City Writing New Rules of the Road to Allow Shared Space on Argyle Street

A rendering of the new street configuration on Argyle.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently hashing out an ordinance to regulate how motorists will behave on the Argyle “shared street” [PDF], a pedestrian-priority zone slated for construction next year. The streetscape project — the first of its kind in Chicago — will create a plaza-like feel along Argyle from Broadway to Sheridan, by raising the street level and eliminating curbs. Slow motorized traffic and car parking will still be permitted on the street, but pedestrians will rule the space.

In late August, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman released the final designs for the street, which will be lined with pavers from building line to building line. Two or three different colors of pavers, as well as trees and other street furniture, will be used to differentiate between travel lanes, parking lanes, and a pedestrian-only zone.

The speed limit will be lowered to 10 mph, which will allow pedestrians to safely cross the street throughout the block — not just at crosswalks — and make it make it comfortable for cyclists to ride in the center of the travel lanes. Other features will include wider pedestrian-only spaces to make room for outdoor cafes, plus permeable pavers, and bioswales. A colorful pillar, emblazoned with the word “Argyle,” will stand in a median at the Broadway intersection, complementing the strip’s existing “Asia on Argyle” sign.

Work to replace gas and water lines on Argyle will take place in January and February, respectively, according to Osterman’s assistant Sara Dinges. The streetscape construction is scheduled to begin in April and wrap up by the end of 2015. “We want to emphasize that Argyle businesses will be open during the construction, so we want people to continue to support them,” she said.

The border between the pedestrian-only area and parking will undulate, creating a gentle chicane.

The merchants will likely be rewarded for their patience during construction with a boost in sales after the work is finished. Studies from London found that economic activity increased on streets after shared spaces were built. Meanwhile, traffic injuries and deaths decreased by 43 percent, and drivers became 14 percent more likely to stop for pedestrians.

At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last month, CDOT Complete Streets Director Janet Attarian noted that Chicago’s municipal code currently doesn’t allow for speed limits to be reduced below 20 mph. The code also only gives pedestrians the right-of-way within designated crosswalks on roadways.

Therefore, the department is working on an ordinance to define shared streets, designating them as locations where a lower speed limit is permissible and where drivers must stop for pedestrians anywhere along the corridor, Attarian said. Once the ordinance is drafted, Osterman will introduce it to City Council, according to Dinges.

Cambridge, Massachusetts [PDF] has built successful shared streets on Winthrop and Palmer streets, two narrow streets around historic Harvard Square. In conjunction with this, the city added language to its vehicular code mandating that that all vehicle operators, including cyclists, must yield to pedestrians on shared streets. The ordinance also states that operators must travel at a speed that ensures pedestrian safety, and that speeds over 10 mph on shared streets are “considered hazardous.”

Palmer Street in Cambridge. Photo: City of Cambridge

At the MPAC meeting, Attarian said the design of the Argyle shared street will encourage all users to move at walking speed. While there won’t be won’t be stoplights or stop signs along this stretch, the border between the pedestrian-only space and the parking lane will undulate somewhat to create a gentle chicane effect. Travel lanes will be narrowed from the current 12 feet to ten feet, which will also help slow down drivers.

At the meeting, Marcia Trawinski, an advocate for seniors and people with disabilities, asked how CDOT planned to get drivers going 20-30 mph on Winthrop and Kenmore to slow down to walking speed when crossing Argyle. Attarian responded that cross traffic will have stop signs, and there will also be signs announcing that drivers are entering a shared space, as well as raised crosswalks that will calm traffic.

Complete streets advocate Daniel Ronan asked whether CDOT had done language-appropriate outreach to the local Asian-American community regarding the big changes to the business strip. Attarian said that the department and the alderman’s office have held numerous meetings with Argyle merchants, as well as public hearings in Asian establishments on the street, with good participation from people who speak English as a second language.

“We have gotten very, very positive feedback,” Attarian said. “I think the community is really engaged in the idea of how this is going to transform the street, and how they’re going to do business.”

  • duppie

    What kind of data is being collected now to get a good before and after picture? Crashes, sure. What about sales tax revenue? Can that be measured before and after to see the effect of the pedestrian street?
    Pedestrian counts?

    BTW, I am looking forward to this, partially because it will be include the first piece of infrastructure that reinforces on the Broadway road-diet, a pedestrian island. Once you have a few of these in place, it becomes much harder to revert to the previous four-lane situation.

  • I hope they actually put in the raised crosswalks (or speed tables). Every other time recently I’ve heard someone saying “Oh, and we’re going to put in raised crosswalks,” by the time it gets built they’re just paint again.

  • John Doe

    So if I let my foot off the break in the car idle eventually go to over 10 miles an hour which will be violating the speed limit. Is the city going to give me a ticket for that? Most people usually drive down the street at least 15 to 20 miles an hour how is anybody going to police that if you lower limit to 10 mph

  • Sad uptown resident

    Argyle is already a mess with people jaywalking however. And with cars waiting to get into the shop parking lot, it’s nearly impossible to get anywhere. This is a mess!

  • jeff wegerson

    This is so cool. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Every new bit of new info just adds to my impressedness. 10mph! Wow. I’m sue there will be things I would have done differently but … Anyway I am now waiting for the same treatment on Granville ave.

  • So this will normalize it as a street “for” people. If cars aren’t stressing about trying to get up to 25mph all the time everyone will calm down. And people trying to use it as a quick vehicular through-route will take a different street.

  • You are responsible for controlling your car and noticing what speed it goes. Complaining about it is childish. This is two blocks of one street in an entire city. If you find it so arduous to watch your speed and hold yourself to a walking pace, take a different road.

    In this city, on most roads, “people usually drive down the street” at more than 35mph, even on roads signed for much less, and I get actively honked at for keeping an eye on my speed and staying at a legal 30. That doesn’t meant the city should work to make their bad behavior “ok” and my rule-following actionable.

  • duppie

    Regarding your first question: If you can not maintain control over your vehicle you should not be driving, and definitely deserve a ticket.

    And it is “brake”, not “break”

  • JBurr_2014

    John and Steve, great article. Readers should check out Seattle’s Bell St. Park as well.

    Could you share your London sources re: econ boosts and increased safety? Many thanks.

  • Bmb

    Goosebumps? Wow, you must not have a very exciting life!

    This project is doomed to fail. I doubt people will drive 10 mph. I know I sure won’t.

  • Yes, people can be ticketed for exceeding the posted speed limit – no matter what the limit is, and no matter one’s reason for going too fast.

    How will they police it? My guess is the same way they do any other speed limit, perhaps even with speed cameras.

  • jeff wegerson

    Yeah my life could be more exciting.

    You will drive safely for the conditions I’m sure. They set it at ten to keep people under twenty. The project is destined for success. The nearest comparable is Lincoln Square. Look for Andersonville to move the buses to Ashland to do the same.

  • Concerned

    What about having no cars? I’d like to see a path for non-motorized vehicles like bikes and scooters. It would feel more like a true plaza and virtually eliminate fatal collisions.

  • As it currently stands, the business owners freaked the heck out at the thought of no free curbside parking in front of their businesses. This was a compromise to get them to marginally agree to the streetscape change, because otherwise they were all opposed.

    After a few years of this being functional and successful, other plaza and plaza-like things will become politically feasible throughout the city, because we’ll be able to point to Argyle.

  • Theoretically the sales tax for any business with a tax ID can be “pulled” from a database at will. It’s that kind of information I would love to have easy access to, in a similar vein to how the three Cook County property taxing agencies have pulled together the Property Tax Portal.

  • Tina Bellmanns

    Impressive that a big city like Chicago is going for a shared space !Finally all the work pays of by one of the inventorys of it – here is an interesting interview with him and about his vision:
    ”we have to test the limits” – i say: Let’s go !


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