Elevating Chicago

Mixed Use Archives

Trying to Cross the Road, but Kept from Reaching the Other Side

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the advantages of the Chicago street grid is that it allows for mixed-use neighborhoods even if individual properties are not mixed-use.  You can see how this works in practice by looking at a typical quarter-mile square like the one on the northwest side bordered by Belmont, Cicero, Diversey, and Laramie below.  On the major streets there are almost exclusively commercial and business uses (zoned in blue and pink, respectively,) while the interior blocks are residential (the tan "RS-3" tag.)  Although not ideal, this still means that with the right mix of stores, a local resident's needs can be taken care of with a quarter-mile walk in any direction.

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Image courtesy Chicago Zoning Map, http://maps.cityofchicago.org/website/zoning/


In practice though, the major streets are not commercial corridors which allow walkability.  Really, Chicago's street design encourages residents not to cross their nearest arterial, no matter how enticing the retail possibilities are on the other side.  The city's stance on arterials completely ignores the existence of the non-driving public in its official Street Design Standards [pdf, emphasis mine]:

"The arterial streets are intended to provide for the movement of large volumes of through traffic and commercial traffic for longer distances, while local streets are intended primarily for the provision of access to adjacent property."

You can see--and have probably felt--the results whenever you've come to an intersection where a local street meets an arterial.

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City Knows How to Improve L Station Neighborhoods, Chooses Not To

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the most effective ways to solve the last mile problem is transit oriented development, or TOD.  Or, if you're the CTA and the City of Chicago and just want to be different, you call it Transit Friendly Development, and you publish a toothless "guide" to improving the immediate vicinity of L stations around the city.  Without a single mention of "last mile" and putting forth only non-binding zoning considerations, the CTA, CDOT, and the Department of Zoning and Planning (DZLUP) have proven they can effectively give lip service to one of the most fundamental aspects of livability.

Leaving aside (for the moment) the issue of what--if any--actions the city will take going forward, it's important to see exactly what the city is advocating for.  First, the seven "typologies" they've outlined are Downtown Core (DC), Major Activity Center (MC), Local Activity Center (LC), Dense Urban Neighborhood (DN), Urban Neighborhood (UN), Service Employment District (SD), and Manufacturing Employment District (MD).  Stations are labeled not as what they are today, but as what the city sees them as becoming.

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TIGER II: Livable Boogaloo?

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

One of the best-received aspects of last year's stimulus was the set of grants known as TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) handed out by the US Department of Transportation.  So well-received, in fact, they're gonna do it again.  It's technically known as the National Infrastructure Investments (NII) program, but Congress--like us all--loves a good sequel, so this new round of grants is known as TIGER II.

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The original TIGER program was a $1.5 billion slice of the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as the stimulus.  Unlike most federal transportation funding, which is earmarked for projects in the home district of influential congressmen, TIGER grants are assigned by a competitive process overseen by the US DOT.  This process tends to favor big city transit projects because they tend to affect more people, whereas normally federal money gets siphoned off through state DOTs, who spend on rural projects to win votes.  TIGER II should be especially be a boon to urban projects in light of the DOT's new "6 Principles of Livability" and the recent repeal of the Bush Administration's rule on cost effectiveness that hamstrung a lot of otherwise worthy transit projects.

During the first TIGER process, more than 1,400 applications were sent in, with 51 receiving funding.  IDOT requested over $2.4 billion, but the only winner in the Chicago area was $100 million (out of a requested $300 million) for the CREATE freight rail decongestion program.  This time, the total pot is only $600 million--$140 million of which must go to rural areas--and any locality would have to match 20% of the federal funds.  This still leaves plenty of room for Chicago's worthy projects to grab its piece of the pie (BRT? Union Station? Almost anything...)

There's also a new wrinkle in TIGER II: it comes connected to the Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) $40 million land-use aid grant program.  DOT and HUD plan on coordinating their efforts so that new projects will connect well to the areas around them.  This seems to bode well for cities like Chicago whose inherent density will mean most transportation projects will connect to commercial, residential, or commercial centers, and where there's plenty of space for new housing developments--especially ones including affordable housing--near multi-mode transportation options.

Applications have to be in by August 23, and winners will be named September 15.  Chicago has plenty of worthy applicants, and hopefully CDOT, the IDOT, and the other relevant authorities will put their best foot forward and bring some of this money home.

West Loop NIMBYs: No Walkable Development, Thanks

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Ted Rosenbaum

Former athlete, full-time engineer. I'd tell you more but I'd have to kill you.

There's a parcel of land in Chicago that is within a half mile of two different L lines, sees two bus routes roll by, has a grocery store across the street, and is within a mile and a half of a ton of jobs and cultural opportunities.  It currently features a big ol' surface parking lot.  Actually, there are probably quite a few parcels like this.  They are a blight on any urban landscape, and represent millions of dollars in missed economic opportunity--for the businesses that could potentially spring up there, as well as any tax income the city would yield if people lived, worked, or shopped there instead of just parking there.

Today, it's worth focusing on one that actually has a very real potential for development: the West Loop block bordered by Madison, Halsted, Green, and Monroe.  Two weeks ago Skokie's Taxman Corporation came forward with an idea I hope we'll see more of, especially as the economy (eventually, hopefully) recovers: they want to build on the current parking lot--and build densely.

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The Gateway as seen from Monroe and Halsted. Drawing courtesy Antunovich Associates.

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