Pedestrian Street designation in Logan Square

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This post is set up as a frequently asked questions page and will be updated as needed. Not all information may be 100% accurate – this is a major work in progress. Also, please don’t freak out about this as information is still being gathered (so far no one has, thank goodness). Photo by BWChicago. 

Update December 13, 2011: I testified this morning to the zoning hearing along with four other Logan Square neighbors (including Lynn Stevens, author of Peopling Places). The ordinance was passed. Afterward, I talked to Virginia, the McDonald’s owner, and Anita, a corporate McDonald’s construction manager. I will have more information later, but I’m busy writing an unrelated article for my main blog, Grid Chicago. I will also post my testimony from the meeting when the City Clerk’s office publishes it (assuming it gets published). Regardless of how you feel on the issues regarding this McDonald’s, this has been an educational experience for me and so many of you reading this blog, as well as many Logan Square neighbors. We and you have learned more about how the zoning processes (there are many at play here) work, how to testify at committee meetings, and what the heck a Pedestrian Street is (I’ve never heard of it before this situation).

Update February 5, 2012: The official record of the Zoning Committee doesn’t actually have verbatim my testimony (thank you to the very responsive social media team at Susana Mendoza’s Clerk’s office for the help on this). I forgot to do this earlier – here’s what I said to Chairman Solis and the other members of the committee:

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. (I am an Avondale resident.) I work as a consultant and writer on sustainable transportation advocacy and planning projects. The text amendment to modify the pedestrian street designation may negatively impact the continuity and safety in traffic of all modes along Milwaukee Avenue, which happens to be the city’s most popular bike route. I ask that prior to any further consideration of this ordinance that McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study.

Also part of this February 2012 update is to answer the question on why I didn’t post this to my other blog, Grid Chicago, where it would get more attention. The reason was twofold: I didn’t have all the information I needed to make a quality post worthy of publishing there; and that I didn’t have my purpose in covering this (and fighting it) fully explained. I am currently working on an article that will be published on Grid Chicago. This is more than a business dealings or zoning process issue: it is a transportation issue and zoning, land use, and how and where we build stuff directly affects how we get to places. Transportation and land use also have well-documented links to individual and societal health.

I’d like to thank all the other blogs that have linked to this page, and furthered the discussion:

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Someone is testifying on this issue and no one is paying attention to them. 

What is going on?

Alderman Rey Colón proposes an ordinance to strip “Pedestrian Street” designations from two segments of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square. Here’s the proposed ordinance and the hearing notice. The hearing is on December 13, 2011, in City Hall at 121 N LaSalle Street at 10 AM.

Why does he want to do that?

It has do to with the McDonald’s at 2707 N Milwaukee Avenue, at the corner of Sawyer Avenue. Here’s what is proposed:

  1. The McDonald’s building will be demolished.
  2. A new McDonald’s building will be constructed.
  3. The new McDonald’s building will have two service lanes in their drive through, to facilitate better “drive-thruing” (and possibly increasing traffic on the streets with additional customers). You would enter from Milwaukee and exit onto Sawyer.
  4. The position/width/geometry of the curb cuts/driveways will change, necessitating the P-Street de-designation.

The alderman’s email describes a lot (although it says this is a renovation). Apparently to construct the new building, as designed, the P-Street designation needs to be lifted so McDonald’s can be issued permits build their new drive-thru, driveways, and curb cuts. However, as the existing building is being destroyed and a new structure is being built, the new structure must comply with zoning (this applies to all properties in Chicago that are new). The curb cuts and driveways already exist: a new building could hypothetically be built in the same footprint without needed any kind of change.

In essence, the new McDonald’s building, as designed, cannot be built without removing (whether temporarily or permanently) the P-Street designation as the P-Street designation disallows new curb cuts, driveways, and buildings with drive-thrus. However, if the existing building is only being renovated, and the curb cuts are neither changing in their size or location, then it’s in my and others’ opinions that no “special permission” is necessary. But, it’s made been made known to me by the email and by the Alderman’s staff that the McDonald’s owners cannot receive permits to do construction without the P-Street designation being lifted.

What is a Pedestrian Street?

Zoning code: “The regulations of this section are intended to preserve and enhance the character of streets and intersections that are widely recognized as Chicago’s best examples of pedestrian-oriented shopping districts. The regulations are intended to promote transit, economic vitality and pedestrian safety and comfort [emphasis added].” Read the rest in the Municipal Code of Chicago.

Peopling Places: See examples of retail areas that conform to a P-Street designation and examples of non-conforming uses – they’re not pretty.

What is the Logan Square Pedestrian Street?

A P-Street designation starts at the six-way intersection of Diversey, Kimball, and Milwaukee Avenues. The southeast leg moves down Milwaukee Avenue to Kedzie Avenue. See this map that shows the southeast leg and the parts that are proposed to be stripped.


View Proposed ordinance to strip Pedestrian Street designation in a larger map

Where are there other Pedestrian Streets in Chicago?

Map on GeoCommons, current as of December 21, 2011. Municipal Code of Chicago lists all of them in a table.

What’s the problem?

  • Driveways and curb cuts are not conducive to pedestrian friendly retail environments. New ones are not allowed
  • The current use is non-conforming. It was implemented prior to the P-Street designation so it was “grandfathered” in.
  • It’s not clear if the removal of the P-Street designation is temporary (although the alderman said in an email to Bike Walk Logan Square members that it is), and if so, when it will be reinstated. It’s also not clear if anything else will be approved while the P-Street designation is lifted.

What does the zoning code say about non-conforming uses?

17-15-0403-A: Unless otherwise expressly stated in this Zoning Ordinance, nonconforming developments may be altered or enlarged as long as the alteration or enlargement does not increase the extent of nonconformity [emphasis added]. A building addition to an existing nonconforming development that projects further into a required setback or further above the permitted maximum height is an example of increasing the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically extend existing building walls that are nonconforming with regard to front or side setback requirements will also be considered to increase the extent of nonconformity. Upper-story building additions that vertically or horizontally extend an existing building wall that is nonconforming with regard to rear yard open space or rear setback requirements will not be considered to increase the degree of nonconformity, provided that the original building was constructed before the effective dates specified in Sec. 17-1-0200 and provided such upper-story addition is set back at least 30 feet from the rear property line.

But since the building is completely new, then the new building must comply with all current zoning ordinances, including the P-Street designation. But since the alderman proposes to lift the P-Street designation, it won’t be complying with the P-Street section of the zoning code that disallows new curb cuts and driveways. Keep in mind that there are already curb cuts and driveways for the existing McDonald’s building. If the new building fit into the same footprint, a change in the driveways and curb cuts would not be needed.

Has anyone seen the building plans?

Not that I know of. I asked the Alderman’s office to see them and they are going to ask the property owners if I can. I feel that by seeing the plans I will have a much better understanding of the situation.

Have you talked to Alderman Colón?

No. I spoke with someone from his office, Monday, December 13, She was able to answer a couple questions, but needed to talk to others about my additional questions.

Other thoughts

If McDonald’s already has a curb cut, then replacing it with a new curb cut should not require the removal of a pedestrian street designation, especially parts of one that don’t have such a designation, and parts of one that should not be affected by this curb cut. (see non-conforming uses above)

Answered questions

Q: What is the estimated length of this “temporary” time period? And is there a chance that other things will change for other areas of that block while the P-Street designation is lifted?

A: If/when the permits are issued, then the Alderman can/will create an ordinance to reintroduce the P-Street designation for the affected segments (see the embedded map above).

Outstanding questions

Is it possible to approve the drive-thru without lifting the P-Street designation, as long as it doesn’t increase the extents of the nonconformity?

Is the proposed ordinance misspelled? It says to strip the P-Street designation from Kedzie to Central Avenue; it should probably read Central Park Avenue. Or, in another reading, perhaps it’s meant to convey that the ped designation is reclassified to be defined as from Logan to Kedzie (that’s a bizarre, needless distinction) and from Sawyer to Central Park., leaving out from Kedzie to Sawyer.

How come it just says “to reclassify pedestrian streets [then describes segments]” but doesn’t say what the new classification would be? Is it assumed that the new classification is just that it acquires the opposite classification (that being “no longer a pedestrian street”)?

Is the McD effort the ONLY effort that taking place? (Or are there other changes that might take place while the P-Street designation is lifted?)

What is involved in the McD effort? (Is it truly to “maintain” what is it currently? Or if there are changes being made to the parking lot, access, etc, what are they?)

Can the P-Street designation be lifted for a smaller portion of that block…so that it stretches only the length of the McD property area? (To play devil’s advocate, perhaps because of the way that designation works, it must be done “enforced” full block at a time?)

Why lift that small segment on the west side of Milwaukee between Sawyer and Sawyer (which is written wrong, mixing up east/west or north/south)? Why doesn’t it continue south to Kedzie on the west side of Milwaukee? Or alternatively, why lift the designation on the west side of Milwaukee at all? The southern point where Sawyer crosses Milwaukee is still in the middle of the McDonald’s properties, so it wouldn’t fully cover that development even if the west side of the street was relevant.

When I update articles, I always write when I updated it and a summary of changes I made. I will not be doing that for this article as the changes are being made fast and I may change a lot. 

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • Anonymous

    I heard about the proposed zoning changes from PeoplingPlaces http://peoplingplaces.wordpress.com/2011/12/05/save-milwaukee-avenues-pedestrian-orientation/, but didn’t know it was because of the McDonalds. It is a pretty busy drive-thru, but doubling the lanes will be a huge negative for pedestrians in that area. 

    Within a block radius, there is a movie theater, a grocery store, a convenience store, several restaurants, many little shops, and most interestingly, Alderman Colon’s 35th Ward office. I don’t see extra car traffic from McDonalds being good for any of them.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Stay tuned for more updates, especially after the zoning hearing tomorrow. 

      • Christopher Gagnon

        Is there value to citizens attending the hearing?  Can attending influence the outcome?

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          I don’t know. I and two of my friends and neighbors are attending. There is an opportunity to speak, and they are preparing statements (in which I may have a part). 

          Solidarity? I’m not sure if it will be noticeable that Logan Square residents have come to learn more about this proposal or fight it. 

          This is what I don’t want: anything that violates the provisions of the Pedestrian Street designation; lifting the P-Street designation for any reason. 

          • Christopher Gagnon

            I think I’ll attend the hearing.  I’ve never been to one.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            I’ve never been to ANY hearing before at City Council. I should probably go to at least one, right? heh

  • Anonymous

    Saying that the reconfigured drive-thru will add more traffic is a stretch. Rebuilt McDonald’s locations still only have two drive-up windows (one for money, one for foor), the doubled drive-thru is just at the menu board spot to remove a bottleneck; so someone ordering a coffee doesn’t have to wait behind a van full of kids, or what have you. If anything, it would keep drive-thru traffic from backing up onto Milwaukee. It’s more an increase in efficiency than in capacity.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Thanks for this insight. It makes sense to me and I haven’t done much research on the impacts of single versus double lane drive throughs. I’m trying to gather as much information as possible on this.

      • Anonymous

        I’d bet you’ll end up with something similar to this recently reconstructed location on Lawrence. http://maps.google.com/maps?q=lawrence+ave+McDonald’s+chicago&ll=41.968108,-87.724985&spn=0.001336,0.00284&fb=1&gl=us&hq=lawrence+ave+McDonald’s&hnear=0x880e2c3cd0f4cbed:0xafe0a6ad09c0c000,Chicago,+IL&cid=0,0,7370072565968598294&t=h&z=19&vpsrc=6&iwloc=A

    • Christopher Gagnon

      I disagree that it’s a “stretch” that this could increase traffic (assuming by traffic we are talking about number of vehicles entering the drive-thru from the street).   I think it’s more of a stretch to say that it won’t.   Just google “double drive-thru” and see many links discussing the increased efficiency and customer through-put that results.  Anyhow, it’s obvious that a business wouldn’t spend all this money rebuilding only to keep the same number of customers.

      • http://twitter.com/BWChicago BWChicago

        So are you saying there are presently lots of cars passing up this McDonald’s for whatever reason? McDonald’s is in the midst of rebuilding and remodeling all their stores, and this is clearly one of the oldest in the city. It’s a particularly small one and if you look at the aerial, there’s very little space on-site for cars to queue. Modern stores have a good 3 or 4 car lengths between the menu and the windows, two windows, space between the two. A double drive through doesn’t do anything more than allowing patrons with simpler orders to cut in line. And because it’s stacking the lanes, that allows more cars to line up on site instead of spilling past the sidewalk. You still have the same kitchen output, though a new one will probably work somewhat more efficiently.

        Having said all that, I think having a McDonald’s drive through at this site is an abomination of urban planning, and I would urge the zoning board to deny the request and have McDonald’s build somewhere else, leaving this site to be developed in the future like the Burger King in Wicker Park. For that matter, the parcel is so small, I’m surprised McDonald’s is even interested in keeping it.

        • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

          I’m waiting to see the plans for this project. I asked the alderman’s office and I just sent a FOIA request to the Department of Housing and Economic Development. 

          • Christopher Gagnon

            I’d like to find out about their bicycle parking requirement, since they have car parking I believe they will have to provide bike parking on-site.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            In my request, I asked that the plans they send to me at least show the curb cuts, driveways, drive throughs, building footprint, and parking lot. 

            I didn’t think about asking about bike parking. 

        • Christopher Gagnon

          Well, not exactly.   Of course I don’t have any data to support an argument that “lots of cars” pass up the McDonald’s, but I think it likely that some do, especially at peak hours, if only because I have done this myself in my earlier life (on the rare occasion I was driving somewhere and when I would still eat that crap).  I doubt I’m the only one.

          But even if my personal experience is completely novel and particular to me, we can still assume a new, faster, better, more efficient McDonald’s will also ATTRACT business it doesn’t get now, and this will result in more traffic.  While I’d love to believe that an improved drive-thru situation would result in the same or fewer cars, I just don’t see how it will work that way.

          I also consider it nearly a certainty that the efficiency of the operation has
          a measurable impact on the number of customers  served.   If your
          “cutting in line” example is true, then that means the next customer
          gets there faster too, and the next one, and so on.  And perhaps those folks just
          getting a coffee are most likely to skip it if it seems
          like it’s going to take too long–so if they perceive it won’t take too long, they’ll pull in. 

          I have absolutely no credentials or data to support my arguments, but “more efficient = the ability to serve more customers” seems so obvious as to nearly be a truism, as does the notion that increasing business is at least a major part of the aim of rebuilding.  They’re not rebuilding the whole McDonald’s just to make it look pretty–if they didn’t want more business, why bother? 

          Again, I acknowledge this is all speculation on my part.  So too, it seems, are your arguments.  Both of us agree however on the desirability of a drive-thru here, and I’m glad of that!

          • Anonymous

            Well, McDonald’s has always designed its buildings to have about a 20 year life at most, this is well past that. It’s a smaller building than they ever build now – they used to sometimes build “Mini-Macs” in urban locations with limited menus. They’d be rebuilding whether or not they could do a double drive through. I wrote my undergrad thesis on McDonald’s architecture and I’ve kept up with the press about their rebuilding campaign, so it’s not entirely speculative. A lot of it is re-imaging to attract a demographic that didn’t patronize them before, giving them a more cafe appeal. So their reasons are obsolescence, wear and tear, brand image, etc. If they saw that the area had untapped customer potential, they’d be moving somewhere nearby where they could build a larger building with more parking and vehicle storage instead of shoehorning it in here.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            I’ve never thought of McDonald’s architecture as something that a thesis could be written for. But now that I have thought about it, it seems like a reasonable and likely paper to write. 

            What was your thesis statement?

          • Anonymous

            It was just an undergrad honors thesis, so nothing terribly significant… I was basically analyzed how the design changes over time related to societal shifts and changes in business, particularly the shift from the modern hamburger stand golden arches design to the mansard design. I argued that they were effectively designed as machines for feeding and that the fact that they were so ubiquitous yet unique to their sites made them useful indicators of their surroundings.

          • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

            Do you think the same observations are true or accurate descriptions of Wendy’s and Burger King or Subway (which tends not to have freestanding restaurants, nor drive throughs)?

          • Anonymous

            Subway’s structured entirely differently, it’s very franchise driven where McDonald’s is top-down. BK and Wendy’s have been remodeling their restaurants in response to what McD has been doing, but much less aggressively. McD has pretty much always been at the leading edge and always much more rigid about operations. But certainly all the major fast food players have been re-imaging to stay relevant amid the fast-casual competition like Chipotle and Starbucks. It’s a change comparable to the late 60s, when you went from the walk-up self-service model to seats and drive-thru. The mansard roofs are disappearing, and hard surfaces are giving way to upholstery, good lighting, and landscaping.

          • http://peoplingplaces.wordpress.com Lynn Stevens

            McDonald’s can expand and renovate its building without lifting the pedestrian street designation. Expanding it toward the west would actually bring in more in conformance with the requirements of the designation rather than further away.

          • Anonymous

            They could expand the current building, yes, but it wouldn’t meet their current standards for drive-thru, which is apparently a prerequisite here.

          • http://peoplingplaces.wordpress.com Lynn Stevens

            That’s the concern for me. This is all about increasing the drive-thru access/options, which makes it even less pedestrian friendly than it is under the current non-conformities.  This is not about gaming the zoning to let them update/keep what has been “grandfathered.”

  • Jolson16

    Well overall drive thru mcdonalds in the city stink IMHO.
    This one especialy sucks because its on a busy street near the EL
    in a dense part of the city. Defeats the purpose almost.
    A drive through Mcdonalds here is just blight.
    The city went through dark times obviously, which is why
    we still have these ugly ugly fast food buildings here.
    These should be phased out, they are eyesores.

  • eric

    I wonder how much McDonalds is kicking back to Colon. “If you help us with this project, we can help with your re-election.” 

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      The franchise owner of the Logan Square McDonald’s also owns a McDonald’s in Suarez 31st Ward, at North and Kostner Avenues. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m not in any way claiming that this modification is a good thing for the neighborhood, but I’d like to point something out for anyone looking at a fall-back that would allow the proposed modifications on the McD site, but to mitigate some effects on the immediate neighbors.

    One aspect of increasing volume of the drive-through is that it will put more cars onto Sawyer, and some of that traffic will turn right, heading north on that street, which is probably not an improvement for the residents there.

    One improvement that might be proposed would be to cul-de-sac (or terminate) Sawyer just to the south (technically south-west) of the alley.  This would essentially turn that stretch of Sawyer into a free driveway for McD’s (albeit with LAZ parking on both sides of the street).  But this would reduce traffic flow on the adjacent residential streets to the north.  (It should be required that McD’s pay for the work, new signage, and be required to install and maintain landscaping on the “termination” itself.)

    McD’s planners would probably complain that when a bunch of people exit the drive-through, turn left onto Sawyer, then want to turn left across Lincoln, it could back traffic up into the drive-through lanes, but, well, too bad.  The alternative is a bunch of ticked-off drivers turning right/north onto Sawyer to avoid traffic and driving away while unwrapping McGreasy-whatevers in one hand and juggling coffee in the other, while holding a phone to the side of their head with a shoulder.

    Also, if the Alderman wants to rescind the pedestrian status on that stretch, why not build a time limit into the ordinance.  After 6 months the pedestrian status automatically returns.  McD’s architects and consultants have plenty of experience with zoning and the DoB in Chicago, they can get a project through pretty quickly, and if they screw something up, Colon could pass another mini-extension.  That way there would not be a requirement that anyone needs to trust that the reinstatement ordinance would need to be introduced/passed.

    (I know next to nothing about Colon, and I very much do not mean this as any sort of swipe against him personally, but… Most Chicago aldermen really know next to nothing about actually writing ordinances.  In general, I’d suggest that the folks in this neighborhood find other examples where a zoning requirement was lifted for a specific project then re-instated, and look into the text of the ordinances in those cases.  You may be able to offer the alderman (or more specifically his staff) good text to use as a model for the proposed ordinance(s).)

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      Thank you for this suggestion. 

      In my testimony today to the Zoning Committee I asked that McDonald’s provide a traffic study before this proposal (to pass the ordinance lifting the Pedestrian Street designation) is further discussed. 

      I think there are ways around the currently proposed plan (which is being revised, I learned, after talking to the franchise owner and the McDonald’s corporate construction manager in the region). One possible plan is to have both the entry and exit of the drive through (which will have two order points but not two lanes, as the McDonald’s representative tells me) on Sawyer, and none on Milwaukee. 

      As someone who bikes a lot around the city, I would only support a cul-de-sac if it had a cut-through for bikes. 

  • Anonymous

    wow Steve, awesome article. Give it another year, and this whole stretch of empty store fronts will all be filled. Besides the California+Milwaukee intersection being a new hot spot for nightlife and small biz, this area is going to have tons of pedestrian traffic, especially once Logan Theater opens back up in January. The parking ordinance was one thing,. but this is just nonsensical

    • http://www.stevevance.net/planning Steven Vance

      That intersection has several empty storefronts within 200 feet. Some big places, too. I always wish I had a good business idea. 

      • Anonymous

        oh believe me, the prime spots that are available is the old Max Gerber store on Milwaukee (huge space, would be perfect for a grocer) and the the office space at Logan Square Auditorium right above Dunlays. That GAP outlet at Diversey and Milwaukee is in a beautiful old, I’d say pre-art deco(?) building, and it’d be great to see that space renovated as well

  • Osito

    I don’t see the problem. Roughly 75%-80% of Chicago households have one or more cars. Considering this reality, outside of the Loop and environs, why would be expect businesses to ignore drivers? 

    IMO, the opposition is being driven by a few idealists who temporarily moved into the neighborhood during their 20′s, and are mad that Chicago doesn’t quite have that hard core NYC/Europe type of transit orientation.

    • http://peoplingplaces.wordpress.com/ Lynn Stevens

      Osito: I don’t think you understand the purpose of zoning the few
      remaining spots in the city that can boast a pedestrian orientation in
      order to preserve it. McDonald’s is the one out of step with the times
      here at this location. There are many areas of the
      city that do not have the advantage we have of a transportation hub that
      accommodates pedestrians, bikers, rapid and bus transit, and cars
      (nothing in the designation prevents them from parking and walking into
      McDonald’s).  I’d like to preserve and enhance that, not move away from
      it.

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  • http://twitter.com/ChicagoRanter Chicago Ranter

    I live nearby the McDonalds in question. Alderman Rey Colon left me a notice that they are having a public meeting on the issue at his office (across the street) at 2706 N. Sawyer on Thurs, Feb 2. Care to join me?
    the actual notice:
    “Alderman Rey Colon invites you to a public meeting for a proposed special-use drive-thru permit that will result in the construction of a new McDonalds at 2707 N. Milwaukee ave.
    Thu. Feb. 2, 2012
    6:30pm
    Meeting location:
    2706 N. Sawyer Avenue”

    Also: I just started reading up on the issue, didn’t the ordinance pass? If so, why is there a public meeting about it?

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      An ordinance passed to de-designate a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue as a Pedestrian Street. The McDonald’s franchise owner needs a special use permit now to have a drive through with two order points, which is one more order point than current. If the franchise owner elected to build a new McDonald’s with a single order point, none of this would be necessary.

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