Elevating Chicago

Walking Archives

New Monroe St. Crosswalk: thanks for following the law!

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

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

Before the weekend sets in, just a tinge of outrage over something that is so close to being perfect.  Blair Kamin writes about the new crosswalk on Monroe between the Art Institute's Modern Wing and Millenium Park.  It's a great compromise between safely getting pedestrians across the street and unnecessarily impeding traffic with a full-on traffic light.

It's very simple: you press a button, wait for the big flashing yellow lights around the pedestrian signs to alert the cars to your presence, (very handy as daylight gets shorter as we head into winter,) and then cross! Cars continue on their way, you enjoy your day, everybody's happy.

monroe st xwalk sign.jpg

Image courtesy Chicago Tribune


But wait, what's that last note there? "Thank the driver"? Yes, even the mechanical voice that accompanies the signs reminds you, "And remember, thank the driver for stopping as you are crossing the roadway."  I'm all in favor of Nice Midwestern interactions, but as of this summer, all cars must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk.  Yes, that's right, we're now being instructed to thank people for following a simple, straightforward law.  A law which, if drivers follow it, will mildly inconvenience them--if they ignore it, odds are a pedestrian gets hurt or dies.

So much of the rest of this--from process to final product--was executed well, but this kind of auto-centric urban design is absolutely flabbergasting.  Go enjoy your weekend, and be safe in those crosswalks.

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

user-pic
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.

Belmont-Cicero-Diversy-Laramie Zoning.png

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.

Continue reading...

Fisking Andres Duany

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

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

"The teenagers and young people in Miami come in from the suburbs to the few town centers we have, and they come in like locusts.  They make traffic congestion all night; they come in and take up the parking.  They ruin the retail and they ruin the restaurants, because they have different habits than older folks.  I have seen it.  They're basically eating up the first-rate urbanism.  They have this techno music, and the food cheapens, and they run in packs, great social packs, and they take over a place and ruin it and go somewhere else."

"I've known for 10 years about this destructive monoculture that's condensed in the suburbs.  These people would normally be buying real estate by now.  And we designed for them.  We kept saying 'aha, these kids, between 24 and 35, will be buying real estate." But guess what? They aren't.  Because they can't afford it.  But they're still using the cities--they're renting and so forth.  These gen-Xers also discovered the cities-they're buying in a proper way.  The Millennials are the ones we're talking about.  And they love cities desperately. And they're loving them to death."

Andres Duany is a man whose time has come and gone.  In the 1970s he founded New Urbanism, and helped set the stage for the revitalization of cities we're seeing across America today.  Unfortunately, when asked to survey the current state of affairs to The Atlantic's "Future of the City" project, he gave the two responses you see above. Here he is, complaining that Urbanism has essentially sold out, and the people that like it now and use it and live in it don't get it.  In fact, he sounds an awful lot like the apartment-renting hipsters he hates so much, who sigh that they knew about all the cool bands "before they were big."

If he'd only given the first quote in isolation, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He's essentially lamenting the bridge-and-tunnel nightlife of Miami, where kids drive into town and don't really heed the culture that's already there.  If he's complaining about teenage mallrats who have chosen to run around in urban neighborhoods instead, that's an argument that might have merit.  Still though, to complain that they congest traffic and take up the parking is to forget what he's worked his whole life for: urbanism that allows people to come from far and wide to enjoy a new part of town entirely without a car.  If these kids require a car to get there it is not their fault--the city has failed to build the infrastructure necessary to sustain Mr. Duany's urbanism.  Even more importantly, to complain that they're ruining things simply by dint of being of a different generation, one that has "different habits than older folks" and enjoys "this techno music" is to engage in petty, get-off-my-lawn-you-darned-kids fogeyism.

Tragically, the second quote makes no mistake about Mr. Duany's misunderstanding of the world as it is.  He's right that a destructive monoculture has condensed in the suburbs--it's exactly why all these people around my age lust for the vibrancy and diversity of cities!  Part of that destructive monoculture though is the direct result of people buying houses on large lots at the end of cul-de-sacs and only coming into the cities for work and the occasional fancy dinner or show.  Instead, our generation has chosen the city for work, for play, for our entire lives.  For the time being--until the supply of walkable urbanism catches up with the demands of our generation--living in cities will be expensive.

Like every generation before us, our lives between college and marriage/children of our own are fluid, and so renting makes more sense.  (Also note that our generation tends to marry and have kids later, so this urbanism-starved age group is growing.)  And besides this fundamental truth about life in your mid-20s, what the hell is "buying in the proper way"?  As best I can tell, mindlessly buying property because it's the "proper" thing to do--whether or not you can really afford it or it makes sense for your station in life--is a direct cause of the housing bubble/crisis we're all enjoying so thoroughly right now.  I'd count our choices in this regard as a net positive for society, and I'm not sure I'd be so eager to celebrate our older Gen X brethren for this.  (I'm also not ready to condemn them, because I haven't seen data that points to whether their home-buying habits are rooted in urbanism or sprawl.)

So, Mr. Duany: welcome to 2010.   When you build walkable urbanism in a dense, diverse city, you don't get despotic control over how it is used and by whom it is used.  That kind of central planning belongs somewhere else you're familiar with: the McMansion-filled subdivisions in the monocultural suburbs and exurbs.  Perhaps you fancy yourself ahead of the curve again and wish to retire there?

Parks to Pavement

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I just read a post on StreetsBlog about the implementation of a great idea in San Francisco; turn unused street space and extra parking spots into parks/parkletes.  Ted wrote a post a few weeks ago about the connection between tree-grates on our sidewalks and walkability; I want to add to that today and talk about how turning "pavement to parks" will make our sidewalks even more walkable.

StreetsBlog's post, People, Parkletes, and Pavement to Parks (plus Mojo Bicycle CafĂ©), is about San Francisco city planners' ideas to greenify, both in terms of green color and in terms of the green revolution, unused city land.  In San Francisco there are many awkward intersections throughout the city due to the merging of three streets or because of streetcars, which have left space unused.  That unused space is as good a space as any to add public benches, trees, or even grass.  I think that if sidewalks are greener, they will become much more walkable.

built_projects_showplace.jpg
      Photo - Thanks to SF Parks to Pavement Org.


Continue reading...

Etiquette School

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Today I want to write about what many of you reading this might recognize, but others seem not to, and that is proper etiquette on our pedestrian walking/bike paths throughout the city. Unfortunately, many Chicagoans still do not understand the proper way to act while on the paths, which has lead to many injuries and angry pedestrians; this needs to stop.

keepright.jpeg

Continue reading...

Completing Our Streets

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

Today I'd like to add to the post I wrote last Thursday regarding safe routes to school.  My previous post was more or less about how the threat of gang violence has made Chicago students' commute to and from school far too dangerous.  In this post I will talk about how making the route to school safer, as well as more walkable and bikable, will help end an equally as dangerous problem as the gang violence threatening our youth: childhood obesity.

obesity.jpeg

Continue reading...

What? I Have to Stop at Crosswalks?

user-pic
shymen

I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

I am going to be a little selfish and write this post 95% for me, and only 5% for you, and that is because a new bill has passed in Illinois, and I want to learn about its implications.  Did you know that last month the Illinois Senate passed a bill that requires motorists to come to a complete stop when a pedestrian enters a crosswalk, even if there are no stoplights or stop signs?  I thought this might have been the case, but I wanted to know for sure, so I dug a little deeper.

In-Street-Pedestrian-Crosswalk-Signs-98309-002-ba.jpg

Continue reading...

In Praise of Tree Grates (Yes, really)

user-pic
Ted Rosenbaum

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

Last fall, Scientific American made a splash with an article combining environmental biology with sustainable transportation ideas. (We're animals, after all, so this made a certain amount of sense.)  Their fundamental point was that women on bicycles are an "indicator species" for the degree to which a city is bikable (and by proxy, livable.) For city planners, this yielded very powerful advice: if you want to improve your city's bike infrastructure, make it more female-friendly.

Central St. Tree Grates.JPG

Although I don't have the extensive data at my fingertips that Scientific American did, I think there's a similar "indicator species" for the walkability of a neighborhood: tree grates.  How can this be so? Well, let's look at the four basic levels of non-industrial development we see throughout most of Chicagoland.  One is Urban Core.  Here we have busy sidewalks and extremely tall buildings.  There isn't nearly enough consistent sunlight at street level to support trees, and who wants them there, anyway?  The shade trees provide is already taken care of by skyscrapers, and the views people come to Chicago for involve towering sheer faces of steel and glass, not leaves.

Continue reading...

Most Active Pages Right Now

ChicagoNow.com on Facebook