How Parking Requirements Get in the Way of New Chicago Businesses

New bike parking corral at Logan Square's Revolution Brewing
Revolution Brewing had to jump through a lot of hoops to get around the city mandate to provide car parking.

A proposal to legalize transit-oriented development would make it easier to build walkable and bikeable neighborhoods, in part by halving the car parking requirement for residences and eliminating it for non-residential uses near train stations. The ordinance is set to go before aldermen at the zoning committee’s next meeting in September. Right now, without the ordinance, launching a new business that complies with Chicago’s parking minimums can be a ludicrous ordeal. Here’s what two business owners in Logan Square had to go through to get around their parking minimums.

Revolution Brewing owner Josh Deth is also an urban planner and bicycling activist. When he envisioned repurposing an old sign manufacturing building in Logan Square for his restaurant and brewery, he didn’t want to cram in the 11 car parking spaces that were required by law. It was like the city expected him to “chop down half the building,” he said.

The solution, Deth found, was to get his property rezoned — to change the law, essentially, so that it didn’t require any car parking for Revolution Brewing.

In 2008, Deth set out to change the zoning from C1-1, which requires 22 car parking spaces and four bike parking spaces, to C1-5, which requires no car parking and two bike parking spaces. He hired a lawyer to help navigate the process of notifying all nearby property owners, holding a public meeting, and petitioning the alderman, zoning committee, and city council. All told, it took three months and cost a few thousand dollars.

Had Mayor Emanuel’s proposed transit-oriented ordinance been in place, Deth would only have had to notify the alderman that he was going to build zero car parking spaces, and build 11 bike parking spaces, since the ordinance requires a 1:1 replacement. Revolution Brewing met the hypothetical bike parking requirement when it installed a bike corral. (That was also cumbersome for Deth, but CDOT has since streamlined the process.)

Zoning map of Logan Square
Revolution Brewing's "C1-5" zoning -- which requires no car parking -- sticks out like a Divvy rider wearing a suit.

Another food entrepreneur launching a business this year had a different solution. Adam Hebert, a serial restaurant manager who grew up in Chicago, is opening The Radler and D.A.S., a Bavarian-style beer hall and restaurant, respectively. The Radler — “bicyclist” in German, and also the name of a refreshing drink of beer and lemonade — is located at 2375 N Milwaukee Avenue on a recently-enacted Pedestrian Street.

The law required Hebert to provide 2.5 car parking spaces. (We’re not sure how anyone can provide half a parking space, but that’s the law.) Hebert says it was out of the question:

In the Logan Square community, everybody bikes everywhere. It doesn’t make sense to put in parking where people bike. I’d rather put in bike racks. Personally the fewer cars the better. Traffic is already so bad, environment is another huge reason. Think about the exercise you get, obesity epidemic cure, there are a million reasons you should take a bike over a car.

A few other factors made the parking requirement especially ridiculous here. Since the site is now on a Pedestrian Street, a curb cut isn’t allowed, nor would the health department sign off on parking inside the restaurant (yes, this was considered). At the same time, all of the parking lots around the store were “completely booked,” Hebert said.

Hebert asked Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno to write a letter asking the zoning administrator to waive the parking requirement, and the request was recently approved.

Under the proposed TOD ordinance, Hebert wouldn’t have had to worry about a thing. On Pedestrian Streets, non-residential uses within 1,200 feet of a train station would not have to provide parking.

Both business owners said they support the proposed ordinance. Deth said it “sounds great” and recounted how, as a member of Break The Gridlock, “[we] tried to have an impact on the zoning code rewrite” in the early 2000s. “No one was watching or paying attention to the zoning reform process,” except for Metropolitan Planning Council Vice President Peter Skosey, Deth said. Skosey pointed me to the reforms MPC pushed for, including transit-oriented development. Deth also noted that urban designer Doug Farr was a consultant in the process and helped craft the idea of the Pedestrian Street.

When I told Hebert the ordinance’s basics, he said, “I would totally be for that. Are you kidding me? That would be awesome.”

  • CL

    Things are pretty messed up when the law requires you to build parking spaces next to a bar.

  • In zoning, any requirement that results in a fraction gets rounded up, and any restriction that results in a fraction gets rounded down. (So whenever you end up with a fraction, you lose and the zoning code wins.) So if you have to build 2.5 parking spaces = you build 3, but if you could build 2.5 housing units = you build 2.

  • 1,200 feet is really not that much. A few blocks perhaps, in most neighborhoods.

    If developers want to build buildings with no car parking, they should be allowed to. That parking spaces create traffic happen means there should be maximums, not minimums. The onus should be on drivers to find accommodation for their cars. In European cities, residents never expect a car parking space. If you want it, you have to find a residence that has it. Kind of like how if I want to keep my dog when I move, it’s on me to find a place that allows dogs.

  • Chicago South

    This is great, although I’d have done it differently so there’d be even more bike spaces.

    I do have a concern with all of these bike parking spaces in streets: Are we (the city) now paying Chicago Parking Meters for those spots?

  • Eric

    At least there is an acknowledgement that 0 parking spaces is necessary in this environment. In Connecticut, Planners who discuss TOD still consider parking spaces as a requirement, which really Dilute’s what TOD is all about.

  • Kevin M

    No, permanent trade-offs were made with CPM. Previous nearby non-revenue parking is traded for the spaces that the bike corrals take up.

  • Just shy of two blocks (1/8 mi. = 660′, but subtract out the varying widths of the intervening streets).

  • Glad to know BTG had an impact. I’m on the board of directors now.

  • Chicagio

    Just daydreaming a bit but what do you think would happen if the zoning ordinance removed all parking requirements? I don’t think developments like those around north and clybourn would have changed that much since retailers like best buy, target, … covet parking. However, i think neighborhoods in transition (like a Logan Square) that have a reasonable amount of open space/underdeveloped lots would have a much easier time reconnecting to the urban fabric.

  • Chicago South

    Good news. I suppose there was a permanent trade-off (spaces one place for spaces somewhere else), but at least we’re not paying them to do it!

  • Kyle Smith

    My read on the ordinance is that in order for a commercial/retail development in a TOD area to reach 0, the business or developer would still need aldermanic approval. Acknowledgement of TOD is a step in the right direction, but until we allow decreased parking and increased development area as a standard order of practice, this strikes me as business as usual.

  • Endless Mike

    Great article. I think zoning is still under talked about as a way of getting more density and more walkability.
    The thing that drives me mad though is that car parking is required for a BAR!!!! Shouldn’t we be discouraging people from driving to a place so alcohol heavy? and close to public transit!

  • Anonymous

    “halving the car parking requirement for residences and eliminating it for non-residential uses near train stations”

    Only train stations? Why not bus stops too?

  • Jakub Muszynski

    While I am very thankful I live by the Belmont bus with Night Owl service, during times of high traffic I can often bike faster than the bus. Now I think the new zoning rules should definitely include BRT as it would expand the area covered that prefers transit orientated development.

    Anyone know how to let aldermen know they should include BRT in the zoning of TOD?

  • I had this discussion with someone and it was basically viewed as “X” type of establishment. There was not a differentiating zoning code for bars, unfortunately.

  • Matt Nardella

    I really wish we’d stop using ‘TOD’ to describe places in Chicago. TOD’s are for exurban developments masquerading as walkable towns. In any event, the Zoning Commission would do Chicago businesses and developers well by only enforcing a maximum parking ratio. One of the issues preventing a greater housing supply is the 1:1 (at least) parking ratio for any new residential dwelling unit. Converting commercial / industrial buildings or densifying existing MFR buildings is near impossible when there is no room for additional off-street parking. An increase in FAR and/or density would also be nice, but we’ll save that fight for another day. Solving parking with this ordinance would go a long way.

  • I am with you, 100%. And so is Benet Haller, the city’s chief urban planner and a contributing author of the proposed TOD ordinance. He’s told me before that the entire city is one big TOD.

    Save for special areas. Like Elston between Damen and Western. There’s no transit that stops at the doors of Strack & Van Til, Home Depot, JoAnn Fabrics, PetSmart, Target, and MicroCenter.

    Imagine if MicroCenter, the only computer store I know of that’s not Best Buy and Apple Store, and sells the lower-cost, fringe electronics I sometimes need, had the option of building a store that large without requiring a parking lot? They might pick one of the many lots near a train station.

    Consider the Apple Store… have you ever been in the parking garage they share with several other stores? The garage is often at low demand! Did you know that the Apple Store had an affiliated parking garage? They are within 0 feet of a train station (okay, really 50)!

    This ordinance – even though a stronger one would be welcome – is moving us away from the thought that “we need to legalize TOD because the city itself is a TOD” to “you can’t build parking unless you show us that, for some odd reason, it’s absolutely necessary, like, you’re IKEA”.

  • jen b

    and not to be a ninny here, but you *can* get a DUI/DWI/whatever it’s called here on a bike. Logan is very bike-friendly but I live at the other end of the ‘hood and can WALK to Revolution in about 20 minutes (I know because I do it… often).

  • You can’t get either of those in Illinois while bicycling because those are reserved, in the statute, for those operating a vehicle. A bicycle is defined as a “device” in Illinois.

    However, the police have alternatives including what’s commonly known as public intoxication.

  • Matt Nardella

    Funny, Apple Store has a parking lot…?!?

  • CL

    There’s an Apple store with parking? Is the parking free? I mean of course it sucks that they had to build it, but since it’s already there…

  • I’d like to see more retail districts do that, actually — no parking right AT the store, but for the whole area one dense stacked parking area (with some reasonable number of spaces, NOT the ‘expected’ maximum demand for handling Black Friday conditions at every store at once), ideally back a bit from the main drag. Kind of like how Oak Park does it.

  • jen b

    well, that’s frightening.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re already at Microcenter, try Tiger Direct a little closer to Damen/Fullerton (former Circuit City location, next to Staples). I find their prices to be better most of the time.

    For those answering about parking/Apple, Steven is talking about the North/Clybourn store obviously and IINM, the parking is behind the building across Halsted (with Carter’s, Sur La Table, former Borders, etc).

  • Anonymous

    The long term concern I have with it is that right now we’re picking off the “easy” replacement spaces. Spaces that probably should have been metered anyway but weren’t. There are a limited number of such spots and at some point it’s going to get harder to find replacement spots to give CPM. ie, all the more reason the meter deal sucks.

  • Some attempt was made at reducing the frequent curb cuts of North/Clybourn area effect on inefficient traffic movements by combining them in shared parking (Container Store/Crate & Barrel) and putting the Container Store/Crate & Barrel parking lot entrance at a signalized intersection. However, that’s just one attempt at the many and it doesn’t help.

  • Yep, for the Lincoln Park store. It’s here:

    Where parking garages should be, behind the store, behind the street frontage.

  • Contact your alderman whose hopefully on the zoning committee, listed here:

  • They may not have built as much parking. Some stores, like Restoration Hardware, built the most expensive kind: underground. What if they didn’t have to? There’s also the possibility of sharing parking, which Container Store and Crate & Barrel have, but perhaps the parking lot nearest Restoration Hardware (where American Eagle Outfitters is) was “fully booked”.

  • 1647 N. Clybourn was the house I lived in from the age of 6 until I moved out to go to college, I’m very familiar with the strip-mall-ization of the neighborhood up there.

  • Chicago used to have a few municipal parking garages, but got out of that business around 2000 or so. Parking garages that don’t get business customers (downtown or airports) just don’t make money. In fact, many of the most innovative street parking programs out there were pioneered in small cities that wanted to minimize their exposure to the money-losing parking-garage business, like Boulder, Pasadena, Santa Monica, and… Oak Park!

  • Karen Kaz

    Too bad the entire Halsted frontage of that store is a solid, pedestrian- and street scape-unfriendly wall of blindingly reflective (and blazingly hot) metal.


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