When Removing a Pedestrian Street Designation, Proceed With Caution

4700N block of Broadway
The Pedestrian Street designation at Broadway and Lawrence would be lifted so a billboard can be placed to the left of the 'Borders' sign. Photos: Shaun Jacobsen

Shaun Jacobsen is the author of Transitized

Last June, 46th ward Alderman James Cappleman proposed removing the Pedestrian Street designation on six blocks radiating from the intersection of Broadway and Lawrence in Uptown. The proposed removal raised some eyebrows. Was a developer planning to build something that wouldn’t fit the criteria of a P-Street, like a parking garage or drive-thru? Only one other alderman has removed a P-Street designation in his ward: In 2012, 35th ward Alderman Rey Colón removed the designation (and later reinstated it) to allow a McDonald’s to replace its drive-thru, which P-Street code prohibits.

I spoke with Cappleman regarding the removal, which was approved by City Council in September. He informed me that there is no plan to build anything that would conflict with the P-Street designation; rather, the landlord of the building where Borders was formerly located (4718 N Broadway) is seeking to install a static, non-LED billboard on the north-facing side of the building in order to lower rent and attract tenants. In this case, the P-Street designation established seven years ago was too restrictive. The alderman said he wanted to work around the restrictions without removing the entire designation, but it was not possible.

The alderman also stated that he doesn’t feel that Broadway/Lawrence is the best location for the P-Street designation, which was put in effect in 2006. He told me that the purpose of a P-Street is to preserve, and not necessarily promote, people-oriented development. As such, P-Street intersections such as Broadway/Diversey/Clark with existing people-oriented developments may be more conducive to the goals of the P-street, while wide streets such as Broadway/Lawrence with undeveloped storefronts may not be. A future road diet project will narrow Broadway from two lanes to one lane in each direction, making the street friendlier to people walking and riding bikes, and perhaps creating a more conducive environment for people-oriented development.

Using a P-Street designation as a restorative tool may be exactly what’s needed in places with undeveloped lots or existing curb cuts. A P-Street was placed on Milwaukee Avenue between Rockwell and Sacramento this year, covering three empty lots, preventing them from becoming more strip malls. It will also make it easier for new businesses to open and satisfy parking requirements — by not requiring any parking at all.

The blocks adjacent to P-Streets such as Broadway/Diversey/Clark have a high and diverse concentration of stores and restaurants, entrance doors and windows facing the sidewalk, few curb cuts and no surface parking lots — all criteria of the pedestrian street ordinance. While Broadway and Lawrence has some restaurants and storefronts, there are many vacant storefronts, surface parking lots, and curb cuts. Despite his doubts about the location of the P-Street, Cappleman stated his intent to reinstate the P-Street designation at the same location after the billboard is installed.

Advertising on 4750 N Broadway
Advertising at the vacant ground floor of the 4750 N Broadway building.

There are no current plans to disrupt the pedestrian environment of the six-block area. The alderman told me that he would like to see the southbound lane of Racine Avene closed to create a pedestrian space to complement new development that could occur. A permanent pedestrian space at the heart of the entertainment district would certainly be an improvement over the existing conditions.

Potential future site of pedestrian space on Racine/Broadway
The existing pedestrian island at Racine and Broadway would be extended to the western sidewalk on Racine, with metered parking moved, to create a larger pedestrian space.

It is nonetheless important to keep an eye out for other developments that could take place without the designation, such as a 450-space parking garage required by the zoning code to redevelop the Uptown Theater. The alderman’s office has stated that it does not wish to build the required amount of parking spaces. In fact, the recent transit-oriented development ordinance in City Council states that the minimum parking requirements may be eliminated if the development is along a P-Street and within 1,200 feet of a CTA or Metra rail station entrance, making the P-Street reinstatement here crucial.

Map of Broadway/Racine/Lawrence. Red areas show the now-disabled P-Street, where parking rules are relaxed, requiring zero parking spaces for non-residential uses.

If the P-Street is reinstated before other developments such as the Uptown Theater are constructed, the minimum parking requirements for these developments near the Lawrence Red line stop may be reduced to zero. As long as the P-Street removal is intended only to circumvent a bureaucratic obstacle and not to permit a developer to intrude on a good people-oriented street, there should be no reason to believe a disruptive development will arise. The alderman’s intent to reinstate the designation, the road diet planned for Broadway, and the very preliminary plan from CDOT for a pedestrian plaza at Racine and Broadway should ensure that this part of Uptown becomes friendlier to pedestrians with further development.

  • Broadway and Lawrence, smack dab in the middle of the planned bike lanes along Broadway. http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/08/01/mix-of-protected-and-buffered-bike-lanes-slated-for-busy-broadway/

    Here’s to hoping they don’t mess this up because Broadway has nice deep sidewalks throughout this area and could definitely be categorized as “pedestrian street.”

  • BlueFairlane

    I keep hoping for the removal of the P-street designation in my alley after Congress concerts.

  • BrownBrown

    That street looks more like an autobahn than a pedestrian street. Shape up Chicago.

  • It is a wide stretch of Broadway that continues north to Devon where it ends. The parking lanes are wide and the sidewalks are deep, too. I bike down it for work and for some reason it’s better than it appears to be. I only avoid Broadway when I’m heading home late at night.

  • Anonymous

    well, as long as Eddie Carranza puts off the required improvements to the Theater, there won’t be any Congress concerts

  • BlueFairlane

    A man can hope. (To be sure, I think the Congress is an awesome building, but I’d rather see it put out of its misery than run the way Carranza has run it.)

  • Tom

    Yeah, the sidewalks are comparable to Division west of the Polish Triangle. There are a handful of businesses that take advantage of it (Crew, Fat Cat, Lao Szechuan, Uptown Bikes, …) but not enough. The old Borders building is a key piece.

  • Edgewater Roadie

    Broadway will be getting a Road Diet between Montrose and Foster that includes a center turn lane and bike lanes. It will become more pedestrian-friendly with these improvements.

  • Roland Solinski

    Seems like the bigger question is why Pedestrian Streets restrict signage in this manner. Maybe large signs are undesirable as visual blight, but I don’t see why that relates to pedestrianism. Look at Times Square.

  • HA!

  • I don’t see anything regarding signs or advertising in the Pedestrian Street ordinance, 17-3-0500.

  • Fred

    Lady: “Quick, call a plumber!!! There’s a baby caught in the drain!!”
    Gentleman: “Hmm, looks like it must have gone down with the bathwater.”

  • I see the Bridgeview Bank building from my bedroom window and I definitely do not want it to be like Times Square :-)

  • Ross Guthrie

    I agree. Restrictions for signage do not necessarily involve the pedestrian feel of the street.

    In fact, when I see old photos of downtown Chicago, I see huge lighted & neon signs. I thinks these were phased out with some type of ordinance in the 1970s.

  • Joseph Musco

    One more moving part to consider along with the P-Street designation and the desire to build an “Entertainment District”in this neighborhood — the closing of the Lawrence Station. Closing Lawrence Red Line stop is one of the options for the Red Purple Modernization, making that green 1200′ rail circle disappear.

  • m.

    It’s in 17-12 Signs: http://bit.ly/1a0lNJR

  • Anonymous

    “The alderman said he wanted to work around the restrictions without removing the entire designation, but it was not possible.”

    And it’s tooooooo hard for the Alderman to make that possible, by proposing an amendment to the ordinance? Why should we expect them to *fix* the law, when they can just work around the law? Go old school Chicago! Woot!

  • Thanks, I was not aware of the possibility, and it was not discussed when I spoke with the Alderman.

    I hope the station is not removed. Although it is close to two other stations, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The platform level was also recently rehabilitated.

  • Lynn Stevens

    More specifically , the prohibition is “Freestanding signs and off-premise signs are prohibited on Pedestrian Streets….” The Borders sign was illegal until the designation was lifted.

    I believe there is an impact on the pedestrian feel of the street, especially when this type of sign is targeted to motorists. Times Square is unique and who would want that everywhere, which is what you would get if building owners were allowed such unlimited signage.

    I don’t see any precautions though that would force the building owner to actually lower rents in exchange for this extraordinary income he will receive from the off-premise sign. I don’t understand why the city (aka aldermen in zoning matters) so easily gives such private, exclusive benefits. Keep an eye on contributions to Cappleman.

  • I have a good feeling that RPM will happen long after the Uptown Theater gets renovated and zero parking spaces are built.


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