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No One Questions Parking Plan for Children’s Memorial Site

Storefronts and new buildings disguise the parking garage at street level on Lincoln Avenue. Rendering by McCaffery

The Chicago Plan Commission yesterday unanimously voted to approve McCaffery Interests' plan to build two 19-story apartment towers in Lincoln Park on the site of the former Children's Memorial Hospital.

The plan -- revised many times before -- was equally derided and praised by public commenters at yesterday's five-hour meeting. People criticized the density and complained about future truck traffic, while the design, new plazas, and addition of retail to a dead block received accolades. 

No one, however, balked at the addition of 194 parking spaces on top of the existing 850 in the immediate vicinity of the project. That's 1,044 spaces for 756 households and some retail -- a suburban level of parking in what should be a walkable city environment. Earlier versions of the project had called for more housing (as many as 972 units) and less parking.

Previously, nearby residents had equated housing units with traffic congestion, leading the project to shrink by 102 apartments. But the opponents of housing construction never bemoaned all the parking spaces that will generate traffic. Those are going to get built.

As if to reassure the crowd, 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith said that "there would be a parking space for every resident." What this means is that Lincoln Park is going to get more traffic, because there will be a guaranteed parking space at one end of the trip for every resident.

Despite the additional traffic that all this parking will induce, consultants predict that traffic flow will improve in the future, in part because of a new signal at Fullerton Avenue and Orchard Street, where pedestrians will have to wait longer before crossing the street. A direct crosswalk along Fullerton across Halsted and Lincoln was endorsed by Bike Walk Lincoln Park, and reviewed by the developer's traffic consultant KLOA at the direction of CDOT, but not included in the final plan because it would delay car traffic.

Another part of the plan has some redeeming features. The traffic demand management policy [PDF] will separate the costs of parking and housing for rental units instead of bundling them together. Bundling parking with rents obscures the cost of parking, but is a rare practice. It's unclear whether the condos and senior residences will package the price of housing and parking together.

The parking garage will also have an air pump and fix-it stand for bikes, and a shower and lockers for bicycling workers. The Chicago Department of Transportation can also require McCaffery to pay for a Divvy station at Lincoln Avenue and Belden Avenue as part of the agreement.

Since this bird's eye rendering of Fullerton/Lincoln/Halsted intersection improvements was created, the developer and CDOT have added to and through the intersection bike lanes on Lincoln and Halsted. Rendering by McCaffery

The project will also improve bicycling and walking infrastructure on nearby streets. Sidewalk bumpouts will be added at most intersection corners around the site and at the hospital's mid-block crossing to reduce pedestrian crossing distances. Sidewalks will be widened in several places, and bike lanes will be striped to and through the intersections of Lincoln at Orchard, Lincoln at Halsted, and Halsted at Lincoln. In another piece of good design for pedestrians, seven driveways on Lincoln will be reduced to three.

Luay R. Aboona, an engineer with KLOA, said traffic would be better with the housing and retail development than it was when the hospital was there. He said it would generate "60 percent less in the morning and 25 percent less in the afternoon."

Truck traffic may not decrease by much, but truck drivers may create less chaos than before. A slide in McCaffery’s presentation showed that there were 12,500 deliveries to the site each year, an average of 34 per day. Aboona said they expect 6-8 semi trucks and 20-25 box trucks each day. That’s 26-33 trucks per day using Fullerton Avenue, but they can only make right turns into the underground loading dock and aren't allowed to leave the dock during rush hours.

Commissioners praised the plaza in the plan and the new walking paths between Lincoln and Fullerton and Lincoln and Orchard. Commissioner (and 27th Ward Alderman) Walter Burnett said, "I like the public spaces, tables. It kind of reminded me of when I was in Copenhagen, and they had [café] tables everywhere."

Commissioner Michael Kelly, who is also CEO of the Chicago Park District, agreed with Burnett, while adding that the plaza shouldn't allow cars, repeating a suggestion by Bike Walk Lincoln Park last month, "because it’s not very inviting there."

The plan must still be approved by the City Council zoning committee, which usually rubber stamps everything. Meanwhile, Chicago Architecture Blog thinks that Lincoln Park residents will litigiously prevent the groundbreaking.

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