Tagzoning

You can have your free parking when I get my free cappuccino

Kudos to this Chicago developer and their architect for blending the parking garage into the building. I still dislike that it’s visibly a parking garage. 

My friend Payton Chung has some very dry urban planner humor. Which I absolutely love. He wrote about parking minimums in Washington, D.C., and the current proposed zoning change that would reduce them (and included a reference to Chicago’s parking “podiums”). The best part is below:

Drivers’ inability to find free parking spaces outside their offices is no more deserving of a public policy response than my inability to find a free cappuccino waiting outside my office.

Free parking makes the world go round, doesn’t it.

I wish I wrote a blog about food trucks sometimes: Chicago has made it really difficult for expansion

The Flirty Cupcakes food truck. Photo by Andrew Huff. 

Most of my time (because it’s actually my job) is to blog about transportation. This blog is about cities, and cities are about food trucks, so I guess it’s fine. I neither own a food truck, nor patronize them, but I’m fascinated by the process of how city administrations are handling them, whether through some kind of indifference or making regulations that seem only to make running a food truck more difficult than it should be.

At a “mobile food summit” at the University of Chicago in the spring of 2012, I learned from the sponsor Institute for Justice that they were suing cities for passing unconstitutional laws that regulated business not for health and public safety, their duty, but to protect the economic well-being of other businesses. Based on that knowledge, Chicago did this with the food truck ordinance from July 2012.

The Chicago Tribune reports today, in summary form, the current status of this regulation (here’s the full article):

No city licenses for food trucks

The city hasn’t licensed a single food truck for onboard cooking since the practice was approved in July. Some food truck operators say they’re scared off by the extensive red tape they foresee in the application process. Of the 109 entrepreneurs who have applied for Mobile Food Preparer licenses, none has met the city’s requirements.

I looked this up to know more and I found short commentary on Reason magazine’s blog:

The City of the Big Shoulders is hungry. And 109 entreprising folks want to help feed it. Too bad they’re not allowed to.

For example, the Tribune interviewed proprietors, one of whom said, “While most of its provisions are similar to those in other major cities, [Gabriel] Wiesen said, Chicago’s code includes rules on ventilation and gas line equipment that “are meetable but extremely cumbersome and can raise the price of outfitting a truck by $10,000 to $20,000.”

The bit about the regulation possibly being unconstitutional is that the food trucks with this license (which allows them to cook on the truck) must have a GPS device recording their position during retail hours and cannot operate within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant (except in designated mobile food truck loading zones, for a maximum of two hours). Restricting where and when a food preparation business can operate is the tricky part: the city doesn’t regulate this for brick-and-mortar restaurants (except for zoning, which is much more lax and is intended to keep incompatible land uses away from each other).

Logan Square McDonald’s crash map

This is part of a series of articles on the issue of lifting the pedestrian street designation on a part of Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square so that the McDonald’s franchise owner can demolish the building, build a new building, and build a double order point (“tandem”) drive through. Read the first post

At the hearing on December 13, 2011, Alderman Reilly asked if there was evidence of injuries or crashes due to the drive through. No one brought this data to the hearing. I cannot directly attribute the crashes to the existence of the drive through (unless I had the original crash reports), the drive through probably generates traffic that would not be there without the drive through, and it causes people to have to turn across a lane of traffic, either to enter the driveway on Milwaukee, or when exiting the driveway onto Sawyer, or when turning onto Milwaukee from Sawyer. I am looking for studies that research the impacts of drive throughs at fast food restaurants and pharmacies.

37 people were involved in 13 crashes within 100 feet of the center of the McDonald’s driveway from 2007-2010. Seven people were injured, one was a pedestrian. Double the search radius to 200 feet and we see 87 people involved in 35 crashes. Now, four pedestrians and cyclist were injured in addition to the 10 drivers and passengers injured.

Download the data in this map. View a larger map

This was my testimony at the zoning committee hearing (this may not be verbatim, but it’s really close):

Hello, my name is Steven Vance. 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 McDonald’s provide a traffic impact study before this matter is discussed further.

Lynn, a Logan Square neighbor, describes more of what happened at the hearing, as well as the next step at the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Here’s a map of all pedestrian streets in Chicago. View larger map.

Download a KML file of all the pedestrian streets. Download the shapefile of all the pedestrian streets. Thank you to Azad Amir-Ghassemi and Bill Vassilakis for their help in digitizing the table of pedestrian streets in the zoning code.

Update January 10, 2013

Driving danger

Crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation show several crashes along Milwaukee Avenue from 2005 to 2011. If this location hadn’t been removed from the P-Street ordinance, McDonald’s would have been required to install both the drive-thru’s entrance and exit on Sawyer, where there is markedly less traffic than on Milwaukee (or not build them at all). This project has not only allowed a documented hazard to persist (despite the P-Street designation), but perhaps to be worsened.

From 2005-2011, there were 3 bike-automobile crashes and 5 pedestrian-automobile crashes within 200 feet of the drive-thru entrance, which includes the intersection of Sawyer and Milwaukee (where many people will drive back onto Milwaukee from the drive-thru exit). There were 82 car-car crashes in the same period. At a nearby intersection, Milwaukee/Dawson, an intersection with a similar retail makeup and traffic count, shows about half the number of crashes.

Pedestrian Street designation in Logan Square

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:

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. 

Trying out new GIS software

I want to draw 50 and 120 feet buffers around the points of store entrances to show where bike parking should and shouldn’t be installed. I want to follow this example:

walgreens with bike parking buffers

Aerial photo of a Tucson, Arizona, Walgreens showing the location of existing bike parking and two buffers (50 and 120 feet) where proposed city rules would allow bike parking. I advocate for ratifying the 50 feet rule, which I’ve discussed on this blog and elsewhere many times.

I want to do this easily and accurately, so I will use GIS software to create a “buffer.” I use QGIS occasionally, but I want to try out other Mac-friendly applications. I’m getting my orthoimagery (geometrically corrected aerial photography) from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) using a web protocol called Web Map Server. I’m trying:

  • Cartographica, $495, with free trial license.
  • uDig, completely free software. UPDATE: I have had NO success getting any data to load from a WMS connection into uDig. I would like to understand why. Cartographica can obtain some of the WMS-stored data I want, although it messes up often.

I’m having success with neither – both are having issues downloading or maintaining a connection to the USGS orthoimagery. In one case, Cartographica trims the Bing Maps imagery to match the extent of my other objects (the buffer). In another case, it won’t even download the USGS imagery (and gives no indication that anything is happening). uDig hasn’t been able to download anything so far – I hope it’s asking for the current extent, instead of all data because it’s taking a looong time to do anything (so long that I just quit in the  middle of it).

This screenshot shows how to add new WMS connections to Cartographica.

UPDATE: I did it! I successfully used Cartographica (and the integrated Bing Maps) to create this drawing that shows the current (abysmal) bike parking at a Chicago Home Depot outside the 50 feet line.

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