Walgreens: A Safe Pedestrian Design “Doesn’t Work For Us”

33rd Ward community development meeting about Walgreens at Kimball and Lawrence
Centrum Partners’ John McLinden shows the corner building design that “doesn’t work” for Walgreens.

Streetsblog Chicago will not be publishing Monday. 

Numerous neighborhood groups joined Albany Park Neighbors at a community development meeting on Wednesday night to demand more walkable design from Walgreens, which wants to open an outlet at Lawrence and Kimball. Walgreens wants their new store to have a surface parking lot and curb cut on a site that’s currently occupied by pedestrian-friendly three-story building.

33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell opened the meeting by saying that “Albany Park deserves smart design.” She found out about this development in November, when the developer had already been in talks with the city administration for over a year, and is continuing to withhold the driveway permit Walgreens needs to start construction.

The most recent proposal from Walgreens offers only slight changes from its previous iteration. The changes the company presented at the meeting include widening the Kimball sidewalk from 6 to 9.5 feet using Walgreens’ property, restricting exiting vehicles from using a curb cut onto Lawrence, and sharing the alley curb cut on Kimball. The essentially suburban nature of the design, which makes room for driving and car storage at the expense of a safe and lively pedestrian environment, is unchanged.

Developer Centrum Partners’ John McLinden and Walgreens real estate manager Todd Frank said that because of the layout of walls and columns and the low ceiling height of the current, three-story mixed-use building, Walgreens can’t reuse it. They also explained why the corner building design preferred by Alderman Mell, neighborhood groups, and several meeting attendees “doesn’t work for us.”

The reason they say Walgreens doesn’t want to replace the footprint of the existing building and its interior parking lot — which almost everyone prefers — is that people in wheelchairs would have to travel about 105 feet from the current location of the nearest accessible parking space to a front door located on the street corner. Walgreens doesn’t want to build two entrances, one at the existing side parking lot and one at the intersection, because it would have to staff cashiers and security employees at both.

Putting the parking lot behind the store, Frank argued, also harms their customers who arrive by car, by reducing their personal security and visibility from passersby. And placing the entrance midblock, between the corner and the parking lot, like they’ve done at other stores, wasn’t an option either, McLinden told me. “Having the entrance face the corner improves the store’s visibility,” he said.

Corner Walgreens
This style of Walgreens at Armitage/Milwaukee – with a corner building and street-facing entrance between the corner and parking lot – didn’t work for the company either. Photo: Google Street View

Walgreens has a corner building design at their Armitage/Milwaukee store, one of the locations they glossed over in their presentation of “successful” stores, but it’s still not the best urban design because the entrance faces the parking lot, not the sidewalk. The City of Chicago’s chief urban designer, Bennet Haller, said that the Department of Planning and Development – also known as the zoning department – sometimes forces companies like Walgreens and its chief competitor, CVS, to put the building on the corner but then they “thumb their nose at our requirement” by putting the entrance at an inconvenient location.

33rd Ward community development meeting about Walgreens at Kimball and Lawrence
The new proposal showing the wider Kimball sidewalk and combined alley curb cut onto Kimball. The parking may or may not be made of pavers, and they most likely wouldn’t be permeable, according to Frank.

Mell announced at the meeting that she wants to designate Lawrence Avenue a Pedestrian Street, preventing new curb cuts, strip centers, and drive-thrus. Without that mechanism, though, there’s nothing DPD can do to force a design modification on Walgreens. A corner building, Haller said, “makes the corner safer for pedestrians, high school students, Northeastern Illinois University students, and others regularly coming through there.” Kimball and Lawrence, in particular, “would be a good place” for a corner entrance, he said.

Two residents at the meeting spoke up to say they preferred the parking lot at the corner because, for driving purposes, it opens up sight lines to see people crossing the street. This is patently ridiculous. Most corners in Chicago have buildings flanking them, not wide open spaces like parking lots, and if seeing people walking at pedestrian-heavy intersections is a problem for someone, that person should stop driving.

33rd Ward community development meeting about Walgreens at Kimball and Lawrence
Shylo Bisnett of Albany Park Neighbors describes her group’s concerns.

Multiple residents called the presentation “disingenuous” because of the lack of data to support the developers’ business assumptions, and the characterization of Albany Park as a neighborhood consisting primarily of strip centers. McLinden pointed out that there isn’t a lot of storefront retail — showing the storefront gaps as huge red shapes on a small map — but that doesn’t mean that residents want even more storefront gaps.

Eric Filson said that if Centrum and Walgreens didn’t build up to the corner, “you don’t have West River Park Improvement Association’s support.” He told the developers, “you’re going to drive home and not see it, but I’m going to live here for the next 30 years,” a sentiment echoed by other residents.

Shylo Bisnett, an Albany Park Neighbors leader, got the last word. She reiterated the group’s safety concerns and disappointment in the community involvement process. She said there are 5,000 children walking near here, “and they’re not the most observant.” She also brought up that both the Chicago Department of Transportation and Active Transportation Alliance say “this is not good design for safety.”

In a statement Bisnett emailed to Streetsblog today, Albany Park Neighbors said “the intersection is known to be unsafe, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists. That’s why it had been identified for improvement by CDOT.” (CDOT is planning to restripe the crosswalks, widen the southwest Kimball sidewalk, and add countdown signals.) “A corner parking lot makes an already dangerous situation worse by facilitating significant in-and-out shopping traffic and adding multiple curb cuts so close to an already treacherous intersection.”

Alderman Mell reminded the more than 50 attendees at the end of the meeting that both DPD and CDOT don’t support the proposed design. She said that immediately after Centrum landlord McClinden had flat out stated that “Walgreens isn’t coming if it’s on the corner” and discounted concerns of the neighborhood groups and city agencies, saying there’s “no valid safety point that I’ve heard yet.”

No one is disputing that Walgreens knows their business better than anyone else, and the developers made it quite clear that you can’t convince them about the best way to design a store to maximize sales. But data on 8,000 stores doesn’t make a difference to the thousands of people here and now who will be adversely impacted by the hundreds of new cars traveling across the sidewalk.

Mell had earlier instructed the transportation department to withhold the driveway permits, which are required before the zoning department can allow construction to begin. Her chief of staff Dana Fritz said they need more time to think about their next steps. The office is seeking comments about the development, which can be emailed to info@33rdward.org.

  • SBC, and Streetsblog in general, is not against cars. They’re against poor, uncomfortable environments, traffic violence and not adapting for the future.

    This post says nothing about “the parking lot should be eliminated” and only speaks to addressing the placement of the building and adjacent parking lot that is meant to serve Walgreens.

  • It hasn’t seemed to me that anyone particularly wants a Walgreens, or any drug store at this location. Some people have pointed out (here and in the meeting) that there are 5 Walgreens within 1 mile of this location, and locally-owned drugstores also.

  • Don’t forget that the “mid-block entrance” design, adjacent to the parking, as demonstrated by the Armitage/Milwaukee Walgreens also “didn’t work for Walgreens”.

    This is the design that keeps the building on the corner but reduces the distance to the parking lot without having a second entrance.

  • Who the hell cares? I hope you never bring up examples from other cities of what you believe is right.

    The fact that she mentions it is possible, elsewhere, to develop without sacrificing the pedestrian environment is to say and show that it can be done successfully–for both the business, neighborhood and customers.

  • This location was mentioned by someone attending the meeting but Walgreens/Centrum dismissed it (for reasons I can’t remember). They did call this store an “anomaly” but didn’t divulge their “business reasons” as to why.

  • The argument you’re presenting does not equate to an answer to the question.

    Nobody is saying that Chicago should become NYC, or that NYC’s execution is the Holy Grail of examples.

  • They have not done that, you’re assuming that’s what they are saying as a defense.

  • This is awfully arrogant on your part, you’re basically saying that the “power of the ADA” is simply a tool that ruins businesses and raises costs. It’s at least your underlying tone.

    Good for you, little interest in incorporating potential customers for the good of all. Reminds me of vehicular cyclists, “I’m healthy and able-bodied, if you can’t keep up, just go elsewhere or don’t ride.” All that accomplishes is segregating your able-bodied self into a special group that disregards those who aren’t as up to snuff.

    Cities are made up of diverse demographics–without that, cities wouldn’t be the unique environment that they are. But if we continue to ignore the needs of all, ie avoiding 8-80 concepts, we will continue to limit those who aren’t quite like us.

  • jeff wegerson

    Thanks. Your view makes sense. My concern was that he does not seem to make an effort to understand the points of views of this community yet he asks us to understand him.

  • I’m just a bit of a language nerd. :-> Calling all people who add heat and not light to a conversation ‘trolls’ is imprecise in a way that makes me feel all squidgy (though I bet most people don’t really care).

  • tooter turtle

    So you’re saying that the citizens who attended the meeting don’t represent the neighborhood as well as the Walgreens corporation does?
    Your point about businesses needing to have some predictability in their dealings with the city is a good one, however.

  • jeff wegerson

    I kinda assume that the concept of “troll” is pretty broad, especially as the usage is only internet old. A broad definition would make a precise definition difficult, I would think. Likely each blog community comes to an understanding amongst themselves.

    But thanks again, as I was becoming paranoid that I had committed a faux pas.

  • Joe Ferguson

    I am saying that the people in attendance to speak out about the project did not correlate with the rich diversity of Albany Park. The attendance was overwhelmingly college educated caucasians representing as entitled decision makers for the community at large.

  • oooBooo

    It’s amazing how you authoritarians think you can just assert things and that makes them true. Did you even read the articles? Go read them. Specifically mentioned is wheel chair access. And lastly I have a fair amount of building experience myself, I am also an engineer. I also read the requirements before posting.

    Here, read it:

    What does that mean? It’s either this design or an economically impaired store with two entrances or no parking at all. Your professionals should have told you.

    I never wrote new york sucks, never wrote naive progressives so why don’t you try learning how to be honest or read without emotional knee jerk changing the meaning.

  • oooBooo
  • oooBooo

    4.1.2 Accessible Sites and Exterior Facilities:
    New Construction. An accessible site shall meet the following minimum

    (1) At least one accessible route complying with
    4.3 shall be provided within the boundary of the site from public
    transportation stops, accessible parking spaces, passenger loading zones
    if provided, and public streets or sidewalks, to an accessible building

    4.3 Accessible Route.

    4.3.2 Location.

    (1) At least one accessible route within the
    boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops,
    accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public
    streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve.
    The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide
    with the route for the general public.

    (2) At least one accessible route shall connect
    accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on
    the same site.

    (3) At least one accessible route shall connect
    accessible building or facility entrances with all accessible spaces
    and elements and with all accessible dwelling units within the building
    or facility.

    This clearly forbids making them leave the property and go around the building on the sidewalk.

  • oooBooo

    4.3 Accessible Route.

    4.3.2 Location.

    (1) At least one accessible route within the
    boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops,
    accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public
    streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve.
    The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide
    with the route for the general public.

    Do you see that ‘within the boundary of the site’ and ‘from the accessible parking’ The plain reading is that this doesn’t allow forcing people from the parking out on to the public sidewalk.

    While it may be acceptable to you to have otherwise fit wheel chair users go a 105′ down and around the corner many people in wheel chairs are not so young and agile. Furthermore motorized wheel chairs have to be considered. Not just the young agile person who lost the use of his legs in an accident.

    (and having moved people in wheel chairs I can say parking out back and wheeling around to the public sidewalk to the extreme corner 105′ way would be a PITA) Especially in winter.

  • oooBooo

    I support my examples from other cities as being applicable. Not simply superior because the other city is superior or something.

  • oooBooo

    Why is it applicable? No support was given. The argument is that it should be done because NYC does it.

  • oooBooo

    Nothing else was offered. Still nothing else has been offered. Why is it applicable? Because NYC does it and NYC is walkable. That’s all that was given.

  • oooBooo

    I grew up pouring milk from cartons. Nobody provided instructions when cartons were replaced by jugs. This is simply ridiculous. Anyone who tries a left turn to a driveway that close to an intersection has no business driving.

    It’s one of my peeves of drivers in this country is that they usually refuse to turn left at the light then right into a parking lot but insist on going straight at the light and turning left into the parking lot. The later, the move you are complaining is wrong everywhere IMO.

    The former is correct motion even if the left into the driveway is allowed IMO. There is nothing unusual here other than some people do the same incorrect/inefficient/selfish driving they do everywhere.

  • oooBooo

    It’s interesting that you can mind read all of that. How about you stick with what is written without dishonestly attributing hidden “tones” and “meanings”?

    BTW, bike lanes do not help novices and others. They provide an illusion of safety that can get them killed or injured. Seriously what idiot decided that painting bike lanes in the door zone was good for novices? Look at what that’s teaching, poor fundamentals that can get them seriously hurt if they ever start moving faster than a walking pace.

    Wide curb lanes, which is what vehicular bicyclists want, accommodate slow movers, just without the illusion that the skills for riding on roads don’t have to be developed.

    Furthermore, how is a novice in a bike lane going to ever learn to turn left without learning vehicular bicycling skills? Putting novices on major arterial roads with the illusion that it’s perfectly safe even though they haven’t learned the basics of lane position, signaling, changing lanes (to turn left), avoiding being doored and right hooked is just plain irresponsible.

    If you wanted to help novices you’d develop residential street routes for them on Chicago’s grid. This way they could develop good riding skills. But it has nothing to do with novices, it’s about taking away road space to make driving more painful. The same reason that this subject is about forcing the elimination of parking in Walgreen’s design.

  • kevin

    shut up

  • BlueFairlane

    Would a language nerd really use the word “ignoreful”?

    (Sorry, but I felt compelled. Consider this an illustration of my interpretation of the word, “troll.” :)

  • elaine

    I guess you missed all the Latino-, Asian-, and Arab-American attendees … the young and old … the immigrants and native-born … men and women

    Or perhaps you refer to the Walgreens panel, which was 100% Caucasian male?

  • Jeff Wegerson

    It is a creative usage and that takes either guts or stupidity. I’ll give benefit of the doubt here as I am wont to be creative at times myself.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I’ve greatly enjoyed the repartee on this blog.

    Here’s a couple of items:
    1) Dangerous intersection. If this intersection is so dangerous why does it not have the zebra crosswalks and the countdown signals at present? If you are correct that 4,000 pedestrians daily, I certainly would think this would have been done long ago. Why the wait? With so many pedestrians why did it not get priority?

    2) Alderman Mell not knowing about Walgreen’s request. Hardly true. Department of Planning does not even talk with developers without the alderman’s kiss of approval to talk to them. Secondly, Walgreen’s is going to also request lifting of the package liquor moratorium so they can sell liquor. They can’t do that overnight so you know they’ve been already talking with her office. Ald. Mell is ducking for cover on this one.

    3) Alderman Mell’s public meeting. These public meetings generally provide cover for the alderman when complaints are made after the development has gone through. The answer to all complaints will be that there was a public meeting and “you” (the complainer) had opportunity to voice your opinion at the public meeting, or there wasn’t significant objections by the neighbors. [Outside organizations by groups not living within the ward will be heard, but their opinions not significant weight. Only the voters count. This is Chicago.]

    4) Walgreen’s would prefer the parking lot on the corner, but will settle for a curb cut on the west side of the building. Walgreen’s knows this is an advantagous corner and won’t walk away either way. Too bad you can’t consider making a deal such as having a Divvy Bike rack on their property or a bus shelter thrown in the deal.

    5) The alderman will give into the curb cut eventually. The truth of the matter is Walgreen’s is a sales tax machine and the property taxes will probably generate 4 times what the present building is generating. The CTA gets 1% (of the 9.25%) of the sales tax generated towards it’s operating budget. Is the city really going to walk away from this kind of money? No doubt in exchange for the curb cut (and alley access) Walgreen’s will make a donation to a school in the area or support another pet project by the alderman. (wink wink that’s how its done). In fact the Alderman will eventually put out a public statement about how she didn’t want the curb cut (this provides cover), but the Department of Planning insisted upon it.

    6) For all of you who hate Walgreen’s. Don’t shop there.

    7) People who hate car-centric businesses and think this is some kind of suburbanization scheme, take a look around at the types of businesses already in the neighborhood. Many of them have parking lots with curb cuts. The alderman’s ability to deny a curb cut generally only has teeth when curb cuts are requested for areas (mainly residential) that do not have curb cuts. It’s pretty hard to deny a curb cut in an area that curb cuts are already prevalent.

    8) Neighborhood plans come and go. Somethings can be controlled and somethings can’t. For instance there was a big bru-ha-ha in Andersonville about independent businesses vs. national chains a few years ago. Guess what, you can’t legislate (or zone out) out national chains. You can layout beautiful neighborhood plans. However, if there is no investors who want to invest in those plans you end up with nothing.

    9) TOD is a great idea for the area. However there will be a large contingent of neighbors that won’t want the density. Six to 10 story buildings should go up along Lawrence Avenue so close to the Brown Line, but that’s a huge game changer and the Alderman would never propose it because of the flak she would.

    I’d say to all of you who don’t want a Walgreen’s to get their check books out and buy the property, find the investors and build what you want there.

  • What? Ignoreful is a perfectly cromulent word!


    I said I was a nerd, not a purist. :-> And now I’m going to quit derailing the conversation and making it all about me and my wordplay. Back to pedestrian design!

  • Brian Sheehan

    And buildings that hold the corner, preferably with the main entrance facing the street corner at a 45 degree angle (as is found in most vintage corner buildings), are among the many things that contribute to NYC’s superior walkability.

  • Wide curb lanes, in an ideal world, would provide nice room for bicyclists and cars to go side-by-side. However, in Chicago when they’re actually implemented, they’re either too narrow to keep cyclists out of the door zone or, if wide enough, treated as another car lane by the cars (either for passing or just for general traffic queueing). Painted buffers on the street are one attempt to tell cars plainly, “YO! Not your piece of street here, paws off!”, but the results I’ve seen when driving around are mixed. A lot of people double-park in them or just use them to drive in. Hopefully CDOT is going to be working on figuring out how to solve that one. For now, though, lanes protected with more than paint are a good thing.

    So are residential routes — the Berteau greenway and others are being developed to do just that.

    And as a hesitant cyclist (driving in traffic gives me panic attacks, which are not conducive to safe cycling), protected tracks give me somewhere to ride. For left turns, I get off the bike and walk it like a pedestrian until I get to the next area I can safely ride, then get back on. Suboptimal, but it works for me — if you feel safe and confident taking the lane, please do and I support your efforts whole-heartedly.

  • Carton pouring is no different, mechanically, from old-style gallon jug pouring. It’s the exact same motion, so they didn’t need to educate consumers. Costco and WalMart, however, had a jug designed that by its very shape, if you pour from it the old way, glugs 1/3 of the contents onto the floor. If you pour from it the way the designers thought was ‘obvious’ (rest the jug firmly on a surface and sloooooowly tip it over towards what you want to pour into), it pours fine. However, consumers had no way of knowing that their habitual motions were now ‘broken’ with the new jugs.

    When designing a new system for use by the old consumers, you either have to make sure it uses the same (like the cartons/jugs transition) or go absolutely for broke with documentation and educative signs. Or in the case of this new no-lefts-in driveway, a sign high enough to be seen over cross-traffic that is carefully worded/icon marked so as to be intuitive to most viewers.

    I agree, left at the light and right into the other driveway is better. So is turning on your turn signals more than 50ft before you intend to turn. However, neither of those behaviors seems to be common in the current repertoires of Chicago drivers. :-> Unless they’re going to start aggressively ticketing drivers for driving ‘wrong’, it behooves the designers of streets and street infrastructure to take into account the ACTUAL behavior (a supposed to ideal or desired) of the current user-base and design accordingly.

  • It’s not the developer’s fault Dick Mell screwed them. But it is required to get ‘community input’, and if they decided to let the alderman handle that for them instead of reaching out on their own … well, they get the short end of the stick for his lack of effort.

  • Chicagio

    Not all people in wheelchairs drive.

  • littleboyblue

    The town should just hang onto those permits while the “repartee” continues.

  • littleboyblue

    Last fall, Walgreen Co moved 120,000 employees eligible for health insurance to a private health insurance exchange from coverage provided directly from carriers and offers employees a defined contribution to apply towards the cost of employees having to now purchase their own plans. Another 60,000 employees, many of them working
    part-time, were not eligible for health insurance

  • Chicagio

    While i appreciate being told to read a document I’ve read a thousand times (at least you could have had the courtesy to quote from the Illinois Accessibility Code), nothing there dictates where building has to go. They could just as easily construction the scheme seen at milwaukee & armitage.

    Or better yet…

  • Brian Sheehan

    I don’t see the word “site” in the language above is equivalent to the word “property.” Only you use the word “property.” And judging from the site plans provided, the “site” includes the portions of the public sidewalk immediately adjacent to the proposed development.

    Case in point, among the things that require an accessible path of travel to the main entrance are public transportation stops on site. It is exceedingly rare, if ever, that such stops are located on actual private property.

    By any definition, unless one restricts it to privately owned property, there is one transit stop on site, the one for the southbound #82 Kimball-Homan, near the site’s SE corner.

    Assuming that the location for this stop does not permanently change if Walgreens redevelops the property (according to either site plan), the accessible path of travel Walgreens would have bus riders take between the stop and store, according to each site plan, is almost exclusively on the public sidewalks along Kimball and Lawrence.

    On the site plan with the parking lot at the corner, I don’t see a direct path of travel from the stop directly across the parking lot to the part of the building nearest that transit stop. If the word “site” was equivalent to the “property,” this would be the only legal accessible route for Walgreens to provide.

  • Jeff Wegerson

    Excellent analysis and historical presentation. My only quibble is that reducing curb cuts is winnable and is worth the fight. It is a lot about incrementalism.

    I agree about the need for greater density along and especially at el stations. But even I found myself going along with height limits on north Broadway in Edgewater where in reality the proper density was more than the rest of my neighbors were willing to understand.

    But to me and my neighbors credit we have been able to give our Alderman cover when fights over curb cuts and inappropriate businesses (read banks) need to be fought.

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