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Planning Study for Finkl Steel Site Needs to Consider Transit and Biking

Biking past A. Finkl & Sons Steel

With Finkl & Sons Steel vacating 22 acres along Cortland Street between Clybourn Avenue and the Chicago River, the U.S. Environental Protection Agency has given the economic development corporation North Branch Works $200,000 to create a plan that keeps the area industrial. As part of this process, it's important for walking, biking, and transit to be integrated into the plan.

The site is surrounded by retail, commercial offices, and residences. Its streets should be important connections in the bike and bus network, but currently fall short of their potential. As Doug Farr, urban designer at Farr Associates, told Crain’s, "Land use and mobility always have to go together." Transportation to and through the area needs to be examined.

Cortland is a well-used east-west bike route through the Finkl property between Lincoln Park on the east and Wicker Park to the west, and between Lincoln Park and the Elston Avenue bike lane. The Armitage Avenue bus runs on Cortland through the industrial zone in order to cross the river but there’s no bus route on Clybourn. Bus service on the street was eliminated in 1997, and a planning study to re-establish a bus route on Clybourn, from the North/Division Red Line station to the Logan Square Blue Line station, concluded last month that the CTA doesn’t have sufficient local funds to match federal funds.

Michelle Stenzel, co-leader for BikeWalk Lincoln Park told me that the area "could be incredibly vibrant and needs to be done right."

She considered all of the existing transportation assets in the "Clybourn/Elston/Armitage/Cortland confluence" -- the two-line Metra station at Armitage and Cortland, Divvy stations -- and those that are coming soon. There will be an extension of the protected bike lane on Elston (a spoke route in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020), the Ashland BRT stop at the Metra station, and the east end of the Bloomingdale Trail, currently under construction, which will stretch 2.7 miles west.

Stenzel added that site redevelopment needs to improve access to the Chicago River. This shouldn’t be an issue, as city law -- on the books since 1983 -- requires that any development along the river be set back 30 feet and provide "public waterfront paths, plazas, overlooks, esplanades and access points where appropriate."

North Branch Works needs to use the two-year redevelopment planning process to take advantage of the Finkl site's potential in Chicago's transportation network, ensuring excellent links to the city's bike and transit routes.

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