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Jefferson Park station renovation highlights train station planning deficiencies

Jefferson Park train station rendering

Jefferson Park train station rendering from the City of Chicago. The only difference you see is canopies. What you don’t see is a walkable connection ut thisetween shops southeast of here and the train station – they’re separated by a strip of parking.

Plans for the renovation of the Jefferson Park CTA station are illustrative of the City’s failure to think deeply about how to design the projects that is funding in a way that maximizes potential for residential and commercial development around train stations.

The changes proposed for one of Chicagoland’s most important transit centers are weak. There’s no development plan, or any kind of neighborhood plan or “Corridor Development Initiative” for the Jefferson Park transit center.

Current city policy identifies train stations as optimal places to build new housing and commercial uses.

Without challenging the design to respond to this policy the transit center will continue to use neighborhood space inefficiently and doesn’t respond to demands from residents to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety and increase economic development.

Judging by the renderings, nothing is changing at the Jefferson Park Blue Line station (4917 N Milwaukee Ave). All of the improvements save for the canopy are invisible in this rendering. The CTA’s list of improvements reads like the superficial makeover that many stations got in the Station Renewal program almost three years ago, a stopgap measure until Your New Blue could begin.

There will be LED lighting, new paint, new escalators and stairs, new paving, and a new canopy. Only a few of those things make the station easier to access and use.

Jefferson Park is a major asset to the neighborhood and the city. The station serves CTA trains, Metra trains, CTA buses, and Pace buses to Chicago’s suburbs. The CTA’s September 2014 ridership report [PDF] said there are an average of 7,420 people boarding the Blue Line here each weekday, a 0.1% increase over September 2013. It’s the busiest Blue Line station outside of the Loop and O’Hare airport.*

On Twitter I said that the station should be surrounded by buildings, not bus bays. I’m not familiar with how many routes and buses use the station daily, and I’m not suggesting that space for buses go away. I’m challenging the Chicago Transit Authority and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come up with a better plan for vehicle and pedestrian movements, and to start welcoming new development.

I pointed out the new Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Virginia where a residential building was constructed atop a bus bay (where I transferred from the Washington Flyer bus from Dulles). A plaza connects the bus bay to and apartment lobby and the Metrorail station.

Bus bays under an apartment building in Reston

The bus bay at the Wiehle-Reston Silver Line station in Reston, Virginia, is under an apartment building and plaza linking it to the Metrorail station.

The Metropolitan Planning Council conducted a consultation for the Logan Square Blue Line station – Your New Blue will make upgrades here, too – and the next door city-owned parking lot. Their consultation involved 700 people to decide what development at this station should look like. Their desires were pretty specific: there should be affordable housing, but not any higher than six stories.

The current policy, enacted as an ordinance and expressed in other city documents, allows developers to build more units in the same plot and save them and their tenants money by building less parking. But this policy is insufficient in that has no design review or public consultation attached. It also provides no zoning recommendations to expand the number of places to which it can apply.

A development plan, for which the CDI serves as a good, starting model, would bring residents – and people who want to live in the neighborhood – to discussions about if and how the neighborhood should change. It would hook into another city proposal, from the Chicago Department of Transportation, to build protected bike lanes on Milwaukee, but which ultimately failed. The process would probably uncover latent demand to build new housing in the neighborhood that’s stymied by incompatible zoning.**

The city’s recent choices for development and (lack of) urban design at this station as well as across from the Halsted Green Line station in Englewood where the city is selling vacant land to build a Whole Foods-anchored strip mall demonstrates how little deliberation there is in maximizing transit-oriented development, or TOD.

Their suburban forms are the antithesis of how we should be designing the stations and their environs – they should have higher densities and walkable places.

* Metra has published its 2014 station-level counts! This station had 599 daily boardings, yet not every train stops here. The Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW) line that stops at Jefferson Park saw a 3.8% increase in ridership [PDF] from January to September 2014 versus the same period in 2013.

** There are no parcels near the Jefferson Park transit center that allow the transit-adjacent development ordinance to take effect; developers have to go through an arduous and sometimes costly process to persuade the alderman to change the zoning. The ordinance only affects Bx-3 districts (where x is 1-3 and -3 is the allowable density identifier).

Introducing Grocery Store Bike Parking Ratings

This article is part of a series (it seems) of grocery stores with poor bike parking – it first started with my local Dominick’s. I started an inventory and rating system for Chicago. I welcome your contribution. If you want to start a page for your town, I can help you with that.

After seeing the photos of the wacky bike parking situation at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods on Ding Ding Let’s Ride, I had to take a trip there myself!

By my count, I find that with 3 wave racks (of 2 sizes) and 3 grill racks, there are 27 bike parking spaces. You can debate me and possibly find 4 more.

Surely you can fit more, just like you can fit 4 bikes on a 2-space Chicago u-rack.However, the racks are installed so closer together to make this area quite a pain to find a space. And if you have a long wheelbase cargo bike (bakfiets, Madsen, or Yuba Mundo), GOOD LUCK!

The only space available for a longtail cargo bike like my Yuba Mundo is in a car parking space next to a hybrid Chevy Tahoe illegally parked in a handicapped parking space.

Photo showing too-close placement of the two kinds of racks. Notice that some bikes hang into the curb – it was the only way to use that bike rack. Other spaces might not have been opened when these people arrived.

But officially, for planning purposes, the Chicago Department of Transportation considers that rack as only fitting 2. This area could easily be sheltered. I think it’s something the store should look into. It provides sheltered car parking, which costs proportionally more than sheltered bike racks!

In the future, I expect better from Whole Foods.

For now, Target takes home the cake for providing consistently “good” bike parking. (Great’s the best a store can achieve.) So far, the rating system isn’t fully formed or automated. It’s a work in progress!

Sidenote: Access to Whole Foods via bicycle really sucks. There’s a 5-way intersection controlled by stop signs; then there’s the old railroad track and potholes. It might be better if you come in from the south, but then you have more RR track to deal with.

Photo montage showing how to access Whole Foods from Sheffield by bicycle.

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