Eyes on the Street: Restaurants Make Room for Customers Instead of Cars

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The former parking lot and dumpster zone at Gino’s East in Lakeview is now a seating area. Photos: Google Street View, John Greenfield

It’s encouraging to see that more and more business owners have come to understand that accommodating people, rather than automobiles, is good for the bottom line.

This summer we should see the city’s first “Curbside Cafes,” outdoor seating areas where it’s restaurants and bars may serve food and drinks, located in the parking lane on streets where the sidewalk is too narrow for sidewalk cafes. Although the new ordinance that legalized this practice is overly restrictive — Curbside Cafes are only allowed on designated Pedestrian Streets where the sidewalk is narrower than eight feet — two of the cafes are planned for East Lakeview.

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What was once parking for 13 cars at the Golden Angel is now seating for dozens of customers at Lou Malnatti’s. Photos: Google Street View

When Lou Malnatti’s Pizzeria purchased the Golden Angel diner, 4344 North Lincoln in North Center, they originally proposed reducing the number of parking lot spaces from 13 to seven to make room for outdoor seating and additional greenery. In the end, they decided to go for the gusto and eliminate all of the off-street parking, as well as both of the curb cuts, which improves the pedestrian environment. The result: Lots more space for customers to enjoy their Jon Stewart-endorsed deep-dish.

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One of the former curb cuts at Gino’s East has been turned into a landscaped area. Photo: John Greenfield

Maybe there’s something about the round pies that makes pizzerias less square when it comes parking issues. A couple miles up the road, a Gino’s East branch at 2801 North Lincoln in Lakeview has done a similar makeover. They’ve converted their small parking lot, which also housed their dumpsters, to a fenced-in outdoor seating area. Again, both of the curb cuts have been eliminated. As a bonus, one of the former curb cuts has been landscaped, creating a permeable surface that helps with storm water management.

Kudos to these restaurants for choosing space for people over parking. I’m hungry to see more of these makeovers in the future.

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