A vacant lot is for sale near the 606’s Bloomingdale Trail, a popular amenity that’s now known to have an effect in increasing home values. It’s zoned RS-3, which means it bans apartments. If the zoning stays the same, then the vacant lot will only allow a rich family to move in here. If the lot’s zoning is changed to allow apartments or condos, then the vacant lot could welcome families that earn median incomes.
You can build multi-family housing on the lot if you can get a zoning change, but you’ll have to pay the city a fee, convince your future neighbors that they shouldn’t oppose it, convince the alder that he should support it, and you’ll have to hire a lawyer.
Let’s say that zoning changes in Chicago were free and frictionless*. What should be built on this lot?
If the lot would allow multi-family housing, we can build several units for less money per unit than if we built a single-family house. That means that three families (let’s stick with three, which requires a zoning change to RM-4.5) could be housed for less money per family than the cost of one family.
How’s that? The sticker price for this lot is $425,000 right now, and if one family is paying for that plus the cost of building a house, then your minimum investment is pretty massive. (I suspect the lot will sell for something closer to $400,000.)
I looked at new construction costs on Chicago Cityscape, as indicated on building permits issued within 1 mile of the vacant lot, took the average, and added it to the cost of land per unit.
The average new construction single-family house, from the 10 most recent permits, is $304,052.78.
The average new construction multi-family housing, from the 10 most recent permits, is $230,192.13 per unit.
Total cost per unit (land + construction)
Add in the land cost per unit ($425,000 for the single-family house and $141,666.67 per unit for the 3-flat) and you end up with the total costs of:
$729,052.78 for the single-family house
$371,858.80 per unit in the 3-flat
Add in the profit or “cap rate” that a builder wants to make and the price is even higher, but the people who would buy in the multi-family house would be paying much less for their homes.
The city can generate more affordable housing if it “upzones” vacant land and stops banning multi-family housing. (Much of the city’s parcels have been “downzoned” to ban multi-family housing in a process that creates “exclusionary zoning” and allows only – expensive – single-family housing.)
The city and the Chicago Transit Authority will earn more real estate transfer taxes (RPTT) from the sales of the units as condos than from a single-family house.
Three families instead of one would enjoy living to the wonderful amenity that the Bloomingdale Trail and the parks that the 606 offers.
* The City of Chicago charges a zoning change fee of $1,025, and you will most likely have to hire a lawyer, and it will take about 3-6 months, depending on the complexity of the proposal that requires the zoning change. You can use Chicago Cityscape to see actual approval times (excluding the time meeting the alder for the ward of the proposed project).
Maps have been used to devalue neighborhoods and to excuse disinvestment. There should be maps, and narratives, to “greenline” – raise up – Chicago neighborhoods.
The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation “residential lending security” maps marked areas based on prejudicial characteristics and some objective traits of neighborhoods to assess the home mortgage lending risk. (View the Cook County maps.) The red and yellow areas have suffered almost continuously since the 1930s, and it could be based on the marking of these neighborhoods as red or yellow (there is some debate about the maps’ real effects).
The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation and its local consultants (brokers and appraisers, mostly) outlined areas and labeled them according to objective and subjective & prejudicial criteria in the 1930s. Each area is accompanied by a data sheet and narrative description. The image is a screenshot of the maps as hosted and presented on Chicago Cityscape.
The idea of “greenlining”
I might be thinking myopically, but what would happen if we marked *every* neighborhood in green, and talked about their strengths, and any historical and current disinvestment – actions that contribute to people’s distressed conditions today?
One aspect of this is a form of affirmative marketing – advertising yourself, telling your own story, in a more positive way than others have heard about you in the past.
In 1940, one area on the Far West Side of Chicago, in the Austin community area, was described as “Definitely Declining”, a “C” grade, like this:
This area is bounded on the north by Lake St., on the south by Columbus Park, and on the west by the neighboring village of Oak Park. The terrain is flat and the area is about 100% built up. There is heavy traffic along Lake St., Washington Blvd. Madison St., Austin Ave. (the western boundary) and Central Ave. (the eastern boundary).
High schools, grammar schools, and churches are convenient. Residents shop at fine shopping center in Oak Park. There are also numerouss small stores along Lake St., and along Madison St. There are many large apartment buildings along the boulevards above mentioned, and these are largely occupied by Hebrew tenants. As a whole the area would probably be 20-25% Jewish.
Some of this migration is coming from Lawndale and from the southwest side of Chicago. Land values are quite high due to the fact that the area is zoned for apartment buildings. This penalizes single family occupancy because of high taxes based on exclusive land values, which are from $60-80 a front foot, altho one authority estimates them at $100 a front foot. An example of this is shown where HOLC had a house on Mason St. exposed for sale over a (over) period of two years at prices beginning at $6,000 and going down to $4,500. it was finally sold for $3,800. The land alone is taxed based on a valuation exceeding that amount. This area is favored by good transportation and by proximity to a good Catholic Church and parochial school.
There are a few scattered two flats in which units rent for about $55. Columbus Park on the south affords exceptional recreational advantages. The Hawthorne Building & Loan, Bell Savings Building & Loan, and Prairie State Bank have loaned in this area, without the FHA insurance provision. The amounts are stated to be up to 50% and in some cases 60%, of current appraisals.
Age, slow infiltration, and rather indifferent maintenance have been considered in grading this area “C”.
Infiltration is a coded reference to people of color, and Jews.
My questions about how to “greenline” a neighborhood
How would you describe this part of Austin today to stand up for the neighborhood and its residents, the actions taken against them over decades, and work to repair these?
How do you change the mindset of investors (both small and large, local and far) to see the advantages in every neighborhood rather than rely on money metrics?
What other kinds of data can investors use in their pro formas to find the positive outlook?
What would these areas look like today if they received the same level of investment (per square mile, per student, per resident, per road mile) as green and blue areas? How great was the level of disinvestment from 1940-2018?
In the midst of writing this, Paola Aguirre pointed me to another kind of greenlining that’s been proposed in St. Louis. A new anti-segregation report from For the Sake of All recommended a “Greenlining Fund” that would pay to cover the gap between what the bank is appraising a house for and what the sales price is for a house, so that more renters and Black families can buy a house in their neighborhoods.
That “greenlining” is a more direct response to the outcome of redlining: It was harder to get a mortgage in a red area. My idea of greenlining is to come up with ways to say to convince people who have a hard time believing there are qualities worth investing in that there they are people and places worth investing in.
The American Planning Association, Illinois chapter, sent out a legislation alert this morning about three bills that would prevent government funds from being used to send employees to conferences.
I wrote the following letter to my two state representatives.
Dear Representative Soto and Illinois Senator Aquino,
I urge you to vote no on the bills HB4246, HB4247, and HB4248 (“bills”).
I am a professional urban planner in Humboldt Park who hopes to have a job with a government agency in Chicago very soon (I’ve applied three times to the same agency, because I want to work there so badly). I have many colleagues, friends, and fellow UIC alumni, who currently work for government agencies in Illinois.
These bills will ban government employees from attending conferences, which is important to government and to these employees for 3 reasons:
1. It’s an opportunity for the worker to learn the latest knowledge, technology, and practices for their line of work. Government agencies should have high quality workers and staying abreast of new ideas in their field is paramount to a high quality government agency.
2. It’s an opportunity for the government agency to share the results of their internal work with a wider audience, gain recognition, and share and receive best practices from other government agencies.
3. Workers who are certified in their respective industries must attend events to receive “continuing education” credits to ensure they can keep their certification. If the employer isn’t paying for this, then the employee is encouraged to find a job elsewhere that will.
I understand that there seems to have been some abuse, at least from what I’ve read in the news about Governor Rauner’s head of the IT department, but these bills are an overbearing and potentially damaging way to deal with that problem.
But not all of the programs. There are more, but I don’t even know how many more, nor do I know all of their names. I just know that I’ve read about them before.
The article is where I learned that Benefit Chicago – a $100 million investment fund operated by the Chicago Community Trust, MacArthur Foundation, and Calvert Foundation, but hasn’t finished raising all the money – has started giving out loans and grants to Chicago recipients, including Garfield Produce Company.
Calvert Foundation has a brokerage (I think that’s the best name for it) through which regular Chicagoans can invest $20 minimum and earn 1.0% interest on that investment after 1 year. Longer periods net higher returns.
Anyway, back to my point…
If I were a business owner in Chicago, and I wanted financial assistance to expand my business – say, buy more kitchen equipment to be able to produce more food – where would I start looking?
Is there a list somewhere? Will my alder know? Is there a group in my neighborhood that can help me track down a funder? Is this more complicated than getting a VC to fund a “Bodega killer“?
One of the things I’ve tried to do with the tens of thousands of maps on Chicago Cityscape is highlight when a business or property owner could be eligible for financial assistance based purely on their geography.
Map of areas where you, as a business or property owner, can get funding assistance from publicly-funded programs.
These geographers where government funding is available are marked with a green icon of a dollar bill that links to a Resources page I adapted from a pamphlet the city’s planning department used to produce. These include:
TIF (tax increment financing) districts, including whether the district participates in the Small Business Improvement Fund
MMRP (micro market recovery program)
Enterprise Zone (a state of Illinois program)
Industrial Growth Zone (expedited approval processes + environmental remediation money)
Special Service Area (SSA; business improvement district)
Chicago landmark and National Register of Historic Places districts
Planned Manufacturing Districts (PMD), although I forget what assistance is available here
Neighborhood Opportunity Fund zones (an interesting policy that charges developers for additional density and grants that money to small business owners on the South and West Sides)
Not every area within the above categories is in a disinvested neighborhood because not every program was designed for that.
Green dollar bill signs on Chicago Cityscape
Once you know this, I guess you can target your research. But there’s still a lot more to do. To start: Where the heck is Chase investing? Where the heck is Benefit Chicago investing? They don’t publish maps, as far as I can tell.
Actually, thinking about this more, as I reach nearly 400 words in this blog post, I’ve got another idea: Show up at Rahm’s new Small Business Center at City Hall and ask them.
Alder Ameya Pawar emailed this story to subscribers of his 47th Ward newsletter. I am posting it here because there was no other way to view this online. I received it on Thursday, November 10, 2016, at 15:19.
I am the son of Indian immigrants and my dad was just five years old during the British partition of India and Pakistan. The trauma associated with splitting one nation into two by religion is still felt by Indians and Pakistanis today. The impacts to his family were very real. It wasn’t until he came to the United States in 1972 that he experienced a life without food rations. My wife, Charna, is Jewish and her family is made up of recent immigrants and refugees and survivors of the Holocaust. Charna often talks about how Jews have spent millennia running from one place to the next in search of a stable home. And she often talks about how our families, and millions of immigrants and refugees come to the United States because our country is the freest place in the world. Her family’s experience led her to a career in human rights where she worked with and taught unaccompanied undocumented minors at the International Children’s Center, led the Heartland Alliance’s Refugee and Immigrant Community Services department resettling refugees from Sudan, Iraq, and beyond, and was one of the leaders in Chicago’s efforts to resettle over 10k Hurricane Katrina evacuees, America’s refugees. She did so out of a sense of service to our country, a country that allowed entry to her family and millions of others; and she did so to help make the world a better place.
So when the Presidential campaign devolved into denigrating and casting refugees and immigrants as weak, drains on our government, and people to be feared, we were offended and horrified. Charna often says that refugees and evacuees are the most resilient people on the planet. They walk continents, survive warehousing, flee their homelands to escape violence, or leave their homes after a massive natural disaster in search of safety and the dream of a better life for themselves and their families. And that search for safety, security, and a better life is the definition of the American experience. So as the campaign rhetoric escalated over the last year, Charna and I had a conversation about some of the anti-immigrant, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic rhetoric coming from the President-elect’s campaign. What would we do if he won? What would we do if he was serious about a religious litmus test? What we do if he began rounding up undocumented immigrants, immigrants, and refugees? What would this mean for our family and our friends and neighbors from diverse backgrounds? Based on our collective experience and from history, we know how ugly rhetoric can spin from just that into policies and actions. So we asked ourselves, where would we go if we unimaginably had to leave? And the irony of the last question? My wife said “Germany”, the country that part of her family fled to escape the Holocaust, the country that today takes in hundreds of thousands of refugees from around the world, is one country that we could consider due to WWII reparations for the descendants of families that were forced to flee. And that was saddest conversation of our life.
I say all of this because we know what if feels like to be seen as ‘the other.’ And I know most of the 48 million people who voted for the President-elect do not believe, subscribe to, or hold values which align with the rhetoric of his campaign. My guess is that for many people who voted for the President-elect, they too felt like ‘the other.’ Economic policies, widening income inequality, and a lack of investment in communities manifested itself in the results on Tuesday night. We must deal with these issues and hear people before suffering forces more people into the arms of a demagogue. That’s really all I have to say on this because there is so much I don’t understand about Tuesday.
All said, I will continue to push back on the idea that wealth equals competence in government. I will continue to push back against leaders who seek to create ‘the others’, whether they are immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities, people of color, women, LGBTQ, or members of unions. My commitment to social justice will never change. I do feel that the level of our discourse has been cheapened by social media and other platforms where people and politicians seek immediate responses and appeal to and act on one another’s most base instincts. So my office is going to take a break from the echo chamber that is social media and find better ways to engage and promote rational public discourse.
In the coming days and months, we should all start a new level of discourse by engaging and helping organizations that do the hard work of protecting American values and serving our neighbors in need. I hope you’ll join us and get involved with organizations like Planned Parenthood, La Casa Norte, the Sierra Club, Heartland Alliance, Apna Ghar, Thresholds, the Center on Halsted, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Consider volunteering your time or making a financial contribution to an organization of your choice. Let’s all do our part.
In closing, I don’t have a prescriptive idea today – writing this letter to you is cathartic for me and an expression of many conversations I’ve had with some of you over the last 48 hours. I’ll simply end this week’s letter by going back to my dad’s story. My dad is 5 foot 2. I am 6 feet tall. And there is a reason for why there is a major height difference between the two of us. In India, my dad battled typhoid as a young boy and lived off food rations; I grew up here with plenty of food to eat and without any health or public health concerns. In just one generation, and because of American immigration policies, my parents were able to see their son elected as the first Asian American alderman in Chicago’s history and watch their daughter graduate with a doctorate from Northwestern University. America is a great country. Americans are a good people. And nowhere else in the world is my family’s story possible. But today, it is the hope and dream realized by my parents and my wife’s family that we cling to for support and hope. We have to chart a course forward and we will.
The Freedom of Information Act is my favorite law because it gives the public – and me – great access to work, information, and data that the public – including me – causes to have created for the purpose of running governments.
FOIA requires public agencies to publish (really, email you) stuff that they make and don’t publish on their own (which is dumb), and reply to you within five days.
All you have to do is ask for it!
BUT: Who do you ask?
AND: What do you ask them for?
This is the hardest thing about submitting a FOIA request.
Lately, my friend and I – more my friend than me – have been trying to obtain data on the number of traffic citations issued to motorists for opening their door into traffic – a.k.a. “dooring”.
It is dangerous everywhere, and in Chicago this is illegal. In Chicago it carries a steep fine. $500 if you don’t hurt a bicyclist, and $1,000 if you do.
My friend FOIA’d the Chicago Police Department. You know, the agency that actually writes the citations. They don’t have bulk records to provide.
Then he FOIA’d the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, and the Chicago Department of Finance.
Each of these five agencies tells you on their website how to submit a FOIA request. You can also use FOIA Machine to help you find a destination for your request.
None of them have the records either. The “FOIA officer” for the Administrative Hearings department suggested that he contact the Cook County Circuit Court. So that’s what we’re doing.
Oh, and since the Administrative Hearings department doesn’t have this information (even though they have the records of citations for a lot of other traffic violations), I figured I would ask for them for a list of citations that they do have records of.
Updated Oct. 10 with more examples of why this could be a problem. Updated Oct. 13 to include CMAP’s review of the amendment. I also posted an alternative version on my new Medium account.
Illinois voters are being asked in the current election – early voting has started – to support or opposed a constitutional amendment that would restrict spending of certain revenue sources.
The amendment to the Illinois constitution says that revenues derived from transportation sources – gas and related taxes, license and registration fees, sales taxes for transit, airport fees – can only be used to fund transportation initiatives. (see full text below).
The problem this amendment intends to solve is that sometimes Illinois legislators spend transportation funds on non-transportation projects, people, and services, depending on their priorities at the time – even when existing laws says they can’t.
Your ballot says: “The proposed amendment adds a new section to the Revenue Article of the Illinois Constitution. The proposed amendment provides that no moneys derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes, relating to registration, titles, operation, or use of vehicles or public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, or airports, or motor fuels, including bond proceeds, shall be expended for other than costs of administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes, including the State or local share to match federal aid highway funds.”
A “yes” vote means you want the Illinois Constitution to have this amendment.
A ChiHackNight member asked the #transportation channel in our Slack about this amendment.
Just got my copy of Proposed Amendment to the Illinois Constitution and bicycle and pedestrian paths are perhaps intentionally not listed as possible places to spend transportation tax revenue. Thoughts?
Very little (oh, so little) money is spent on bike and pedestrian things. Despite what you’ve read, there’s no way to guarantee that the recovered money – the small portion that’s being diverted – would be used to enlarge the pot spent on bike, pedestrian, or transit projects.
Existing laws dictate how the money is supposed to be spent
Many of the money categories in the amendment are already protected by either state or federal law. For example, the Passenger Facility Charge that each airline traveler pays to each airport on their itinerary can only be used on certain capital improvement and maintenance projects at that airport. The PFC differs by airport.
And just so we’re clear, there is no such thing as a “road tax” or “driving tax” in any part of Illinois. There is no fee for anyone to use the roads. What gas taxes are supposed to be spent on, first, and then allowed to be spent on, second, are defined in 35 ILCS 505/8 (from Ch. 120, par. 424).
Bike lanes and sidewalks are rarely called out separately because they are part of streets and roads, which are funded, and I don’t think it’s significant that the constitutional amendment doesn’t list “bicycles” and “pedestrians”.
It’s up to IDOT and other agencies that have jurisdiction over a road to choose to include those things as part of larger road changes. This constitutional amendment won’t change any policies, which are already mildly supportive of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Priorities and policy makers are the problem
I oppose this on the grounds that it restricts setting state priorities while it doesn’t actually prioritize anything within transportation.
Sometimes there are things that are more important than what the state buys with transportation money.
I have a huge problem with those things it buys, though. The priorities that Illinois legislators have for spending transportation moneys isn’t going to improve.
The state built the MidAmerica-St. Louis airport in Mascoutah for $313 million to serve as a “secondary” airport to the St. Louis airport. It opened in 2000. There are only flights to tourist destinations in Florida; the St. Louis airport never had a capacity problem.
The Illinois Department of Transportation wants to extend the St. Louis light rail through rural areas for 5.3 miles, but is still obtaining funding. However, they are spending about $300,000 annually on something for this project.
A screenshot of the Illinois FY17 enacted appropriations showing spending $330,010 annually for a project to extend a light rail station to an underused airport that cost the public $313 million.
That is exactly the kind of thing that has to stop and this amendment doesn’t do it. That money can still be spent on bad projects. There’s no shortage of bad projects, but there’s also no shortage of good projects that don’t get funded. States are already spending most of their money on new roads instead of maintaining existing ones.
Since projects are often selected and prioritized to serve political needs, and politicians oversee specific geographies, good projects will still linger in some geographies while bad projects are implemented in others.
In other words, the $300,000 on spending for the light rail extension to the underused airport can’t go to build pedestrian overpasses along well-used multi-purpose trails in DuPage County. It’s going to stay in that downstate legislator’s district because “economic development”.
Staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicagoland’s designated regional planning organization, issued a memo to the board a few days before I wrote this describing that the amendment is “unclear” on so many topics. They cite their discussions with unnamed amendment proponents who explain how the lack of clarity won’t be a problem because the General Assembly can pass laws clarifying that bike lanes won’t need a dedicated user fee if the amendment passes and that it doesn’t impinge on the rights of home rule cities to use gas taxes as they need to.
Spending is based on politics, not performance or need
With the amendment, the state will have to dream up some other transportation project in that district – I see a highway widening in their future. Without the amendment, the state could use that money for an important project in that area, but even that isn’t supposed to happen because the state already has laws dictating how project-specific bond funds can be spent.
This is also the problem with the Illiana Tollway that Governor Quinn so much wanted to build to gain favor with Southland legislators.
Whatever the case is, adhering more to performance (merit) measures on transportation spending – rather than political and district appeasement – is the most important change we can make.
It makes us inflexible
Finally, I question the amendment text. It’s hardly possible or easy for us non-legislators to know if the text covers everything that transportation funds are currently allowed to be spent on. What if there’s some project that turns out not to be an eligible recipient for these funds? Do we wait for the next election when we can get another constitutional amendment on the ballot, or hope that the Illinois Supreme Court will interpret the amendment to favor that project?
In fact, we already have a lot of laws that say how transportation-derived moneys are to be spent. The amendment, then, is a solution to the problem of trusting our state legislators.
The Civic Federation says that money is transferred from the various transportation funds to close budget gaps. “Limiting access to transportation-related revenues such as motor fuel taxes and motorist user fees could put additional strain on the State’s general operating resources” and “similarly affect local governments”. They also said that year-to-year figures of transfers and diversions have been calculated differently.
Additionally, DOT workers’ pensions may be paid for by transportation funds. Does this amendment cover that provision? If not, where else in the state’s budget would their pensions be funded?
Some of the work done by staff at other state departments is funded by some transportation user fees. Would the lockbox cut off their funding supply? A little of the work each department can be considered transportation related, but will the road lobby proponents of this amendment see it that way?
I dislike the inflexibility the amendment creates. Constitutions are meant to protect our rights. I don’t think that there’s a right that gas taxes must be used to pay for roads, while a sliver goes to build new CTA stations.
My writing partner at Streetsblog Chicago, John Greenfield, wrote an article that interviewed leaders at three transportation advocacy groups who were all in favor of the proposed amendment. The Tribune editorial he responded to is against it because it seems like a scam that the road lobby is promoting.
A “house” in Bridgeport at 3302 S Normal Avenue. The photographer, Eric Allix Rogers, noted in the caption that he saw on the Recorder of Deeds website that it was in foreclosure (in 2010).
When you vote in Cook County the general election this fall, which has already started here, you’ll find a question on the ballot asking you if the Recorder of Deeds office should be folded into the Clerk’s office.
The referendum is binding, and would take effect in 2020, the year of an election for a county recorder. There’s an election this year for county recorder and incumbent Karen Yarbrough is the only candidate.
The move will save taxpayer money, according to the Civic Federation, but which Yarbrough doubts. The consolidation is one step towards having a single office manage all of the county’s property records.
Currently four offices – all of which are elected – manage information about property: The recorder keeps track of property ownership and transaction; the assessor determines property value; the treasurer collects property taxes; and the clerk sets the tax rates.
Yarbrough deserves credit for the electronic record keeping innovation she brought to the office. A consolation is a further innovation. Yarbrough is correct that the recorder and clerk offices don’t have overlap, but there are efficiencies that can be devised and implemented as these two offices – along with the other two offices – exist for the same purpose: to collect property taxes.
Chicago Cityscape also advocates that the four property tax offices adopt open data policies that make property ownership, value, and tax rate info accessible.
Most of the urban block pattern in Barcelona is this grid of right angles (like Chicago) with roads between blocks that range from small to massive (like Chicago). Barcelona’s blocks, called “illes”, for islands*, are uniform in size, too. This part of Barcelona is called Eixample, designed by ldefons Cerdà in 1859.
The city is rolling out its urban mobility plan from 2013 to reduce noise and air pollution, and revitalized public spaces. Part of this plan is to reduce car traffic on certain streets in a “superblock” (the project is called “superilles” in Catalan) by severely reducing the speed limit to 10 km/h.
My favorite quote from the video is when someone they interviewed discussed what tends to happen when space for cars is converted to space for people:
“What you consistently see is when people change their streetscapes to prioritize human beings over cars is you don’t see any decline in economic activity, you see the opposite. You get more people walking and cycling around, more slowly, stopping more often, patronizing businesses more. That center of social activity will build on itself.”
A superblock is a group of 9 square blocks where the internal speed limit for driving is reduced to 10 km/h, which is slower than most people ride a bicycle. That’s the second phase, though. The first phase reduces it first to 20 km/h. During phase 2, on-street parking will disappear. In addition to the reduced speed, motorists will only be able to drive a one-way loop: into the superblock, turn left, turn left, and out of the superblock, so it can’t be used as a through street even at slow speeds, “allowing people to use the streets for games, sport, and cultural activities, such as outdoor cinema” (Cities of the Future).
A grid isn’t necessary to implement the “superblock”; it can work anywhere.
In Ravenswood Manor, the Chicago Department of Transportation is testing a car traffic diverter at a single intersection on Manor Avenue, where drivers have to turn off of Manor Avenue. This effectively creates a small superblock in a mostly residential neighborhood, but one that is highly walkable, because schools, parks, a train station, and some small businesses are all within about four blocks of most residents.
The Vox video points out that “walkable districts are basically isolated luxury items in the United States”. I agree that this is often the case, although NYC, pointed out as a place where people spaces are being made out of former car-only spaces, is spreading its “pedestrian plaza” throughout all boroughs.
Ravenswood Manor is a wealthy area, but the reason this project is being tried there and not one of the dozens of other places where a lot of car traffic makes it uncomfortable or dangerous to walk and bike is because of the need to connect the trails.
These temporary car traffic diverters are set up at Manor Avenue and Wilson Avenue to force motorists to turn off of Manor Avenue while still allowing bicyclists and pedestrians to go straight. Photo: John Greenfield
The diverter should drastically reduce the amount of through traffic in the neighborhood. Its effect on motorists’ speeds will be better known when CDOT finishes the test in November.
A worker installs a barrier identifying the entrance to a “superilla” (singular superblock) last month. Calvin Brown told me, “I prefer the name ‘super islands’ because it is more poetic and captures the peaceful setting that they create.” Photo via La Torre de Barcelona.
I see a connection between the “superilles” plan in Barcelona, and what CDOT is piloting in the small neighborhood. The next step for CDOT is to try iterative designs in this and other neighborhoods and start converting asphalt into space for other uses, but we may have to rely on local groups to get that ball rolling.
I had the great fortune of visiting Barcelona a year ago, and I had no idea about the plan – but I was impressed by Cerdà’s design of Eixample. I will return, and next time I’ll spend a little time bicycling around.