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Don’t Worry, Clybourn Merchants — The PBL Parking Issue Is Covered

Much of the on-street parking in the Clybourn project area gets little use. Photo: John Greenfield

In an article posted on DNAinfo yesterday, business owners along Clybourn Avenue in Old Town said they were worried that parking conversions for upcoming curb-protected bike lanes on the street might scare off customers. However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the project, and the Chicago DOT, which is consulting, have crunched the numbers on the parking issue, and it looks like everything will work out just fine.

This affected stretch of Clybourn, between North Avenue and Division Street, is under state jurisdiction. IDOT had previously blocked CDOT from installing protected bike lanes on state roads within the city. However, after cyclist Bobby Cann was fatally struck by an allegedly drunk, speeding driver at Clybourn and Larabee Street in May of 2013, IDOT agreed to pilot a protected lane on this stretch. It will be the city’s second curb-protected lane, after CDOT installed one on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park last month.

Construction of the Clybourn lanes started on Monday. The bike lanes will be located next to the sidewalk and will be protected by three-foot-wide concrete medians. There will also be a short stretch of curb-protected lanes on Division between Clybourn and Orleans. To provide sufficient right-of-way for the lanes on Clybourn, car parking will be stripped from the west side of the street, with a net loss of 65 parking spaces.

Mohammad Rafiq, owner of New Zaika, a Pakistani restaurant at 1316 North Clybourn, told DNA he understands that the street need to be made safer, but he’s worried that the loss of parking spots will drive him out of business. The eatery is popular with cab drivers, including many Muslim people who visit several times a day to use the basement prayer room. "If they don't come, who am I going to serve?" he asked.

Marcus Moore owns Yojimbo’s Garage, a bike shop at 1310 North Clybourn, across the street from a memorial to Cann. He’s a longtime bike advocate who recently won an award from the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council for saving the South Chicago Velodrome, and he witnessed Cann’s fatal crash. However, DNA quoted him as saying the parking conversions could hurt business. “It's going to be a big experiment," he said. "I'm kind of neutral. I'm not sure what to expect."

Obviously, creating a low-stress bikeway on Clybourn is going to attract more cyclists to the street and more two-wheeled customers to Yojimbos. That, plus a safer, more relaxing environment for walking due to less speeding by drivers, could also bring some additional diners to New Zaika.

Moreover, the flaw in the otherwise-solid DNA article is that the reporter didn’t check in with IDOT and CDOT about the parking issue. According to IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell, the agencies did a parking utilization study of the corridor to gauge the impact of the proposed design. They found that much of the parking on this stretch of Clybourn, which has relatively little retail, is underutilized.

A Streetmix rendering of the new bike lane and parking configuration.

“In areas with higher parking demand, CDOT and IDOT identified locations on the adjacent street network to relocate as many parking spaces as possible [by implementing diagonal parking],” Tridgell said. “The current layout requires approximately 85 parking spaces and 40 feet of loading/standing zone to be removed along Clybourn, with 42 spaces lost north of Larrabee to Halsted and 43 spaces lost south of Larrabee to Division.”

However, the agencies identified opportunities to replace 15 of the lost spaces on Larrabee south of Clybourn, near New Zaika and Yojimbo’s, and five spaces Orleans Street south of Division Street. Thus, the net loss of 65 spaces.

IDOT and CDOT also identified several locations on adjacent side streets where on-street parking is readily available, but is not always fully occupied. These locations -- Larrabee north of Clybourn, Scott Street south of Clybourn, and Ogden Avenue south of Clybourn -- can provide approximately 30 available spaces on a typical day, Tridgell said. He added that CDOT has also worked with business owners whose loading and standing zones will be impacted to identify alternate locations for these curbside uses.

On top of all that, the project involves removing existing rush hour parking controls that currently ban parking on the east side Clybourn during evening rush hours. “That will allow residents and business owners to park in the spots that remain 24 hours a day,” Tridgell said. In short, the agencies are bending over backwards to make sure that the conversion of parking spaces for this key safety initiative will not negatively impact businesses.

If that’s not enough to reassure the merchants that the protected lanes won’t be a one-way route to the poorhouse, they should know that we’ve seen this movie before. In 2013, CDOT removed 15 on-street parking spaces to make room for protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue in River West, a much denser retail corridor.

There was plenty of resistance when the Milwaukee lanes were proposed, but almost zero complaints from businesses afterwards. One exception was the owner of the Silver Palm restaurant, 768 North Milwaukee, who told DNA that the parking conversions forced him to shut down for the winter. As it turned out, he was using the bike lanes as a convenient scapegoat to cover up for his own poor business acumen. The owner admitted to DNA that the Silver Palm nearly closed five years earlier but was saved by an endorsement from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

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