Group lists top Chicago streets for car-free zones

The Active Transportation Alliance is calling for the creation of more car-free public streets and plazas in Chicago, and released a list of 20 streets and locations they say have the best potential.
February 12, 2014 5:31:30 PM PST
The Active Transportation Alliance is calling for the creation of more car-free public streets and plazas in Chicago, and released a list of 20 streets and locations they say have the best potential.

Citing the success of Navy Pier, Times Square in New York City and local car-free plazas, Active Trans said car-free streets and zones can make communities more attractive places to live and shop, generate more biking and walking and thus improve mobility and health.

There are many types of "car-free" streets - closing an entire street or portions of streets year-round, like the transformations of Times Square in New York City or the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall in Boulder, Colorado. But Active Trans said there are other options as well, including seasonal or periodic closings and using a portion of the street, rather than the entire street, such as converting one lane of traffic into a bike lane and plaza. Some car-free streets are integrated with transit, like Denver's 16th Street Mall. Car-free spaces can also allow vehicle deliveries and certain local car traffic.

"Nearly a quarter of Chicago's land mass falls within a public right-of-way, but most of that space is dominated by cars - not to mention the enormous amount of city space dedicated to private parking lots and parking garages," said executive director Ron Burke. "We have parts of Chicago where the streets are dominated by cars, but move only 10 percent of the people."

Pedestrian reviews of the idea are mixed.

"I know we are moving to greener ways, but I don't think that is friendly to all people, who are biking yet," said pedestrian Gina Miller.

"Maybe, we would cut down on pollution, I would say yay for the bikers," said pedestrian Charlene Roderick.

"I think reducing traffic on Michigan Avenue would be great. I walk everywhere, but I think it might have an impact on retailers," said pedestrian Joe Leventhal.

The association representing Michigan Avenue merchants said it's too early to comment on the idea. Taylor Street between Ashland and Racine is also the list. The popular restaurant Pompei Bakery says closing off traffic is a lousy idea.

"I think we'd lose business, our business isn't just from local people, people drive here from other places," said Dino John, Pompei Bakery.

Turning a major street into a car free zone is nothing new in Chicago, it was done here on State Street from 1979-1996 and it was considered a big bust.

"It's time to drop our grudge based on the poorly-designed State Street mall," said Amanda Woodall, policy and planning director for the Active Transportation Alliance.

Some of Chicago's most utilized car-free spaces currently include Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square, Sunnyside Mall, Ogden Mall and Englewood Mall. Car-free spaces are more common in downtown Chicago, where there is a pressing need for car-free space with so many people getting around on foot and bike. Downtown examples include Daley Plaza, Federal Plaza and some other modestly-sized private plazas; the expanding River Walk system; and the wildly popular Navy Pier, Illinois' top tourist attraction.

Active Trans says good candidates abut existing or potential retail and dining locations, entertainment venues and community centers. In residential areas, they should be accessible from local neighborhood streets so residents can leave their cars at home for an afternoon out with family. Well-thought-out pedestrian plazas also make good complements to transit hubs, serving the needs of commuters, Active Trans said.

Active Trans selected 20 streets and locations within Chicago's 234 square miles that they say deserve consideration for conversion into car-free space. Some streets like 47th Street in Bronzeville and Milwaukee Avenue through Logan Square have already been the subject of formal study. Active Trans selected other streets with input from community leaders, a release said.

Downtown
Dearborn and/or Clark, River North to South Loop. Example concept: convert a travel lane on Clark St. to a protected bike lane with a landscaped seating area next to it.
Monroe Ave. between Michigan Ave and Lake Shore Drive. Example concept: make the entire street segment car-free and extend the existing park space. Wide, well-lit underpasses would replace difficult crossings at Michigan and Lake Shore Drive.
Segments of Oak Street in the Gold Coast.
Segments of Rush Street in the Gold Coast.
Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile. More information at Transitized.Com

North
One or more streets near Wrigley Field
Segments of Broadway Ave. in Lakeview. Example concept. From Diversey to Belmont, make the entire street a car-free greenway with landscaping, seating, restaurant patio space and more. Use diverters to prevent local cut-through traffic, Clark and Halsted absorb traffic.
Segments of Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park
Simmonds Dr. between Lawrence and Foster through the lake front park.
Segments of Clark St. in Andersonville
Milwaukee Ave. through the square of Logan's Square
Bryn Mawr between Broadway and Sheridan
Segments of Webster Ave. in Lincoln Park

South
Segments of 47th Street in Bronzeville.
Segments of E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park
Segments of 18th St. in Pilsen. Example concept: dead end Carpenter, Miller and/or Morgan streets on the north side of 18th St. to create a pedestrian plaza. These streets already have limited through traffic because they extend just two blocks to the north before dead-ending at train tracks, and each street is offset on either side of 18th .
Ellsworth and/or Payne Drives in Washington Park

West
Taylor Street in University Village between Racine and Ashland.
Segments of 26th street in Little Village
Humboldt Dr. and/or Luis Munoz Marin Dr. in Humboldt Park. Example concept. Close these streets to car traffic during the summer to effectively expand park space and give people a safe place to walk and bike. This is common in other cities but not in Chicago.


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