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Eyes on the Street: Seeing Spots at the Lincoln Hub

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Looking southeast from the north side of the intersection. Photo: John Greenfield

Chicago’s first painted curb extensions are starting to take shape. Workers recently spray-painted the outlines of green and blue polka dots at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection as part of the “Lincoln Hub” traffic calming and placemaking projects. The street remix is part of a larger $175K streetscape project that Special Service Area #27 and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are doing on Lincoln from Diversey to Belmont.

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St. Alphonsus Church is on the left side of this rendering.

Flexible plastic bollards that extend the intersection’s six corners, planters, round seating units, and café tables and chairs have been in place for a few weeks now. These treatments have already improved pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, eliminating several slip lanes, and discouraging speeding. Residents have also been enjoying the additional seating on nice days.

However, now that the outlines of the dots are in place, it’s more obvious that the asphalt outlined by the posts is intended as space for walking and sitting, and it’s easier for motorists to understand the new configuration. The painting project had been delayed by recent rainy weather, according to SSA program director Lee Crandell. Pending warmer, sunny weather, crews will fill in the dots, creating an Oriental carpet-inspired design that will unify the intersection. After the paint is dry, additional seating will be added, completing the project.

DNAinfo reported that, at a recent South Lakeview Neighbors meeting, there were complaints that the new layout requires drivers to queue up behind left-turning motorists, since there is no longer space to pass on the right. I’ve hung out at the intersection a few times during rush hours and haven’t seen any major issues. “One of the goals of this project is to slow down cars to improve safety for pedestrians,” Crandell told me. “We think there are some significant improvements here for pedestrians.”

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The view from St. Alphonsus Church. Photo: John Greenfield

Crandell has talked to the Chicago Department of Transportation about the possibility of tweaking the design, including relocating bollards and adjusting signal timing for Southport to allow more drivers to move through the intersection. “But I’ve emphasized to the community that we need to see how this works when it’s completed,” he said. “After we let it settle in for a few weeks, we can make decisions based on what impact it’s having.”

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Sauganash Whole Foods Is Building Parking Where There Should Be Housing

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Sauganash Place. Image: Google Maps

Sauganash Place, a mixed-use development near Peterson and Cicero avenues, is a strikingly urban element in the eponymous Chicago neighborhood, a quiet, mostly residential community on the Far Northwest Side. Featuring several stories of condominiums with balconies, plus a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor, the building wouldn’t look out of place in denser neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview.

Although the supermarket already has a large underground parking garage, as well as a surface parking lot, the company recently announced it has purchased land to the north of the store — which was originally slated for more condos — in order to expand the lot. The plan is moving forward with little-to-no opposition, even though it would be much more productive to use this land for development, especially for more multi-unit housing.

The original proposal for Sauganash Place included two condo buildings with a total of 136 units, plus commercial space. The completed portion, built in 2007, includes the Whole Foods, 61 condo units, and 260 garage parking spaces in garages. Due to the housing market crash that occured shortly after that, the second building was never constructed. The site is currently a gravel lot, which Whole Foods is already using for parking.

The store’s plan to permanently convert the land to car storage was approved by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and the Chicago Department of Transportation, as well as 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino and local community leaders. “The Alderman is satisfied that the proposal is the right fit for that location,” said John Riordan, the ward’s director of economic development and business affairs.

However, more space for people, rather than cars, would have been a much better community asset. The predominant housing type in Sauganash is single-family housing. Over 85 percent of all units in the Forest Glen community area – which includes Sauganash, Forest Glen, Edgebrook, and Wildwood — are single-family units, according to DePaul University’s Institute for Housing Studies. Condos and apartments located in buildings with six or more units only make up about six percent of the area’s total units.

Citywide, only about 25 percent of housing units are single-family homes. Even in other Far Northwest Side community areas, the percentage of housing units represented by single-family homes is much lower than in Forest Glen, which has one of the highest single-family home percentages of any community area.

DPD’s current housing plan, entitled “Bouncing Back: Five-Year Housing Plan” explicitly states, “People of all income levels, in all neighborhoods, should have a range of housing options.” It goes on to say “A commitment to diverse communities and…fair housing is essential to a healthy, vibrant Chicago.” Whole Foods’ plan to permanently convert valuable land to parking is in conflict with those goals.

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The Way Forward: Gas Tax, Vehicle Miles Traveled, or Value Capture?

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Blankenhorn, Skosey, Puentes, and Porcari. Photo: Ryan Griffith Stegink, Metropolitan Planning Council

Local leaders agree that Chicago region’s public transit system, and Illinois transportation infrastructure in general, are sorely underfunded. However, it’s clear that the traditional strategy of relying on gas tax revenue to fund projects is no longer working. The state gas tax has been stuck at 19 cents a gallon since 1990, and due to inflation, the buying power of the revenue it generates has fallen over the past few decades.

Given the fact that Governor Rauner plans to cut almost $170 million from state funding for Chicagoland mass transit, and gas prices that are at their lowest point in years, it’s time for lawmakers in Springfield to show some backbone and approve a gas tax increase. Meanwhile, we need to consider creative ways of funding rail, roads, and bridges, such as a vehicle miles traveled tax and real estate value capture.

Transportation experts discussed these topics earlier this week at a panel titled “The Long and Winding Road,” part of the Metropolitan Planning Council’s symposium for Infrastructure Week 2015, “Broke, Broken, and Out of Time.” Panelists included former U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary John D. Porcari, the Brooking Institute’s Robert Puentes, and the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Peter Skosey. The Illinois Department of Transportation’s acting secretary Randy Blankenhorn moderated.

“Are we going to continue to fund infrastructure with smoke and mirrors?” Blankenhorn asked. “Are we going to continue to fund transportation on cigarette taxes and gambling? Let’s talk about user fees versus some of these more innovative or different types of revenue streams.”

Porcari argued that the political courage and innovation for raising money for transportation projects is more commonly at the local and state level nowadays, and not the federal level. “There a number of states that have raised the gas tax, indexed it, added new funding sources, used sales tax for transportation revenues, and they’ve all lived to tell the tale,” he said. “Those governors have actually survived.”

Puentes, pointed out that it’s not just Democratic states that are raising their gas taxes, but also Republican states like Wyoming. “So I think there is a myth that the gas tax is unpopular,” he said. “[Former Governor] Ed Rendell said that when they raised the gas tax in Pennsylvania, not one legislator who voted for the increase lost their election in the next cycle.”

Puentes noted that it’s easier to raise gas taxes at the local or state level than at the federal level. “The lower you get, the bigger the connection, a brighter line between the money that’s being raised, the projects that are being invested in, and then the [economic] outcomes at the end of the day,” he said. “People are willing to invest if they know what they’re getting.”

However, Porcari asserted that depending on gas tax to pay for roads, bridges, and rail won’t be sustainable in the long run. “That’s arguably a good thing, in the sense that what’s driving that are things like efficiency in the corporate average fuel economy and electrification of the fleet. Those are important for the nation but are accelerating the decline of [the gas tax] as a stable funding source.”

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To Be Perfectly Frank, This Is A Dog of a Project

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Image: John Greenfield

Does the idea of slathering the centrally located riverside land at Fullerton/Damen/Elston with asphalt make you red-hot? Let 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack know this traffic artery-clogging plan for the sausage emporium site doesn’t cut the mustard.

 

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Sawyer Hopes State Street Road Diet Will Revitalize Struggling Business Strip

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A buffered bike lane and new diagonal parking spaces will reduce the road width, discouraging speeding.

State Street between 69th and 79th, in Park Manor and Chatham, is currently a pretty grim roadway. Located just east of the Dan Ryan, it’s essentially a frontage road, which drivers treat as an extension of the expressway. The pavement is a moonscape, and the street is lined with a motley mix of retail.

However, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer is optimistic that a complete streets overhaul on State will jump start the business strip and bring positive activity to the corridor. “The alderman wants to slow down car traffic and make the area more friendly to pedestrians,” said Sawyer’s chief of staff Brian Sleet. “We’re trying to get the ball tolling to change the image of State Street from a barren ex-warehouse district to something that fits the residential nature of these communities.”

Sleet said the alderman asked the Chicago Department of Transportation to address the speeding problem, improve the pedestrian environment, and add more car parking spaces as part of a project to repave the 1.3-mile stretch. According to CDOT, this section only sees 5,000 motor vehicle trips per day, and the excess road capacity encourages speeding. There were 504 reported crashes on this section between 2009 and 2013, with seven serious injuries and three fatalities.

Meanwhile, the Red Line’s 69th Street and 79 Street stations, located next to the strip in the median of the Dan Ryan, see 5,177 and 6,931 average daily boardings, respectively. However, there are few accommodations for pedestrians at these crossings.

CDOT proposed converting one of the three travel lanes on State to a buffered bike lane in order to narrow the roadway, calm traffic, and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. On the extra-wide stretch between 76th and 72nd, existing on-street parallel parking will be converted to diagonal spaces, further slimming the roadway and adding seven or eight new spaces. High-visibility zebra-striped crosswalks and ADA ramps will be added at all intersections.

While CDOT’s Arterial Streets Resurfacing Program will pay for the construction, Sawyer chipped in $30,000 in ward money for a traffic study, Sleet said. “We figured, if they’re going do repave the street, why have them restripe it in a way that would remain ineffective?”

In the future, Sawyer is interested in adding curb extensions at 79th and 69th to further improve pedestrian access to the ‘L’ stops, according to Sleet. The alderman also wants to add a sound-dampening wall by the expressway. “By getting the noise down, that will help make State Street more friendly to pedestrians,” Sleet said. “We hope that will attract retailers and help make this a transit-oriented shopping area.”

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Residents: Car-centric Plan for Vienna Beef Site Doesn’t Cut the Mustard

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The meeting took place in the cafeteria of the Vienna Beef hot dog factory. Photo: Brett Ratner

Last night at a hearing on Mid-America Real Estate Group’s preliminary proposal to redevelop the Vienna Beef hotdog factory site, local residents said they don’t relish the thought of valuable riverfront land being slathered with acres of asphalt. The community meeting, served up by 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, took place at the sausage emporium, 2501 North Damen, which will be razed as part of a Chicago Department of Transportation project to reroute Elston Avenue.

The developer wants to convert this eight-acre-plus parcel at the northeast corner of the current Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection to suburban-style big box retail and office space with 437 car parking spaces. CDOT is relocating Elston about a block east of the junction, a strategy they hope will take a bite out of the intersection’s red-hot congestion problems.

The new Elston link will likely feature buffered or protected bike lanes. Plans for the site also call for some new green space, which would provide storm water mitigation, although nowhere near enough to make up for the vast amount of non-permeable surfaces created by the multiple parking lots. As required by a local ordinance, the developer would build a short stretch of river walk just east of Damen, which could potentially include a kayak launch and a water taxi station.

Waguespack said extending the river walk all the way to Fullerton would be contingent on the acquisition of the smaller land parcel to the east of the Vienna Beef property. He said that space would work well for an “REI-type” outdoor recreation gear store. There already is an REI store at 1466 North Halsted, two miles southeast. “We want a plan that will benefit the whole community,” the alderman said. “We want to find ways to capture that space and use it in ways that haven’t been done before.”

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Hellish Big-Box Proposal Would Nix Traffic Flow Gains From Elston Reroute

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Mid-America’s proposal would cover most of the former Vienna Beef site with parking spaces.

There are many productive ways Chicago could use the hump of centrally located, riverfront land that’s becoming available for redevelopment as part of the reconfiguration of the Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection. The space, currently occupied by the Vienna Beef factory, could accommodate another light industrial business, pedestrian-friendly retail space for local merchants, an apartment complex, and/or some new parkland. Instead, what’s being proposed is a worst-case scenario of suburban-style development that would cover most of the land with asphalt, and likely cancel out any congestion improvements that would otherwise result from the reroute.

The six-way intersection currently sees about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranks among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. Delays to drivers at the junction can be as much as seven minutes, CDOT said. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’re moving Elston about a block east and bypassing it through the land at the northeast corner of the six-way, which was also formerly occupied by WhirlyBall. Construction is slated to begin next month, with the bulk of the work finished by next spring.

WhirlyBall has already relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and Vienna Beef will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport. Now, Mid-America Real Estate Group is proposing building 105,000 square feet of retail space, with a whopping 437 parking spaces on the site. Preliminary renderings show a layout in which the vast majority of the site would be occupied by surface parking spots.

Mid-America wants to bring in a national grocery chain that would occupy a roughly 68,000 square feet of retail with 192 parking spots. Other buildings shown on the company’s drawings include 12,000 and 6,000 square-foot retail spaces, a three-story office building with 15,000 square feet of floor space, and a 4,000 square-foot restaurant. A spokesman for 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack told DNAinfo that the eatery would be that noted bastion of support for LGBT rights, Chick-fil-A.

It’s true that the stretch of Elston between Fullerton and Diversey is already lined with pedestrian-hostile, suburban-style retail, and there are also big box stores north and east of the river from the Vienna Beef site. It’s also the case that many Logan Square, Bucktown, and Lincoln Park would welcome a new a place to buy groceries.

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Active Trans: Improve, Don’t Remove Cams, Launch a Vision Zero Strategy

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Photo: John Greenfield

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke said the advocacy group approves of reforms to Chicago red light camera program that passed in City Council on Tuesday, but the city needs to keep its eyes on the prize of eliminating serious injuries and deaths from crashes. He called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to formulate a comprehensive Vision Zero strategy for achieving this goal.

During the last election, Emanuel and many City Council members came under fire from opponents who pledged to abolish the automated enforcement program. In early March, Emanuel announced he would remove 50 red light cameras at 25 intersections that saw one or fewer right-angle crashes in 2013.

The mayor also promised to have pedestrian countdown signals installed at all of the city’s 174 red-light camera intersections by June 1. He pledged that community meetings would be held before red light cameras are installed, moved, or removed. At the time, several aldermen also proposed extending yellow signals from 3.0 seconds to 3.2 seconds, and requiring a council vote before installing new red light cameras.

The ordinance that passed codifies the requirement for the community meetings and pedestrian timers (all but nine of the red light cam intersections now have have these), and lowers the down payment that motorists with a large ticket debt must pay to avoid getting booted. The law also authorizes the Chicago Department of Transportation to appoint an outside academic team to do a full review of the effectiveness of the city’s red light camera program. The yellow light extension and City Council vote requirement did not make it into the final ordinance.

“As long as the city views these changes as a way to improve, rather than remove the cameras, that’s fine,” Burke said. “We’re all for community input on the camera locations.” He noted that local residents who walk, bike, and drive through neighborhood intersections on a regular basis have a good sense of which ones can best benefit from automated enforcement, although he wouldn’t support giving residents veto power over proposed cams locations.

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Eyes on the Street: Albany Park Divvy Replaces Cars Parked on Sidewalk

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Before the Divvy station went in, it was too easy for people to park their cars on the sidewalk. Photo: CDOT

A new Divvy station next to the CTA’s Francisco Brown Line stop in Ravenswood Manor, one of several installed yesterday in the Albany Park community area, replaces parkway car parking spots – which often resulted in cars blocking the sidewalk – with 11 public bike-share docks. Streetsblog Chicago reader Jim Peters gave us a heads-up about the swap.

After: A Divvy station will keep the sidewalk for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Now the sidewalk will remain clear for pedestrians. Photo: CDOT

Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel, who manages the Divvy Program, said motorists would often drive so far up on the pad that their vehicles would completely block the sidewalk. This forced pedestrians to walk in the roadway. Peters, who lives a block away, said he’s even watched parents pushing strollers in the street. “Seeing open sidewalk and bikes, instead of parked cars, is truly a beauteous sight,” he said.

Wiedel added that removing the car parking here also prevents a potentially hazardous situation. Previously, drivers backing out of the parkway obstructed through traffic, which meant it was possible for waiting motorists to get stuck on the ‘L’ tracks.

Thanks to this smart repurposing of the parkway, instead of warehousing private cars which inconvenienced and endangered residents, the space now houses a handy and affordable public transportation amenity. As of this morning, the Divvy system featured 406 stations, the largest number of stations in any U.S. city. By June, Chicago should have 476 stations, the most in North America.

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Mega Mall Developer Adds Housing, Reduces Number of Car Parking Spots

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Motorists driving into and out of the parking garage would disturb people walking up and down the street. Rendering: Terraco/Antunovich Associates

The company that’s redeveloping the Discount Mega Mall site in Logan Square has released a reworked proposal that adds much needed housing and dials back the number of car parking spaces, which makes the project a better fit for the walkable, transit accessible neighborhood. Terraco Real Estate and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack are hosting a public meeting on the development, dubbed Logan’s Crossing, at the Mega Mall on Thursday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Terraco originally proposed a low-rise building for retail use, including a medium-sized grocery store and a two-story fitness center, zero residences, and 426 parking spaces at the site, which is located one long block southeast of the Logan Square Blue Line stop. The latest proposal adds several stories to the development to make room for 268 residences, and has 387 parking spaces – 39 fewer than before.

In general, the city’s zoning rules require a 1:1 ratio of car parking spaces to housing units for new buildings, but the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance reduces this to a 1:2 ratio for developments within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. However, Logan’s Crossing will be about 1,000 feet from the ‘L’ station, so it’s not eligible for the parking requirement reduction. This means there will need to be one parking space per unit, regardless of whether the occupants own a car.

Terraco’s first proposal provided more car parking than required, and the addition of 268 residences and the reduction in parking spots means the ratio of people to cars on the site would be much improved. However, 387 car spots may still be excessive for this location, in a walkable, bikeable area with the lowest car ownership along the Blue Line, the sixth-busiest Blue Line station, and good bus access.

The TOD ordinance has generally been working out well – it has spurred the development of nearly 20 multi-family buildings near CTA stations. However, the short distance threshold is problematic, since 600 feet is less than one standard city block. Most people are willing to walk several blocks to access rapid transit, and a couple of blocks to get to a bus stop.

The ordinance hasn’t been updated to reflect that reality. It doesn’t even offer a smaller reduction in the number of required spaces for developments located more than 600 feet from rapid transit. An exception to the 600-foot rule, however, is made for developments on Pedestrian Streets – these projects can be up to 1,200 feet from stations and still be eligible for the 1:2 ratio.

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