Tag1st Ward

No more drive throughs, please

People drive their cars in and out of the parking lot for Micro Center, Joann Fabrics, and other stores in this strip mall on Elston Avenue. This design is almost inherently unfriendly to bicycle and walking transportation. But it doesn’t have to be. 

One reason that makes dense, urban areas pleasant and pleasurable is their walkability, variations in land uses, and architectural designs. When you walk down Belmont Street at Sheffield and encounter a new business or restaurant every 25 feet, you’re interested. Interested and curious in what others are doing, what new food you can eat, or what you will experience.

Photo of Belmont Street shopping and graffiti by Oscar Arriola. 

The opposite of this is Elston Avenue, between Ashland and Western Avenues. This stretch is marked by curb cuts, driveways, and seas of parking. Add in the lack of a bus route or nearby ‘L’ station, and you’ve got an environment that’s downright hostile to users of sustainable transportation modes.

I am still doing research for my article on the “pedestrian street” designation. In my research, I’ve learned a lot about the Zoning Board of Appeals, Special Use Permits, and drive throughs. I still haven’t been able to locate studies or reports about the effects drive throughs have on traffic or neighborhoods.

Just in the past 5 days, I’ve found out about the following news:

  1. The McDonald’s at Western Avenue and Milwaukee Avenue (1951 N Western Avenue) is seeking a special use permit. For what, I don’t know. It could just be a rumor. This is the same McDonald’s whose drive through someone so desperately needed to access and almost hit me with their SUV (see image below).
  2. Nodarse Family, LLC, is seeking a special use permit at 1646-1663 N Western Avenue for “the establishment of a one-lane drive-thru facility to serve a proposed 1-story restaurant”.

When I look at Street View for the 1646-1663 N Western location I see several homes and an empty lot with a car parked in it. The address seems to be a mistake, as 1663 is across the street. And even though this is a residential area, it’s zoned B3-2*.

In Mayor Emanuel’s “interest” (more like a selective, here not there, interest) for transparency, I’d like to see information that’s easier to find and process. For news from Zoning Board of Appeals, a blog-like website that lists all permits being considered and permits recently issued would be very helpful. I could subscribe via RSS and get notified of special use applications.

What’s a special use permit?

A special use permit is needed when the developer doesn’t have the right to build something that requires a special use permit. Like establishments for day laborers. Or drive throughs. Or businesses that sell liquor. Or a pawn shop. Speaking of pawn shops, Nodarse Family, LLC, owns the property 2826 N Milwaukee, for which the owner is seeking a special use permit to open one. This is in the 35th Ward, the same ward whose Alderman seems to have it out to build as much parking as can be built. You can see these applications on the ZBA’s agendas.

I’m not a fan of drive throughs.

B3-2: “Community shopping – destination oriented, no limit on size of commercial establishment. Allows dwelling units above ground floor.”

Where would you ride

Infrastructure and street design is the most influencing factor in how we behave and maneuver our vehicles (bicycles included, even if Illinois doesn’t think so and California does) in the roadway.

I’m taking a non-scientific poll.

1. Given the lane configuration in the photo below, and the dearth of vehicles in any lane you see, where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

2. Now take a look at this photo mockup of a protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue through the 1st Ward in Wicker Park. Where would you ride your bicycle, and why?

Which facility would you prefer to ride your bicycle in?

1, or 2?

Read more about cycle tracks/protected bike lanes on Steven Can Plan.

How far can a protected bike lane go in the 1st Ward

Now’s the time to start imagining a future Chicago that has a protected bike lane on the busiest and most crash-prone street for bicycling in Chicago. And 1st Ward Alderman, Joe Moreno, seems to have gotten the wheels turning.

This is what a cycle track or protected bike lane on Milwaukee Avenue between California Avenue and Division Street might look like; the whole stretch is in the 1st Ward. If I had the skills, I would photoshop in some bollards or Jersey barriers making it look similar to this lane in Brooklyn.

Actually, this is what it would look like. Thank you Nate Lynch for creating it. 

The overarching challenge of creating such a facility, which would make bicycling through a bit safer by eliminating most doorings, is dealing with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC (CPM). If you’ve been living out of the country or under a rock, it’s the company owned by a bank or two and leased Chicago’s on-street parking spaces and revenue collection system (the city still gets to collect the fines). CPM essentially owns the space. And if we want to do something with that space, we either have to buy it back through an annual fee or trade them equivalent performing (expectedly) spaces elsewhere that aren’t currently controlled by parking meters.

When asked about this problem on April 20, 2011, at the Boiler Room in Logan Square, Alderman Moreno said, “Fuck, em.” John Greenfield has the full story:

“Six years ago Chicago was ahead of Seville in terms of biking,” says Moreno. “Now Seville has physically separated bike lanes and a bike-sharing system, and they’ve closed down their center city to cars. It’s so easy to bike there, everybody’s doing it: old people on adult tricycles, young men in suits and women in heels.”

“What I meant was, this is 2011. I’ve talked to Rahm Emanuel and he’s on board with moving forward in a bold direction, so I’m not going to stop,” Moreno told [John]. The alderman says he might be willing to swap LAZ’s lost parking spaces for a high-density garage on Milwaukee. “I say to them, if you want to be part of the solution, great. If not, feel free to sue the city.”

Please send your support to Alderman Moreno.

As a first location for a protected bike lane under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 100 days plan, I don’t support choosing Milwaukee. It will take too long to get paint and bollards on the ground here while Grand, Clybourn, or Blue Island Avenues pose fewer barriers.

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