If a Car-Free Bryn Mawr Doesn’t Make Sense, How About a Car-Lite One?

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Looking east at the Red Line tracks on Bryn Mawr.

The Active Transportation Alliance’s recently released list of 20 proposed streets for partial or total pedestrianization continues to spark conversation about whether Chicago streets should be as car-dominated as they are. One of the roadways mentioned was Bryn Mawr between Sheridan and Broadway, and today DNAinfo ran quotes from various Edgewater residents, community leaders, and merchants who were horrified at the idea of completely banning cars from the bustling retail strip.

“NO! Bryn Mawr will not be closed to traffic between Broadway and Sheridan,” said Sheli Lulkin, president of a the Association of Sheridan Condo/Co-op Owners, in an email, adding that Bryn Mawr had been built to carry thousands of cars a day. Since the neighborhood was laid out in the 1880s, that’s almost certainly not the case. “What are we gonna do,” she asked, “throw everything out and start all over again because some bike riders want to widen the street?”

While Lulkin seems a bit unclear on the concept, some of the people interviewed did have legitimate concerns about how total pedestrianization might affect the burgeoning business district. Anchored by the Red Line’s Bryn Mawr station, the strip is packed with diverse shops, restaurants and theaters. East of the tracks is the Bryn Mawr historic district, featuring several handsome art deco buildings.

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Drivers use this two-lane street to get from Lake Shore Drive to Ridge, U.S. Route 14. However, it would be just as easy for them to exit the drive a block north at its northern terminus and access Ridge via Hollywood, a four-lane road with little or no retail. Moving those unnecessary cars off Bryn Mawr would make walking safer and more pleasant. Still, it’s understandable that business owners would be wary of losing access and parking for their patrons who drive, even if it may be the case that a larger number are coming on foot, by train, bus, or bike.

Perhaps banning all motor vehicles from Bryn Mawr at all times wouldn’t make sense, but that’s only one of a number of possible scenarios for creating a more pedestrian-, transit- and bike-friendly street. The strip could be closed to cars but open to buses, like Denver’s successful 16th Street transit mall. Or maybe the LSD ramps at Bryn Mawr could be closed some or all of the time to reduce, but not eliminate, car traffic on the strip.

Alternately, the street could be closed to cars only during the summer, or on weekends, or during the evenings. The Asian-focused Argyle business strip, another busy retail district six blocks south, also centered on a Red Line stop, was partially pedestrianized on Thursday evenings last summer for a wildly successful night market.

Argyle Night Market
The Argyle Night Market. Photo: Kevin Zolkiewicz

Perhaps instead of closing Bryn Mawr itself, a block of Kenmore or Winthrop north or south of the street could be closed to cars, although open to bikes, to create permanent pedestrian space. That could become a major asset for the neighborhood, much like Lincoln Square’s beloved Kempf Plaza.

Another possibility would be to narrow the travel lanes on Bryn Mawr to make room for wider sidewalks and/or bike lanes. The street is generally 40-42 feet wide, so there’s plenty of room to work with, especially if one of the parking lanes was converted.

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman is open to the idea of additional traffic calming on the street, his assistant Dan Luna told DNA. Raised crosswalks that double as speed tables, which currently exist by Kempf Plaza, could work well on this stretch of Bryn Mawr. The area would certainly benefit from some additional public space – perhaps a few parking spots could be converted into a People Spot mini park to provide some much-needed greenery.

There are tons of possibilities for a less car-focused, more people-oriented Bryn Mawr. Rather than slam the door on the topic, why not keep an open mind and continue the conversation?

  • duppie

    What I think would be a good start to this strip are pedestrian bumpouts like they build on Granville. These could be applied at Winthrop and Kenmore. I believe that neither intersection has bus stops.

    The comparison to Argyle does not work. Argyle is a street from Broadway to North Marine Dr. It does not connect to lakeShore Drive on the East or a connector road (like Ridge) on the West. As such it is low-traffic, unlike Bryn Mawr.

  • madopal

    Bryn Mawr is, and always has been, a traffic nightmare there. The funky triple intersection at Ridge/Broadway/Bryn Mawr causes backups, and the dumping of two lanes into one after Sheridan causes them as well.

    The idea that that section needs to have high traffic is ludicrous. If they want to widen Ridge/Hollywood to handle more traffic, that would be suitable to thinking that with the bottlenecks at Sheridan/the Red Line/Broadway could *ever* handle any significant traffic is ridiculous.

    Also, most of the traffic diverts to Broadway anyway, which should be undergoing its own traffic calming soon.

    When a successful business like Johnny Sprockets has to move west to Clark because it’s hard to get to their shop from the pedestrian/bike issues, that stretch could definitely use a change.

  • Mcass777

    What about seniors and handicapped individuals? There are many in the area who would have to walk to get cab or transport.

  • David Altenburg

    That’s a great point – having wider sidewalks and narrower traffic lanes, for example, would make it much easier, safer, and more pleasant for seniors and handicapped individuals to get around the neighborhood.

  • CL

    Is it even possible to close a street with metered parking spaces for an entire season? That seems like the kind of thing that would result in us writing a check to the parking meter company.

    That area is congested and a pain to drive in already anyway — turning around takes forever because of the congestion and one-way streets. So I think it’s fine to redirect traffic a bit — maybe closing the access to LSD. The important thing (for business) is that we keep the same amount of metered parking spaces so that people can park relatively near their destinations.

  • MAspen

    Walking and biking are great ways to support healthy on an individual AND collective level. Remember the famous line from “Field of Dreams”? “If you build it, he will come?” It’s true … and they will in this context, too.

  • MAspen

    Trying to edit my previous post to add this link, but not sure how to do that … so posting this link here: http://www.carcountrythebook.com

  • Mcass777

    You missed the point. If you have mobility issues, which many people do have in the neighborhood, you are making them sacrifice for what? How is that pleasant? It is dangerous for anyone with a heart condition, anyone with severe disabilities. Have you ever seen the Amount of handicapped busses and ambulances in the neighborhood. I have family in the neighborhood, have to get them in and out of an apartment – feel free to volunteer your time and walk them the block or 2 so you can feel like you have made progress for you. Do any of these revolutionary plans ever think of all endusers? Why not take the curb, sidewalk and parkways out and put in driveways for the buildings built on the sidewalks? That would make it pleasant for me. Yet I know that is unreasonable and don’t put energy and resources behind planning that works for a few and constricts many. Please think about everyone. It sucks when you have to deal with real problems not trivial ones, do not make it worse.

  • Eek.

    Remember when they closed Lake Street in Oak Park and it killed the business district? Remember when they closed State Street Downtown and it put the last nail in the coffin of a dying business district?

  • EEK

    I take Bryn Mawr all the time. And to throw traffic onto already congested streets like Foster and Hollywood would be a bigger nightmare of traffic then those streets already are.

  • what_eva

    Yep, yet another project where the horrific parking meter deal makes it very difficult to make any kind of change.

  • what_eva

    A definite start would be to get through traffic off the block of Ridge between Hollywood and Bryn Mawr. Get that traffic onto Hollywood/Broadway and make that 5-way better.

  • Ryan Wallace

    “However, it would be just as easy for them to exit the drive a block north at its northern terminus and access Ridge via Hollywood, a four-lane road with little or no retail.”

    I’m sorry, but this is a huge oversight. The intersection of LSD/Hollywood/Sheridan is a nightmare. While its possible the redesign of NLSD will address these issues, I think its a little misguided to just assume we can throw all that traffic to the northern terminus.

    I do think that things of this nature should be considered with the redesign of NLSD. Is it possible to close the Bryn Mawr interchange? Regardless, is it possible to reconfigure the lanes to make it better for all users? etc

  • Here’s some background on the State Street transit mall: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/03/11/why-was-the-state-street-pedestrian-mall-a-failure/

  • jeff wegerson

    What a mess! That’s what this area is and has been ever since they extended and dumped LSD into it. It is an expressway in a neighborhood and has ruined the ambiance of Edgewater. Old timers fondly remember the Edgewater Beach hotel, that really was on the edge of the water. Where Elegant homes and beach cottages lined the lakefront along Sheridan road now squat apartment and condo towers. Old timers also remember the lane directing lights that allowed three lanes one way and one the other along ridge and cones (or whatever?) along Sheridan for the same effect during rush hours.

    And in the middle of all this was Bryn Mawr. It took years and several aldermen (women actually) to make it an historic district and to get the traffic calming bump outs and diagonal parking that now exist. And to turn around the SRO hotel(s?) into the historic buildings that now exist. Bryn Marw wasn’t so pretty there for a while in the 70’s and 80’s.

    The solution, of course, the islands and short tunnels of a Lake Shore Drive extension to at least Devon is a Daniel Burnham sized pipe dream these days. Do that and promenading Bryn Marw is a snap. Meanwhile all we can do is keep squeezing the cars bit by bit, inch of pavement by inch of pavement.

    There is one more expensive project that could have a significant impact. While not nearly as expensive as the drive extension a special built series of overpasses at Sheridan and Hollywood could relieve the bottle neck corner through which almost all the traffic coming in and out of the “Edgewater Neighborhood Expressway” must pass. It would help but its return on investment is not as good as the much more expensive LSD extension. But likely still worth the money. I have a diagram should anyone be interested.

  • Kiefer

    Unlike European cities, Chicago isn’t fortunate enough to have no elderly or infirm citizens.

  • meghan

    Mcass777 Do you (or does whoever you’re referring to) live on Bryn Mawr? Or on a side street?

  • meghan

    I live right on Foster, and while I would not want more car traffic, I have to say that Foster and Hollywood are MUCH more prepared for the amount of car traffic than Bryn Mawr is. There’s just so many great businesses and a train stop that let out right onto Bryn Mawr- Hollywood and Foster don’t have that. I think car lite makes a lot of sense for Bryn Mawr.

  • Bill

    Closing the LSD connector would have the biggest impact on calming traffic though I’m not sure if Hollywood (or Foster) could handle all that extra traffic.

  • Mcass777

    My great aunt lived at kenmore on Bryn Mawr . Yes a pain to operate around there with food deliveries, rides to hospital. We had a system where one would double park on kenmore then turn to do the pick up. IN the winter it sucked with the amount of wind and snow, But it would get plowed. Would the are get plowed if the street was closed?

  • David Altenburg

    I appreciate your concern for the elderly and physically disabled – or at least your concern for the convenience of their driving relatives who bring them meals.

    I don’t appreciate the accusation (leveled, apparently, at those who support such road diets) of being uncaring about the elderly and physically disabled. Let me be very clear: Any change in street configuration that further increases the isolation of the elderly and disabled is a failure. Full stop.

    The suggestions John laid out in the article need not further isolate the elderly and disabled, and in fact, done well, would reduce isolation. I highlighted the example of wider sidewalks because I thought the advantages of those for wheelchair-bound people and others who need assistance walking would be obvious. What about those whose relatives don’t have cars? What about those who would like to go outside and mingle with their neighbors in a more pleasant environment and don’t have the luxury of being able to drive (or be driven) to one?

    The truth is, streets designed to move cars as quickly as possible are terrible for all the most vulnerable segments in our society, especially the elderly and disabled. Do you know what “works for a few and constricts many”, as you put it? Designing streets that are good for only for those driving through them.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    On Bryn Mawr there are at least 6 restaurants with outdoor seating. Even Subway has outdoor seating. Public seating will only draw loiterers and the mentally ill from Bryn Mawr Care and All American Nursing Home. They panhandle like flies on Bryn Mawr.

    I’d love to have something like the Argyle nights on Bryn Mawr in the summer time. Problem is groups like ATA love to propose this stuff, but never have the money or volunteer operation to help out with this. As always it ends up with a few neighborhood die-hards, and frankly when you can’t get the 20 somethings to attend a block club meeting, how are you going to get them out to help launch this kind of thing.

    Your lovely picture of the Bryn Mawr Red Line viaduct is great. Did you know a couple of years ago that the community turned out one Saturday and illegally painted the viaduct because everyone though it need some TLC and the CTA as usual had no money to even do cheap spruce ups.

    You love to point to Kempf Plaza, but that street closure was a 1/2 block long from a mainly residential street that dead ended at Lincoln without much traffic. Find out how many cars were actually diverted to create the plaza, and you won’t be able to compare it to the traffic load on Bryn Mawr. Additionally, it has an alley that a lot of stores on Lincoln use to get their deliveries. Look at Bryn Mawr and please note most of those businesses have either no alley or alley’s that have turns and as a result large trucks can’t use them. Close Bryn Mawr to traffic and how do the food establishments get their deliveries? Sure you can schedule them, but they’re always late.

    You love to compare creating these pedestrian malls with the Denver 16th Street Mall. Well go out to Yelp and read some of the reviews and a lot of people are disgusted with the drunken people who stumble around and pee in public. Hey I for one don’t need that scene in my neighborhood.

    We have great public parks and beaches nearby. Plenty of space for people who want to relax.

  • Christine Price

    Although my partner’s father lives in a warm, flat city, it is not at all bicycle friendly for transportation.

    Which is unfortunate, because after his third seizure, the doctor recommended he stop driving. But that is simply untenable for him. How will he get to the pharmacy? The grocery? Out of the house? How will he care for his mostly bed-ridden wife?

    Lack of non-car transit hurts the less-able as well. If his city was more bicycle friendly, he could get a sturdy trike, and continue on with his life. As it is, he’s adjusting by driving more slowly, avoiding highways, and hoping that the medication works. But there’s still the very real chance that the lack of non-car options in his city will result in him accidentally killing himself, or someone else.

  • David Altenburg

    Providing a place where residents of nursing homes and mental care facilities can safely enjoy their neighborhood, rather than being shut away out of sight lest they make people like you uncomfortable, is a feature, not a bug.

  • Mcass777

    What is important is a discussion of all users and we see here that the cause and effect of large scale changes have different impacts. I see this too often in this blog (and others) where alternate ideas are pushed aside and discounted.

    Thanks for a good discussion

  • Annie F. Adams

    I live near here. Drive my car, walk to the CTA and have tried to bike through here. I have racked my brain and talked to many folks about good solutions. IMO this area is good to drive thru. Not enjoyable/depressing to bike or walk thru aka not a nice destination. I use to try and get to the bike shop, but such a pain to get there by bike I gave up.

    I prefer to walk to the Walgreens on Clark rather than wait 3 lights to get to the one on Ridge. I lived in the highrise on Kenmore/Bryn Mawr. (Car access was easy, had a pick-up area.) Close to the lake, but running, walking and biking to the lake was stressful and unsafe. It was a very different experience from when I lived in Lincoln Park at a similar distance to the lake.

    I have attended meetings in the 48th ward about this area. The traffic engineers are very interested in keeping cars moving. Pedestrian and bike traffic is of less concern. I agree a street diet would be great. Also bump outs at all the intersections, so pedestrians and bikes have less of a “dangerous” distance to cross.

    But I think the best solution might be the Hans Monderman Drachten squareabout with a fountain in the middle that goes higher the more traffic is present. EVERYONE would be mixed, which makes it more dangerous and slow “feeling” but in acutality moves traffic faster and safer.

    Finally there is that nice area by the Walgreens that I activated with my chair installation this Fall (see pic). By lowering and flattening the walls, adding chairs and inviting a coffee/food cart—people could sit on the walls and chairs and watch streetlife go by, making it a pretty cool place to be.

  • Annie F. Adams

    Forgot to mention, I am a citizens NLSD redevelopment committee. There is no talk of changing exits at Bryn Mawr. IDOT would like to stop having to move the cones around by hand at Sheridan (?). I am pushing for BRT, a dedicated bike HWY on the interior of LSD and more curves & smaller lanes to slow car traffic on LSD.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Bryn Mawr is a very safe area. We have a beat cop. But even with a beat cop in the late afternoons and evenings, it can be rather unpleasant for some people like me and my neighbors and friends when we have to run the gauntlet of panhandlers, petty drug dealers and nursing home residents with mental issues. Not all of them make me uncomfortable, I know quite a few by name.

    Are their safe places for nursing home residents to hang out? Certainly there are three playlots:

    1) Bryn Mawr & Magnolia

    2) Balmoral & Broadway

    3) Berwyn & Winthrop

    where lots of adults also sit on the park benches, and enjoy the fresh air. There’s also the meadow between Sheridan and Lakeshore Drive. Lots of green grass, walking trails and benches.

    Here’s also what you don’t know. The Edgewater Beach Neighbors have invited the nursing home residents to our block parties and pot lucks. We’ve have a great time with them. We also include the homeless shelter residents at Epworth Methodist. As a former Board Member for Care For Real (Edgewater’s Food and Clothing Pantry), we have special days for the nursing home residents on public aid and shelter residents to come by and pick out clothing. One of my neighbors goes to Starbucks daily and picks up their unsold breakfast foods and takes it over to Bryn Mawr Care for the residents. Next time you’re in the area, why not arrange to drop off some of your cast off clothing at Care For Real. Or bring by a bag of socks or some underwear, they’d appreciate it.

    I just don’t understand how widening sidewalks and removing traffic from a retail district will make people “enjoy” the neighborhood anymore than they already do?

    Here’s what I’d like to see you and ATA do. Walk around to the business owners, get to know them and find out what they want. Also find out how much it would cost the taxpayers to removed 50 or more parking spots and what it will cost to break up perfectly good sidewalks, move curbs and sewers, uproot established trees. And find a new route for the #92 bus that would be locked in a sea of traffic on Hollywood or Foster.

    If you want curb bump outs and a people spot, fine. That’s really piddly in the scope of things. You want weekly night fairs in the summer time, get off your duff and organize it. You want to close Bryn Mawr, better make a better case than it will be more “pleasant”.

  • Obviously, the point of this article is that there are lots of different ways to make Bryn Mawr more people-friendly without completely closing it to cars.


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