CDOT, 48th Ward Address the Learning Curve for the Argyle Shared Street

Argyle is supposed to be a two-way street but, due to improper parking, it’s only functioning as a one-way eastbound roadway. Photo: John Greenfield

The Argyle Shared Street project, designed to calm traffic, provide more space for pedestrians and sidewalk cafes, creating a safer, more pleasant, and more profitable business strip, is a great idea. But so far the layout for the streetscape initiative, which raised the street up to sidewalk level and blurred the lines between pedestrian and vehicle space, has not proved to be intuitive for drivers.

The nearly completed $3.6 million streetscape is supposed to be a two-way street, with a subtle chicane effect caused by staggered planter and parking spot locations, intended to slow drivers down to safe speeds, but it’s not functioning that way yet. They’re often parking in the wrong locations relative to the designated “sidewalk” area and the center of the road.

That means the chicane effect isn’t happening and the street feels too narrow in some locations for safe two-way traffic. As a result, motorists are treating Argyle as a one-way eastbound street, and they’re only parking their cars facing east.

This CDOT handout explains the proper way to park on Argyle.

Their confusion is completely understandable because the streetscape design is, frankly, confusing. It turns out that the parking areas are designated by the lighter, sandstone-colored street pavers. The dark grey, grooved pavers are supposed to act as the curb line and denote the separation between the pedestrian area and the parking area.

But I’ve done multiple “Eyes on the Streetposts about the streetscape, and I only learned the color-coding system because the Chicago Department of Transportation recently released a how-to guide for the streetscape. The parking protocol is not obvious at all.

In fact, it’s counter-intuitive because the street also features cream-colored gutters. On a typical street you park just to the left of the gutter. (Of course, on protected bike lane streets it’s often a different story, since the parking lane may be located to the left of bike lane, but in those cases CDOT usually marks a big “P” in the parking lane.)

Drivers are supposed to park on the (subtly) lighter-colored pavers, next to the dark-grey tiles, but they’re often parking closer to the center of the road. Photo: John Greenfield

But the CDOT handout says the gutters on Argyle are largely irrelevant to where you’re supposed to park. “Concrete gutter is for drainage purposes only,” it states. “Parking will typically be on one side of the gutter or the other, where there are some cases where the gutter will be within the parking lane.” Clear as mud.

Most Chicagoans aren’t mind readers. There’s no way for a casual observer to guess what CDOT and architecture firm Site Design Group had in mind. That’s not to say that the shared street is a bad design overall. Rather, it’s a good design that needs more signposting, figuratively and literally.

Fortunately, that’s what’s planned. 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman told the website Uptown Update, “We are also working with CDOT to determine what kind of additional permanent or temporary signage is required to help drivers easily understand how to use the Shared Street.” He added that volunteers may be recruited to help direct parking while drivers get used to the new layout.

Last Friday, it wasn’t helping matters that many of the designated parking spots had construction barriers in them. Photo: John Greenfield

Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation when your new streetscape needs ambassadors to explain to people how to use it. But as word spreads in the neighborhood about the proper way to park in Argyle and helpful signs and/or additional street markings are added, the learning curved should soon become a thing of the past.

That’s when the shared street will begin to reach its full potential for making Argyle more livable. And once attractive greenery is added to the large planters, I’m confident the city will start receiving fewer complaints and more compliments about this innovative project.

  • I’ve already noticed an improvement. As the regulars learn to park the correct way the less frequent visitors will mimic and align their parking likewise. Its all going to work out.

  • Vic

    Once again CDOT screwed up. Unless there is signage to the new style of parking most people won’t know and revert to what they usually go by.

  • CL

    I live in Uptown and walk here frequently. I did not realize that the final design called for 2-way traffic, and I am a little disappointed. I thought it would be more of a pedestrian plaza with safe spaces for pedestrians to walk and cross, and that half of the street would be a bike lane or something.

    I plan to avoid driving on this street, but it looks extremely confusing from a driver’s perspective. It’s hard to picture 2-way traffic moving smoothly according to the diagram, and I feel like I would often end up waiting for oncoming cars to pass — because a lot of people are going to ignore the curved lanes and drive straight.

    I really like how the street looks, but why do we have to cram two-way traffic onto the street? Maybe they will eventually reconsider and close parts of the street to vehicles.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The education for the general public has to start before the first shovel breaks ground, and you can’t allow the oft-lengthy construction period to be a free for all, as unlearning the bad habits is very difficult. Prominent signage throughout is the best kind of proactive approach.

  • Guy Ross

    Ah, let’s all calm down a bit an get some perspective:

    The trees are not yet planted to the traditional aerial sight lines which indicate ‘park your outside tire here’ are missing.

    The street is not making the all-mighty parking space any less bountiful than in the former rendition of this street, so car drivers and merchants have been proven wrong about their previous hand-wringing.

    A confusing road design is not necessarily more dangerous or less desirable than a familiar one. I guarantee you that travel speeds on this stretch are lower than parallels to the north or south of Argyle. How is this a bad thing?

    Lastly, there are streetscapes all over Europe very similar to this and they work just fine. Is there some reason Americans will have a genetic inability to figure this out as well?

    I predict the merchants within a few years will be clamoring for street projects just like this around transport hubs because of the success they have experienced on Argyle.

  • Guy Ross

    That’s the whole point of building a street with limited sight lines through chicanes: It is made to limit ‘traffic moving smoothly’. You say you hoped the area became more of a pedestrian plaza but you will not drive there because you feel uncomfortable. Two way traffic in narrow spaces (very common in Europe) forces drivers to slow way down and pay particular attention as a form of simple self preservation. It is exactly what will allow your dreams of a pedestrian orientated street.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think the point is that these issues were clearly anticipated, so it seems reasonable to think through why efforts on the front end don’t seem to have worked as desired.

    People don’t either thrive or struggle with streetscapes due to genetics, they do so due to good or bad interpretives/signage, education and outreach. This shouldn’t all be on CDOT, of course – CPS and the US Dept of Education have significant roles here as well.

    Climate change goals as they pertain to transportation are going to require an all hands on deck effort akin to the Space Race/getting a man on the moon. A plaza here and there can at best be viewed as laboratories that we can learn from as this kind of mindset and planning starts to scale. Lincoln Square’s plaza for example created a lovely little space for pedestrians, but did it actually reduce car-dependency/take cars off of the street? Hard to say, especially when you look at the larger context of a neighborhood that is increasingly becoming less dense and diverse and more like an upper-income enclave full of million-dollar+ homes.

  • As long as those orange construction barrels are there it’s a construction zone and all bets are off as to how to do things.

    This is STILL a work in progress.

    But yes there will be a learning curve when it is finally done.

    And yes I still consider the “confusing” aspects, like whether the black line or the gutter is the demarcation line for parking, a feature rather than a bug.

  • Bryn Mawr would be a bigger challenge for this, it might work though but could mean closing the Bryn Mawr/LSD interchange.

    A few others off the top of my head that would work…Thorndale, Granville and Morse. Especially Granville.

  • I was thinking maybe the gutter could be color-changed with a cement stain to blend in with the tan colored pavers? It would keep the streetscape look cool as it is. As long as it is a close color-match.

    Something like this stuff:

    Its easy to do during the pour but ya know…learning process…. 2 cents from the local artist.

  • Actually that is a clear-coat…more like these products. There is a Sherwin-Williams in the ward so maybe they will pitch-in the materials for the good feelings?

  • As I say: feature not a bug. The goal is to blur the lines between where cars go and where people go and where merchants go. Some days the line is one place and other days the line is somewhere else.

  • Courtney

    I often think about Bryn Mawr being a more pedestrian friendly street. I’d love to just see basic traffic calming considering how fast people speed down it trying to get to Lakeshore and/or “beat” a light. =/
    Granville and Thorndale could also work.

  • Granville for two blocks, Thorndale for one block and Morse could include Glenwood.

    Bryn Mawr would be last and after road diets on Sheridan and Broadway.

  • Carter O’Brien

    But there’s that law of unintended consequences, as exemplified by the yahoo who apparently thought “all bets were off” meant they could block an alley.

    If we want to look at how this plays out over time when there is no thought to education and enforcement, look no further than the hundreds upon hundreds of curb cuts prevalent all over the City. Instead of removing cars from the street by providing access to a private garage, what has instead happened is people have treated them like private driveways. So now we lose parkways (actual green space) and the vehicles routinely encroach into the sidewalk as well, where they are both inconvenient for pedestrians as well as a bona fide safety problem because of how they block sightlines when the curb cuts are adjacent to an alley or an intersection.

  • planetshwoop

    Bryn Mawr should be the Far North Side Connector. We have so so many trails that go North-South, but no safe routes going east-west. None of the streets on the North side are really good for going E-W — they are clogged with traffic, even if there is a bike lane.

    So targeting Bryn Mawr would be a major victory for building a transportation *network*, and not a bunch of bike lanes.

    (A reasonable alternative would be to build meaningful bikeways on streets like Carmen, Berteau, Berwyn, etc. There are some very pleasant ways to get cross-town, but they require a lot more nuance and way-finding than just “bike on Lawrence Ave.)

  • CL

    Maybe I will come to like it as a pedestrian, when everyone learns the rules. The walk through Uptown is pretty stressful at the moment, with so many drivers aggressively trying to get to and from Lake Shore. So if crossing Argyle is more pleasant, that’s cool.

    As a driver, I hate two-way traffic in narrow spaces. It makes me anxious — I always feel like there is a high risk of small accidents, and often someone needs to back up and move over for a large vehicle to pass. I once had someone get really mad at me when we were blocking each other’s way, because she thought I should have waited for her to pass before even starting down the street.

    So yeah, I will be avoiding that block when I drive.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    Only problem is it doesnt go through the cemetery.

  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Agreed. I think CDOT / the city / the 48th ward / whoever might’ve jumped the gone in saying anything was “complete” because now there’s articles like this one and the one in the Trib earlier this morning. They should’ve just waited until the rest of the signage and trees were installed to do any kind of press release. As it is now, it’s kind of like saying, “Our innovative, one-of-a-kind-in-Chicago streetscape if now done!” as the headline…..and buried beneath the fold is “signage and trees to come by late-October…..”

    Still, it’ll be better than what was there before. There are some that are just gonna say (no matter what): “What is that? It’s new?! AH! I HATE IT! KILL IT!!”

    I’m sure there were tons of those people when Giddings/Kampf Plaza was constructed in Lincoln Square, and now you’d be hard-pressed to find ONE person that would cop to being one of those naysayers years ago…..

  • Making drivers somewhat uncomfortable (so they edge through cautiously) is basically most of the point of road diets and pedestrianizations like this. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

  • Eh, it’s a two-way street and eventually people park in the direction they drove in on.

    I watched this happen on Green Street between Lake Street and Fulton Market in 2015. It was one-way, and CDOT made it two-way. The only indication that it was two-way was that they removed the “do not enter” and “one way” signs. It took about 5-7 days for every car to be parked and pointed in the correct direction.

    Aside: It’s really not an issue that cars park in either direction. Probably every other country that’s not the USA (and probably some former Commonwealth countries) have people parked in both directions; if there’s a space, why require someone to do a (inefficiently executed) three point turn? Just park where it’s convenient, and do it safely*

    *Oh, maybe that’s the problem ;)

  • The fewer people driving down this street the better for people walking, biking, and trying to enjoy the new quiet.

  • Granville!

  • Not sure where you are going with the “curb cuts” thought.

    And, of course, I am not advocating for a “free for all.” We want patterns of use to emerge. I suppose that if a lot of different people really thought that blocking the alley was important enough then yes that would be telling us something (I can’t imagine what?) But attempting to create a pre-scribed space to my mind limits creative positive uses as well as preventing negative uses. The thing is the space changes depending upon the day and time of the week. So flexibility is a big benefit. And beside differences over time by week so may opportunities arise in longer future time spans because of such flexibilities.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Just to be clear, this is a pretty small space, I agree in the larger sense that usage patterns will emerge, but I think those should be restricted to pedestrian-level users. IMO when it comes to street design, flexibility is a plus if we’re talking about formal, official usage, the ability to tranfsorm the space into perhaps a farmer’s market, that kind of thing. But drivers making up their own rules of the road is another.

    I bring up curb cuts as I remember when these were being introduced en masse on the North Side in dense neighborhoods. The promise was that they would
    declutter streets from cars “circling the block(s)” in crowded neighborhoods looking for street parking by forcing parking to be onsite.

    But to make even townhome projects commercially viable (ie, more FAR for tight properties), developers successfully argued that they needed curb cuts. Now these bloody things are everywhere, and doing the exact opposite of what they were supposed to. Instead of cars being restricted to streets and alleys, we see people pulling in/out of private underground garages in the middle of a block , and worse, used as private driveways where they absolutely are a problem in terms of interfering with pedestrian movement (and again, creating dangerous blind spots in sight lines).

    The end of the world? Perhaps not – but it should serve as a warning about the limitations of “creative usage,” as you need to factor in the reality of self-centered self- interest as opposed to altruism.

    People reading Streetsblog are not the problem – people coming to Chicago from areas where the car is king are. And the latter outnumbers the former
    exponentially, and that is not going to change until we see a much larger societal shift which is a long way off.

    Or look at it another way – wouldn’t you like to go back in time and nip the dibs tradition in the bud before it ever took root?

  • Got it! Yeah now the struggle, certainly in my neighborhood, is how to get rid of curb cuts. Actually, how to get rid of parking itself!

  • Carter O’Brien

    They are truly awful. If you walk in the lakefront areas of Lake View or Lincoln Park you see these streets that have incredibly lush and gorgeously landscaped parkways… and then you have these sad patches of cement. It’s the starkest contrast imaginable – people want to live on shady, tree-lined streets, nobody ever advertised a house by saying “Block is lined with fabulous new cement!”

  • planetshwoop

    That’s easy to work around with Bowmanville and other side streets. With proper wayfinding, it would be very easy to manage.

    Since it connects to most of the other N-S trails, as well as N-S streets, it would be a powerful tool for the network, not a small bike lane.

    Lawrence Ave is simply not safe, no matter what the bike map says.

  • Photo taken this morning at 9am (9/14/16). The situation is already improving.

  • Bernard Finucane

    This street is insanely wide. compare it to a two way (residential) street in Germany.,6.8063424,3a,75y,243.35h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sDHM9-9W5oaIoU01C9-wgmg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  • Bernard Finucane

    Trees will make a huge difference.

    The problem isn’t genetic, it’s just about people getting used to the “new” design.

  • We have two-way streets like that in Chicago, too, in residential neighborhoods, but they wouldn’t be built new like that anymore.

    And Argyle is narrow enough that quite a few drivers feel “nervous” and are worried about clipping mirrors with both opposite traffic and parked cars.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Nervous drivers don’t run over pedestrians, because they are looking forward to avoid fender benders.

    Just from reading streetsblog it’s easy to find examples of pedestrians being run over by fast turning vehicles. Those drivers were probably looking over their shoulder to check for oncoming traffic. They had no need to look forward because the street was so wide they knew the wouldn’t hit anything.

    In other words, this street is an accident waiting to happen.

  • Chicagojon

    That concrete gutter should be painted to match the ’tiles’ that it fits in or there is no way people are going to get it right and they’ll continue to park against the gutter — especially on the ones where the gutter cuts directly through the intended parking space. How could the designers not see that?

  • Bernard Finucane

    I guess there needs to be a separate license to drive an SUV

  • What on earth do SUVs have to do with it? They’re no wider than Honda Accords.

  • Bernard Finucane

    In Germany it is certainly illegal to stop or park with your car pointing the opposite direction of traffic. Cars are expected to stop to the right of traffic.

    See section 4.

  • Ah.

    You can park in either direction in the Netherlands, and Spain.


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