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New Pritzker Project Is Basically A Transit-Ignoring Development

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Rendering of the development proposed for 1313 West Morse. The first three stories are parking.

As I’ve stated before, Colonel Jennifer Pritzker, a historic preservationist and an heir to the Pritzker family fortune, has used her wealth in creative ways to help revitalize the Rogers Park community. She deserves credit for restoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Emil Bach House, as well as bringing the Mayne Stage music theater and other businesses to the neighborhood. As a cycling advocate, Colonel Pritzker has bankrolled the Active Transportation Alliance’s Chicagoland Bike Map, and has even been spotted riding in Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, Pritzker is also emerging as something of a poster child for car-focused development. Her development firm, Tawani Enterprises, is currently wrapping up work on a 250-space parking garage at the southeast corner of Sheridan and Sherwin, a stone’s throw from the lakefront and the Red Line’s Jarvis Station.

Many residents bitterly opposed the monolithic structure, intended to serve visitors to the Bach house and residents of a nearby upscale rental unit tower. The opponents argued that the structure, which has zero retail space, would be a massive traffic generator and would degrade the pedestrians environment. Ultimately, 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore approved the project.

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The nearly completed parking garage at Sheridan and Sherwin. Photo: Justin Haugens

Pritzker’s latest parking-focused project is a proposal for an eight-story building at 1313 West Morse, across the street from the Mayne Stage. The 83-foot-tall structure would include 45 rental units, plus a whopping 75 parking spaces, even though the location is virtually next door to the Morse Red Line stop. The bottom three levels would contain parking, while the top three would house the apartments. 50 housing units were originally proposed but, after input from residents, the number was reduced and units were enlarged.

There are some positive aspects to the plan. The site is currently occupied by a mostly defunct strip mall, which formerly housed a laundromat, a cell phone store, and a video store, plus about 20 surface parking spaces. It’s great that this car-centric use will be partly replaced by housing whose proximity to transit, shops, and restaurants will make it easy for residents to live without owning an automobile. The current zoning for the location only allows for a building of up to 65 feet with 35 units, so Moore would have to approve a zoning change from B3-3 to B3-5 to allow for the extra density.

In theory, the developer is taking advantage of Chicago’s 2013 transit-oriented development, which allows for a 2:1 ratio of housing units to parking spaces, rather than the usual 1:1 requirement, for buildings within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. 25 parking spots would be set aside for the 45 units.

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Roger That! Low-Stress, North-South Bike Route Planned for Rogers Park

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Greenview north of Touhy, looking north. Image: Google Street View

The Chicago Department of Transportation recently held a public meeting about their clever proposal to install a contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood, between Ridge and Carmen, in Edgewater. More quietly, CDOT and the 49th Ward have been moving forward with an equally promising plan for a neighborhood greenway on Glenwood and and Greenview in Rogers Park.

CDOT staff declined to discuss the proposal, referring me to 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office. “Our main goal was to create some kind of route from Devon Street, the southern boundary of the ward, up to Evanston,” explained Bob Fuller, an assistant to Moore. Glenwood and Greenview are already popular bike routes in Rogers Park, with cyclists accounting for up to 25 percent of rush hour traffic. “Instead of high-traffic streets like Sheridan, Clark, and Western, it made sense to put the greenway on these residential streets,” Fuller said.

The draft plan is to have the route run along Glenwood from Devon to either Pratt or Farwell. From there, the greenway would jog west a block to Greenview and continue to either Howard or Jonquil. From there, cyclists could head west to Clark or east to Sheridan in order to get to Evanston. The roughly 1.7-mile route would work both northbound and southbound.

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Why Rolling on the River Is No Easy Task

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A bottleneck along The Marina section of the Chicago Riverwalk. Photo: John Greenfield

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

Earlier this month, the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606, grabbed the spotlight as our city’s latest fabulous public space. However, the Chicago Riverwalk extension, which partially opened on May 23, is another strong contender. The new two-block stretch between State and Clark takes you down to within a foot or two of the sea-green water, and there are unique, breathtaking views of the city as you round the bridge houses.

The roughly $100 million project, funded by a federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act loan that needs to be paid back in about thirty-five years, is slated to be extended all the way to Lake and Wacker by 2016. The now-open sections are the Cove, which features stone-like concrete seating units and kayak rentals, the Marina, with elegant teakwood banquettes whose tops double as bar seating for eating and drinking establishments, and The River Theater, featuring dramatic stair-step seating, criss-crossed by ramps. Upcoming amenities include a water play area, fishing piers and a boardwalk.

The new spaces are already a hit with Chicagoans from all walks of life, and you’ll see dozens of people strolling, lunching, catching carp and relaxing there on nice days. The one fly in the ointment is that, while the riverwalk extension was designed to be a transportation corridor, it doesn’t function particularly well as one. Narrow sections of the path create bottlenecks, and sharp turns in the route are tricky to navigate, making it difficult to walk—let alone bike—the route efficiently when it’s crowded.

Gina Ford, a landscape architect at Sasaki Associates, which helped plan the riverwalk, offered to discuss the reasoning behind the design.

John Greenfield: The Riverwalk’s been getting rave reviews overall, but please tell me what you guys had in mind with the routing for pedestrians and cyclists.

Gina Ford: One of the challenges that we had to deal with on the riverwalk was how to accommodate what we felt should be included in a really small space. Part of that has to do with the fact that the [landfill to extend the riverbank] required a permit, and it took many years and an act of Congress to permit it. The dimensions of our buildout zone were very fixed in order to maintain safe harbor on the river and making sure that barge traffic has the right clearances.

We were really limited with the underbridge connections, where you have a twenty-foot offset [the maximum amount of land that could be built out from the existing shoreline] and a twenty-five-foot offset in each “room” of the riverwalk. So part of the right-angle turn critique we agree with. It would have been lovely if there was a much broader space, but there were other factors that determined that boundary and that shape.

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Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

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Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. “If they don’t come, who am I going to serve?” he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It’s going to be a big experiment,” he said. “I’m kind of neutral. I’m not sure what to expect.”

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

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The River Theater’s Ramps Let People on Wheels Make a Grand Entrance

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It’s fairly easy to bike down to the water via the new ramps. Photo: John Greenfield

With the Friday opening of the Chicago Riverwalk’s third new section, dubbed The River Theater, wheelchair users, families with strollers, and bicyclists have a new way to get down to the riverfront from Upper Wacker. This segment, located between Clark and LaSalle, consists almost entirely of stair-stepped, amphitheater-style seating. However, the steps are split up by gently graded, ADA-compliant ramps that zigzag back and forth across the stately new public space.

As you can see from this video, the ramps work fairly well for bicycling, although they’re narrow enough that cyclists need to be especially mindful about yielding to people in wheelchairs and pedestrians. But, overall, the ramps are an elegant solution for providing access.

The concrete steps, while Spartan, are a comfortable place to perch with a pleasant view of the waterway, and the space is sure to be popular with people eating lunch and relaxing on nice days. I visited this afternoon, shortly after a downpour, so the steps were sparsely populated.

Unlike the two next sections of the riverwalk that debuted earlier this month, The Marina and The Cove, most of the River Theater’s shoreline does not allow easy access to the water, since it’s located a few feet above the surface and fenced off. However, there is a staircase at the east end of the space leading down to the water for boat access.

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A river taxi and a tour boat pass by The River Theater

The River Theater will be an ideal venue for live performances, which are being booked by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. On Sunday, May 21, as part of the Make Music Festival, the Chicago Academy of Piping and Drumming will perform there at 1 p.m. and the Chicago Philharmonic Brass will perform at 3 p.m. There will also be live music that day at The Cove, The Marina, and the riverside Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with performers ranging from a Mariachi band to a cabaret group to a steel drum ensemble.

Jai Cruz, relaxing on the steps with a friend from out of town, gave The River Theater a thumbs-up. “It’s pretty fantastic,” he said. “I like the architectural views that it has to offer, and that they’re going to be offering bands on the weekends for the tourists and for those of us who live in the city.” He added that the ramps are a nice touch. “It makes it pretty convenient for people on bikes to go up and down.”

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The Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route Isn’t Just a Pipe Dream

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Image: John Greenfield

I’m not sure what the Chicago Department of Transportation has been smoking lately, but they’ve cleverly proposed installing a contra-flow bike lane on a northbound stretch of Glenwood Avenue in Edgewater. Southbound cycling is already common here because Glenwood is a safer, more relaxing alternative to nearby Clark Street and Broadway.

At a recent community meeting on the project, some neighbors expressed fears that encouraging “wrong-way” cycling will lead to more crashes. However, contra-flow lanes installed nearby on Berteau Street, Ardmore Avenue, and Albion Avenue have reduced the number of bike crashes, because they encourage cyclists to ride predictably, and give drivers a heads-up that they should watch for bikes coming from the other direction.

Learn more about the neighborhood route proposal here. To make sure the project doesn’t go up in smoke, be sure to contact 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman and let him know you support it.

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Legalize It! Glenwood Route Will Make Contra-Flow Biking Safe & Predictable

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Rendering of the contra-flow bike lane on Glenwood.

Once in while, the Chicago Department of Transportation has a bikeway idea that’s so good, I wish that I’d thought of it first. Such is the case with the proposed Glenwood Avenue Neighborhood Route. This neighborhood greenway would run for 0.75 miles on Glenwood between Ridge and Carmen, and on Carmen for 0.25 miles between Glenwood and the Broadway buffered bike lanes. The project is expected to cost no more than $75,000, and CDOT hopes to install it later this summer.

The greenway would greatly improve the southbound route options from Rogers Park and northern Edgewater to Andersonville and Uptown. Currently, northbound cyclists can access Glenwood from Clark or Broadway via Argyle, just north of St. Boniface Cemetery.

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The project area.

Glenwood is a serene, leafy residential street that leads all the way to Rogers Park, providing a great alternative to the high-speed, four-lane stretches of Broadway north of Foster, and Clark north of the Andersonville retail district. The later stretch is designated as a recommended route on the Chicago Bike Map, but it really shouldn’t be, since speeding is common there.

However, southbound cyclists can’t legally make the whole trip on Glenwood because the street is one-way northbound between Ridge and Foster. I generally deal with this by heading west on Edgewater Avenue, located just south of Glenwood/Ridge, and continuing south on Clark along Andersonville business strip. That’s a reasonably bikeable stretch of Clark, but it’s probably a bit too hectic and stressful for less confident riders and families.

Many cyclists are already currently choosing to ride against traffic on Glenwood. Census data shows that four to seven percent of residents along the corridor bike to work, which is several times higher than the city average. CDOT counted up to 40 bicyclists an hour on the corridor during peak hours, representing 25 percent of traffic, with more than half of the cyclists riding against traffic.

Perhaps partly because drivers aren’t expecting southbound bike traffic on the northbound stretch of Glenwood, six bicyclists were injured in crashes there between 2009 and 2013. Half of them were under age 18.

CDOT plans to legalize southbound bike riding on the northbound segment of Glenwood by adding a contra-flow bike lane. The lane will be painted green near intersections to give motorists an additional heads-up, and shared-lane marking will be added for northbound bike traffic. Carmen, which is already two-way, will get shared lane markings in both directions. Stop signs and stop bars, and possibly bike traffic signals, will be installed for southbound cyclists.

The narrower travel lane for cars on northbound Glenwood will help calm traffic, and bike-friendly sinusoidal speed humps may be added as well. High visibility, zebra-striped crosswalks will be added, and other crosswalks will be refreshed. No parking will be eliminated. Therefore, the greenway is really a win for everyone involved: bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and neighboring residents.

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What Kind of Art Is Coming to the Wilson Station?

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Cecil Balmond and the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Photos: John Greenfield, Wikipedia

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

“The essence of public sculpture is that, for a moment, it belongs to you,” says renowned Sri Lankan-British artist Cecil Balmond, speaking at a recent packed community meeting in the basement of an Uptown nursing home. Last July, the CTA hired Balmond to create artwork for the Wilson Red Line station, as part of a massive, $203 million reconstruction project. It’s notable that the Wilson stop—a notoriously grungy facility and three-time winner of RedEye’s “Crust Station” contest—will be getting a piece by a man whose website calls him “the world’s leading thinker on form and structure.”

Work to rebuild the station began last fall and, as of last month, crews were almost done using heavy equipment to demolish the westernmost set of tracks and concrete support pillars. In all, 2,200 feet of the one-hundred-year-old tracks will be replaced and relocated, and the station will be transformed into a new transfer point between the Red and Purple lines. As a result, you can expect an influx of Northwestern students and staff moving to Uptown by the end of the decade.

The project will also build a much roomier station house, with three entrances, wheelchair access, and plenty of sleek, modern surfaces, including a glassed-in main entrance on the south side of Wilson, with a twenty-foot-high ceiling. As a nod to the station’s history, its 1923 façade—whose stately beaux arts clock tower was amputated more than half a century ago—will be restored to its former glory.

Balmond’s installation will be joining the CTA’s collection of more than fifty artworks at forty-one stations. As part of the city’s ambitious slate of station upgrades, including many stops along the Red and Blue Lines, the transit agency is spending more than $3 million on new public art. The highest-profile of these pieces are two works by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, which will be installed as part of the Red Line’s $240 million 95th/Dan Ryan station overhaul.

Balmond was one of more than 200 people who submitted proposals for the Wilson stop. The total budget for the art project may not exceed $204,000, provided by the Federal Transit Administration. The artist’s fee can only make up ten percent of the cost, and $20,400 seems to be a rather modest fee for someone of Balmond’s stature. He says he decided to apply after seeing a vintage photo of the old station house, designed by noted transit architect Arthur Gerber.

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The Bloomingdale, Chicago’s Awesome New Public Space, Makes Its Debut

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The Humboldt Boulevard bridge. Photo: John Greenfield

In a 2009 Chicago Reader story, I noted that the best-case scenario for the Bloomingdale Trail elevated greenway would be a 2016 opening, in time for the Olympics, if then-mayor Richard M. Daley succeeded in winning the games. We all know what happened with the Olympic effort.

But here it is, only 2015, and thousands of Chicagoans of all ages and walks of life were already hanging out, strolling, jogging, biking, skating, and parading on the 2.7-mile path, last Saturday as part of the trail’s joyful opening celebration on a gorgeous spring day. The rails-to-trail conversion and the construction of several adjacent access parks never would have happened without tireless advocacy and activism from neighbors, particularly the grassroots nonprofit Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail.

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One of the many opening day processions. Photo: John Greenfield

We also need to give some credit for the speedy delivery of the trail to current mayor Rahm Emanuel. In July of 2009, the city announced its choice of the contractor to design the trail, but when Daley left office nearly two years later, the contract still hadn’t been awarded. “The project was really creeping along,” acknowledged Chicago Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton at the Saturday opening. She has been involved with discussions on converting the rail line since 1987.

After he was elected in 2011, Emanuel announced his intention to open the trail within four years, which seemed next-to-impossible at the time. However, soon after he took office, the design contract was awarded, and not long after that the city lined up $50 million in federal funding to build the $95 million project. The Trust for Public Land was recruited to manage the project and raise the additional money through private donations.

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Emanuel takes a spin on the trail. Photo: John Greenfield

The opening was originally scheduled for fall of 2014, but the opening was pushed back after a brutal winter delayed construction. However, it was surreal to see the nearly completed path and parks filled with revelers on Saturday. “Mayor Emanuel galvanized support for the trail,” Luann said.

The Bloomingdale is still a work in progress – the east end near Ashland Avenue is largely a construction site, and unfinished handrails on the California Avenue access ramp created a potential hazard. TPL still needs to raise $20 million more to fund additional landscaping, public art, and other amenities, and Governor Bruce Rauner has frozen some of the state funding for access parks by the eastern and western trailheads.

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Don’t Believe the Hype: Plenty of CTA Riders Support the Belmont Flyover

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Residents pour over a map of the project area at Wednesday’s open house. Photo: John Greenfield

Other local media outlets have given plenty of airtime to Lakeview residents who are opposed to the CTA’s Red-Purple Bypass project, better known as the Belmont Flyover. Their concern is completely understandable, since the transit agency’s plans call for 21 buildings on 16 parcels of land to be demolished, partially demolished, or relocated.

And, although CTA originally said the price tag for the project would be around $320 million, the environmental assessment released last on May 19 bumped that number up to $570 million, due to the inclusion of additional track and signal replacement north of the Belmont station. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at.

However, we haven’t heard much from the countless Red, Purple, and Brown Line Riders, from Roseland to Albany Park to Wilmette, who would benefit from the flyover. In a nutshell, the bypass would eliminate the existing convergence of Red, Purple, and Brown Line at a flat junction north of the Belmont station, as well as replace about 0.3 miles of track between Belmont and Newport (3430 North). This would increase capacity on the system’s busiest lines and reduce delays, especially during rush hours. Read Steven Vance’s analysis of the project here.

On Wednesday, the CTA held an open house at the Center on Halsted in Lakeview to give Chicagoans a chance to discuss the project with agency staff and provide input via comment cards and a court reporter. Contrary to what you might assume from mainstream news reports, lots of people I spoke to at the well-attended event voiced support for the bypass.

“I think the flyover is necessary for saving time,” said Mindy Williams, a homemaker who lives downtown and regularly travels on the Red Line. “You’ve got the trains that have to kind of cross through the switches, so they do a lot of sitting and waiting,” she said. “So the bypass, because it’s going to go over that, is going to cut the wait times.”

Of course, there were opponents present as well. Ellen Hughes, a Lakeview resident who runs the website Coalition to Stop the Belmont Flyover, told me that, while her house isn’t slated for demolition, there are several reason she’s fighting the bypass. “I’m actually in it for Lakeview and I’m in it for moral reasons,” she said.

Hughes listed the cost and aesthetics of the flyover as major concerns, and argued that the city is spending money on transit in an affluent North Side neighborhood while neglecting the South Side. In 2013, the CTA spent $425 million to completely rebuild the South Red Line tracks between Cermak and 95th and renovate most of the stations. The agency is currently reconstructing the 95th Street station at a cost of $240 million.

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