Sunday, January 19, 2014

Opportunity is knocking: Follow up thoughts on the Children's Memorial redesign

by Michelle Stenzel

I attended the latest community meeting on the Children’s Memorial Hospital redevelopment site last week. More than 500 people came to hear the presentation by architect Joe Antunovich of Antunovich and Associates laying out the newest plan. 

There was a very big turnout of people at the Children's Memorial Redevelopment community meeting on January 14, 2013. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Although there were some concerns expressed about the heights of the proposed buildings, most community members spoke in support of the plan. You can read more coverage about the meeting and further opinions on the plan on DNA Info Chicago, Streetsblog Chicago, and Transitized.

We provided our opinions on the new plan last week based on the presentation posted online. Today we're adding just a few further thoughts that have materialized through the community meeting. (More -->)


During the community presentation, Mr. Antunovich mentioned a few times that they are working very hard with the city’s bike program (they’re actually now a Complete Streets team, which is better, because they consider the needs of all street users, including but not limited to, bicyclists) to improve Lincoln and Halsted for bicycling. 

Specifically, he reiterated that they would like Lincoln Avenue to have a continuous, marked bike lane the entire way through the project site. Currently, there are only sharrows, if I remember correctly, which are just bike symbols painted alongside the parked cars. So, a continuous marked lane on Lincoln would be an improvement, and we assume that that would mean a buffered lane at the very least. Given the narrow street and the number of metered parking spots, it’s probably unlikely that a barrier-protected lane is in the cards. (However, given the number of curb cuts there were on the east side of the street, the actual number of metered spots is likely quite low; perhaps these spots on the east side could be relocated elsewhere to make more room?)

He also said Halsted would be addressed, but didn't give any details. Halsted between Belden and Fullerton already has a traditional-style bike lane, but it’s terribly worn down from years of motor vehicle pressure. This stretch of Halsted hasn’t received the buffered lanes that have been added on that street north and south of the site, so it’s likely that buffered lanes will be added here as well.

Antunovich also showed a slide that reflected continuous marked bike lanes through the intersection of Halsted/Lincoln/Fullerton for people bicycling along Lincoln and Fullerton, and said that the project team hopes this can be done. We very much hope that can be done as well. Compared to what could be undertaken to improve this broad six-way intersection for people walking and bicycling, the suggested changes are frankly pretty modest so far, but marked lanes for the two main bicycling routes of Halsted and Lincoln will improve bicyclist safety by showing drivers graphically that they should expect the presence of cyclists. 
Marked bike lanes extending all the way through the large Lincoln/Fullerton/Halsted intersection would help bicyclists like this one. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Even more importantly, if indeed marked lanes will continue through the intersection, that means that the marked lanes on Lincoln and Halsted will have to lead all the way up to the intersection. Currently, all marked bike lanes disappear before the crossing, leaving a person riding a bike no designated space to safely ride. 

It would be best if we could install bikeways that provide physical protection from motor vehicles, but if that’s not possible, adding continuous, well-maintained buffered bike lanes that lead up to and through the intersections, along with enforcement of laws against standing or parking in the bike lane, will be an improvement over current conditions.


Antunovich and Associates provided a very nice video of the site plans that you can view below to get a virtual tour of the outside areas of the plan. You'll notice the large number of benches, fountains and a number of bike racks on the site.

I was struck by how well connected the three garden/plaza areas will be, and this will help the entire site be a true “connector” for people walking in the community, instead of the barrier that it is currently (and frankly, was when Children’s was in operation as well).

In our initial comments on the latest plan, we questioned why so much of the proposed Central Plaza had to be given over to motor vehicles circling through it. We had assumed that the design was done to accommodate residents of the condo/apartment building and a perceived need for “drop off” service at their door. However, during the presentation, I learned that that’s not even the case: Antunovich pointed out that the main vehicle access for the residential buildings will actually be elsewhere, on Orchard and Fullerton. Incredibly, it seems that the giant driveway is planned primarily to allow drop-off service for patrons of the restaurants that are envisioned along the edge of the plaza! 
This screen shot from the video shows how much of the plaza would be given over to motor vehicles. Only three cars are included in this rendering, but you have to picture the more realistic 10 or 12 that would parked or standing, plus an additional 2-3 that would be entering or exiting at any given time. 
That seems to be truly misguided thinking. People will be drawn to the restaurants and retail along the plaza if they’re getting a truly unique experience, and having a large, beautiful car-free plaza would provide that. They will not decide to come to the restaurants because there happens to be drop-off service a few feet from the door; that’s available almost everywhere else.

Antunovich said the plaza’s total dimensions are 150 feet by 150 feet, which is about half a football field. We urge Alderman Smith and the project team to consider what a huge and rare opportunity this presents for the neighborhood. The need for quality public space in Chicago is dire (read Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin writing about the topic in 2010 here). 

If this were to be made into a well-designed urban plaza, it would be the largest one of its kind in the city, after Daley Plaza. We’re envisioning something similar to the Fanueil Hall/Quincy Market area of Boston, where people stroll around in the evening to have dinner, eat and ice cream, and let the children play at the fountain. Perhaps we could entice the first neighborhood outpost of the hugely successful Eataly here as an anchor. Combined with the theaters and music venues to the north on Lincoln (Greenhouse, Victory Gardens, Apollo theaters and Lincoln Hall) and all the popular pubs to the south, this area could become a lively destination for visitors in addition to being a vibrant neighborhood in which to live. 

However, when a large looped driveway is included in the plaza, the space is broken up and degraded, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. We urge Alderman Smith and the designers to keep motor vehicles along the edge of the plaza, on the street side, where they belong, in order to make sure this is not an opportunity lost.

We’ve provided our thoughts to Alderman Smith in a letter, which you can read here. What are your opinions? Post them below, e-mail them to Alderman Smith at your voice at ward43 dot org  or to us at bikewalklincolnpark at gmail dot com

Follow us on Twitter @BikeWalkLP


  1. I wish I had insightful feedback, but all I have to offer is: prioritizing pedestrians, transit and cyclists over car traffic is good for our neighborhoods. Pedestrians are so vulnerable and we need to design spaces that increase their comfort and safety. We also need to create spaces that discourage driving by making the alternatives easy, more attractive and safe.

    I think the drop-off aspect of the design runs counter to its purpose and will degrade the environment.

  2. Better bike access should be built on Lincoln that's not a door-zone lane, and cars should be banned from the main plaza.

  3. Is this project basically definitely getting approved? If so, when is the estimate for when it could be completed?

    1. Well, details are still being worked out, but there will be certainly be a residential/retail site built here in the near future. I'm not sure what the current timeline is for construction. The developer's project website is and you may want to follow that. -- MS