville.

The beauty of parklets is that they take asphalt that’s usually reserved for warehousing private automobiles and transform it into attractive, planter-enclosed public space where neighbors and shoppers can congregate. The People Spot nicknamed “The Wave” at Addison and Southport in Lakeview is practically public art—its undulating, freeform seating units are both comfy and reminiscent of whale skeletons.

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“The Wave” parklet at Addison and Southport. Photo: John Greenfield

A study by Metropolitan Planning Council found that, since People Spots encourage people to linger on Chicago’s retail strips, they’re a shot in the arm for local businesses. Eighty percent of merchants surveyed felt nearby parklets helped attract customers to their establishments. Seventy-three percent of parklet users said that, if they weren’t eating, chatting, texting or relaxing in the spaces, they’d probably be at home. Thirty-four percent of them said they made spontaneous food or beverage purchases as a result of the inviting hangout space.

Despite this success, by midsummer of this year, the two Andersonville parklets still hadn’t been reinstalled after being mothballed for the winter. One of them, consisting of boxy, blue wooden seating units, has stood at Clark and Farragut, by an Akira clothing boutique and the Gus Giordano Dance School, during the warm months of every year since 2012. The other, a more rustic enclosure made of recycled lumber, first opened in 2013 at Clark and Olive, by Piatto Pronto Italian deli and the Coffee Studio café.

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What Does Crash Data Say About the Reasons for Closing Wilson/Lamon?

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Crash map of Wilson/Lamon area. From 2009-2013, there were 14 crashes in the area, nine of them by the viaducts. Colors and shapes of the dots refer to the year the crash took place. Map: Steven Vance

Two weeks ago, 45th Ward Alderman John Arena used his car to blockade a construction site at Wilson Avenue and Lamon Avenue, where a Chicago Department of Transportation crew had begun building cul-de-sacs to eliminate through traffic and make room for a digital billboard. Arena, who opposes the installation of the 90-foot sign, said he wasn’t notified about the street closure work before it started the previous weekend. The alderman also argued that the street closure would cause traffic problems.

In the wake of the alderman’s direct action, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey said the decision to build cul-de-sacs was in response to “a history of excessive speeding on Lamon and Wilson due to cut-through traffic”:

These improvements, while addressing traffic safety and improving conditions on the increasingly residential section of Lamon, also accommodate the placement of a digital sign which was approved by City Council in 2013…These changes will address the speeding problem, eliminate crashes from cars that lose control at the curve from Lamon to Wilson, and reduce the number of trucks that strike the low-clearance viaduct on Wilson.

The department met with Arena that day and agreed to halt the project and temporarily reopen the street until a public meeting can be held about the street closure. Car access has been restored but, last week, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh told me that the ward had not yet received speeding and crash statistics from CDOT that would back up the safety argument, and the public meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

I asked the transportation department for relevant crash data but they didn’t provide any. Instead, Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance looked up the information in the Illinois Department of Transportation’s crash database, called the Illinois Safety Data Mart which is based on Chicago Police Department reports. The database is currently offline, but Steven requests the data from IDOT each year and uses it to update his website the Chicago Crash Browser.

Only crashes resulting in serious injury or at least $1,500 in property damage are included in the IDOT database. Here’s what Steven found from looking at the data from 2009 to 2013 on Lamon and Wilson between Lawrence Avenue and Cicero Avenue, excluding crashes within Lawrence and Cicero.

Between Lawrence and a viaduct for Metra’s Milwaukee District / North Line (the solid-white, diagonal line west of Cicero in the above aerial), there were five crashes, all involving car drivers who struck parked cars, resulting in property damage but no reported injuries:

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Fullerton Project Will Provide Acres of New Parkland, Partial Trail Separation

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Looking south at the “bayou” created by the construction of the metal retaining wall. Photo: John Greenfield

Last October, a study was released as part of the North Lake Shore Drive redesign process that found Chicagoans ranked the creation of separate paths for walking and biking on the Lakefront Trail as their top priority for improving the shoreline. That same month, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District kicked off the Fullerton Revetment project, a step in the right direction towards that goal.

The initiative is building 5.8 acres of new parkland along the lake, which will allow for the partial separation of pedestrian and bike routes at a spot that’s currently a bottleneck. The main goal of the $31.5 million endeavor, funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city, and the park district, is to replace the crumbling seawall as part of the larger Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, which launched in 2000. Since then, 19 of the 23 segments of that 9.5-mile, $500 million project have been completed, according to city officials.

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A plan view of the project.

The Fullerton initiative includes widening the strip of parkland along the Lakefront Trail by as much as several hundred feet via infill, creating a brand-new hump of land that’s sure to be a hit with sunbathers. The work will also pave the way for the renovation of the Theater on the Lake, a former tuberculosis sanatorium that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to turn into a year-round destination for arts and culture.

Infill and revetment construction is slated for completion by November 30, and landscaping should be done by summer of 2016. Yesterday, CDOT engineer Carlene Walsh, the Fullerton project manager, and Steven Miskowicz from the R.M. Chin and Associates, which is overseeing construction, led a tour of the worksite. The general contractor is Walsh Construction – no relation to Ms. Walsh.

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Installing the corrugated metal pilings for the metal enclosure. Photo: John Greenfield

Right now, the area that will be the new land resembles a tropical lagoon. Workers are driving corrugated steel pilings as much as 45 feet into the lakebed to create a wavy wall of metal that will hold the infill in place, similar to what was recently done to create new land for the Chicago Riverwalk extension. A causeway of rock and gravel has been built to provide access for the heavy equipment used to install the metal enclosure.

The resulting “bayou,” currently occupied by water that’s a milky turquoise due to sediment, will be filled in with 80,000 cubic yards of rocks and sand. The rocks include special “armor stone” that will be shipped in from Wisconsin, but the sand will be dredged from the lake floor southeast of North Avenue Beach’s hook-shaped pier, starting in about a month. Read more…