Why Is Alderman Solis Removing a P-Street Designation in Pilsen?

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Solis’ current ward office, which will be replaced by a “microbank.” Image: Google Street View

When Steven Vance and I heard that 25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis had proposed an ordinance to lift the Pedestrian Street designation at a location on Pilsen’s main drag, it raised a red flag:

NO. A.8151 (25th WARD) ORDINANCE REFERRED (7-29-15) DOCUMENT # 02015-5381 Common Address: 1401-11W l8th Street; 1800-06 S Blue lsland Ave; 1800 S Loomis Applicant: Alderman Daniel Solis Change Request: To remove pedestrian street designation

The purpose of the P-Street designation is to preserve walkable business districts by mandating pedestrian-friendly development and prohibiting new auto-centric elements like strip malls, drive-throughs, and driveways. We recalled how, a few years ago, then-35th Ward alderman Rey Colón lifted the P-Street designation on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. This allowed the local McDonald’s to build a double drive-through and relocate its main entrance on a side street, so that the restaurant largely turns its back on the walkable retail strip.

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The new Milwaukee Avenue McDonald’s. Photo: Steven Vance

However, in this case, there’s good news. According to Solis’ chief of staff Vince Sanchez, removing the P-Street designation is a temporary measure that will allow a small bank to move into the existing building at 1401 West 18th. The designation will be reinstated in the near future.

Solis’ office is currently located in the vintage, triangular building, which Sanchez says may be landmarked in the future. The ward office is moving to the northwest corner of the intersection, which is the junction of 18th, Loomis, and Blue Island. Bank One Trust will be opening a small “microbank” at the old location, with only one or two tellers and an ATM, according to Sanchez.

The historic, terra cotta-clad building will remain intact, and the microbank won’t have a drive-through. However, a Chicago ordinance generally requires that new banks have them, Sanchez said. Therefore, as a formality, the P-Street designation needed to be temporarily lifted in order to allow Bank One to get a permit to renovate the space.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said his goal is to make Chicago “the most pedestrian friendly city in the country.” Obviously, it’s counterproductive to have a rule on the books that requires drive-throughs for new banks, which degrade the walking environment.

Sanchez said Solis has a good record on pedestrian issues, and claimed that the ward has installed the most curb cuts for wheelchairs of any South Side district. He said the alderman agrees that the ordinance requiring drive-throughs for banks doesn’t make sense. “We’re trying to figure out how to get that amended.”

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