Sunday, January 12, 2014

Our thoughts on the new Children's Memorial site plan

by Michelle Stenzel

A new proposed plan has been released for redevelopment of the Children's Memorial Hospital site, and we recently reviewed the proposal to evaluate its design in terms of walking, biking, transit and public spaces. It's a large site with many facets to the plan, and you should review the PDF of the presentation, which you can download from Ald. Michele Smith's web page, or attend the community presentation on Tuesday evening (January 14, 6:30 PM at DePaul Student Center). 
View of the new Children's Memorial proposal toward the southeast, with Lincoln Avenue on the right.
(All images in the post are from McCaffrey Interests presentation PDF unless otherwise noted)
The design of all the new buildings looks very nice! The external design of the new buildings is bright, airy, clean and modern. The plans call for preservation of historic buildings worth preserving, and lots of retail right where it's needed. (More -->)



The plan calls for three areas of open space that will be available for public use. We like that there will be open paths leading from each of the three garden/plaza areas, to help increase pedestrian connectivity from Orchard Street to Lincoln Avenue, and from Fullerton to Lincoln Avenue.

The placement of the Children's Park on Orchard is especially well-timed because of its proximity to Abraham Lincoln School, just half a block east, on Kemper. Lincoln will be receiving a much-needed new annex building in the next year to relieve the overcrowding at the school, but unfortunately, it will be losing half of its ground-level outdoor play area in the process (although it will gain a rooftop playground as well).  Having a small new park very close by on Orchard will be a nice feature for neighborhood residents to enjoy.

CENTRAL PLAZA

The only concern we have about the design of the site space is the revised Central Plaza. We had written our impressions of the initial design in this post, in which we pointed out that the design was very car-oriented, and would never be a pleasant place to sit and relax.

This is the drawing of what the newly designed Central Plaza would look like:


We note that it looks like a "shared space" concept is envisioned, in which there aren't the traditional asphalt-and-curbs that make it look like a street, but instead patterned pavers, no curbs, and street furniture like benches and planters scattered about to make it clear that people will be walking here. We appreciate and applaud that. 

However, it only becomes clear how much space will still be allotted for motor vehicles and drivers, versus how much for people walking and relaxing, when you look at the plan from above:


The proposed Central Plaza is made up of 25 squares of open area space. How many are given to motor vehicles and driving? Sixteen. How many for people sitting and relaxing? Nine. So that's 64% for drivers and 34% for public space. (We recognize there is additional area around the edges of the "driving area", along the buildings, that will certainly be only for pedestrian space, so the total ratio may be somewhat better that this.) Even with colored pavers, benches and plantings, we're doubtful that this can be a great public space. If there are coffee shops and bakeries around the edge of the plaza, this will be a de facto new street that drivers will use to pull in, double park -- "to run in just for a second" -- and then circle around and drive out again. No matter how slowly they drive, their presence will detract from the space.

Our question is, why does there need to drive-up-to-the-front-door access for this building? Perhaps a much better way would be to have a designated drop-off area right at the Lincoln Avenue curb for a few vehicles, intended for use of residents of the building and their guests. This would eliminate the curb cut completely and reclaim 100% of the plaza space. With that much room, the Central Plaza really could be a new heart of the neighborhood. Restaurants and cafe owners would be lining up to lease spaces on this plaza if they included generous allotments of outdoor seating. (Think of how much ice cream shops like Paciugo and cafe/bakeries like Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square thrive due to their being right on the edge of car-free Giddings Plaza.) 

NUMBER OF UNITS AND NUMBER OF PARKING SPACES

The new design has a decrease in the number of housing units and an increase in the number of parking spaces, compared to the previous plan. The decrease in housing units is likely as a result of residential  groups' demands for lower heights on the buildings. We assume that the residential groups also asked for more parking spaces, although we're not sure.


To all this, we'd like to point out that everyone in Lincoln Park is probably united in our desire to have a beautiful, lively, vibrant neighborhood. In that kind of neighborhood, we have housing stock that is occupied, retail storefronts that are rented and thriving with patrons, sidewalks full of people walking to their homes or workplaces or entertainment destinations. None of us wants to see even more cars, more traffic jams, more drivers cruising around for parking spots. 

In order to fulfill this vision, we need to attract many people to live, study, work, shop, eat and play here, but we don't want them all to drive to here and around here. Sure, some will have to drive occasionally, but for many trips, many people can and will choose not to drive if they are given better options.

So how do we do this? We should build residential complexes that provide homes for many people, because they're the ones who are main patrons of the area shops and business. (They're also new neighbors, new friends, new classmates and playmates for our children!) We should also design the buildings and surrounding streets in a way that encourages the residents and visitors alike to walk, bike and take transit as much as possible, so that they will leave their cars at home for most trips, or choose not to own cars at all. We should provide safe and pleasant sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, bike racks, Divvy stations, car share services, taxi stands and bus stops. We should advocate for frequent service of the bus and L lines nearby. (We proposed a number of these changes in our letter to Alderman Smith from August 2012.)

We should not provide easy, free or low cost parking, because that encourages people to drive more, which is what we don't want. More parking on site for residents and visitors induces more traffic. This is counter-intuitive to many people, and we want to present it here for people to think about.

LACK OF PUBLIC TRANSIT TO THE EAST

This site is three blocks away from the Fullerton L stop, which serves the Brown and Red lines. It's also on two major bus routes, the Halsted #8 bus and the Fullerton #74. However, the Fullerton bus line stops at Halsted and begins its turnaround, so residents of the new residential building will have no public transit to the east. As we've said in this prior post, the lack of bus service (or safe bike lanes) to the lake means that many people likely choose to drive from points west, causing a perpetual traffic jam on Fullerton.

Google maps screen shot - with our edits.
It's nice to see that under the new McCaffrey plan, a senior housing center is proposed at the corner of Fullerton and Orchard in the new site design. However, we can't help but wonder how the owners of the center trying to attract tenants will explain the lack of transportation options to reach popular attractions to the east, like the Lincoln Park Zoo, Caldwell Lily Pond, Notebaert Nature Museum, and the Lakefront Trail. All those destinations are nearly one mile away, which for a senior citizen, is quite a distance to walk. Isn't it high time to fill this transit gap? If public bus service on Fullerton east of Halsted isn't restored, the likely "solution" will be for the senior center to provide a private shuttle bus, which will, wait for it, add to the traffic instead of helping to solve it. Everything's connected.

STREET RECOMMENDATIONS

A transportation study of the area was done by the consulting firm KLOA, and the McCaffrey proposal incorporates some of the recommendations into its presentation.

The study and the proposal contains a number of changes for area intersections and streets that are favorable for people walking and riding bikes, including the addition of new traffic lights, pedestrian countdown timers, and curb bump outs to shorten crossing distances in a few places. The reduction of curb cuts along Lincoln from about 7 to 3 in itself will make it safer and more pleasant for people walking and riding bikes.

Lincoln and Halsted are already very popular bicycling routes, and they're both designated Crosstown Routes on Chicago's Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan. This means that they are important components of the city's planned network of streets to make bicycling a viable option for Chicagoans of all ages and abilities, and they should receive the safest level of bike lanes possible.

Taken from Chicago's Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan.
Neither the McCaffrey plan nor the transportation study mention bicycling very much. They say that Lincoln Avenue should provide continuous bicycle lanes in both directions along its length, but then they also advocate for lengthening the left turn lane into the parking garage, and their own drawing doesn't reflect a continuous bike lane.


There are many trade-offs when it comes to street design due to limited space. Bumpouts are great for pedestrians, but they also reduce the amount of space in which bicyclists can maneuver. Lengthening a left turn lane into a parking garage by making the existing bike lane disappear isn't something we expect to see in Chicago in the year 2014. Any changes made in connection with the redevelopment of this site must be in line with the city's Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan and its Complete Streets policy, which takes into account effects of changes on all modes of transportation, not just that of motor vehicle drivers. Which brings us to the last of our opinions.

THE FULLERTON/LINCOLN/HALSTED INTERSECTION

It's big, it's ugly, it's unavoidable.


The KLOA transportation study includes a 12-hour traffic count in February 2012 (when Children's Memorial was still serving patients at the site) to track the number of trucks, other motor vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles passing through the intersection. What I found most interesting is that more than 16,000 people traversed this intersection on foot during that time period. The percentage share of pedestrians was 34% over the course of the day, peaking at 43% during the evening rush hour of 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM. (The number of bicyclists in the course of the day was 578, or 1.2% total mode share, but note that this was in the winter month of February, and numbers would be much higher in the other three seasons.) So clearly this is a very important intersection for pedestrians.

It's also a very dangerous intersection for pedestrians. The wide crossing distances, short cross times, and large volume of cars means that there are a large number of pedestrians injuries each year. The CDOT 2011 Pedestrian Crash Analysis reflects that it was tied for 9th for the most number of crashes involving pedestrians in the entire city.

Taken from CDOT 2011 Pedestrian Crash Analysis.

Bicyclists suffered a high number of injuries in the intersection, too. The Chicago Crash Browser shows that there were 22 collisions involving motor vehicles and bicyclists from 2005 to 2012 in or very near this intersection.

Screen shot from the Chicago Crash Browser.
Clearly, this intersection needs real changes to help people to walk and bike across it safely. We've thought about this intersection a lot to see if we could come up with some great solutions, but honestly, its complexity is beyond our layperson abilities, and it needs the professional input of people who are well-trained in Complete Streets policies, who we luckily have in place at the Chicago Department of Transportation.

What we at Bike Walk Lincoln Park can recognize, however, are suggestions that are not conducive to improving safety for walking and bicycling. The new McCaffrey proposal suggests adding new turn lanes on Fullerton, and extending the right and left turn lanes on Lincoln and on Halsted. These changes would be effectively dedicating more space for cars on the street, and every time that's done, it eliminates the possibility of converting space for other modes of transport.


The KLOA report notes that they studied whether a direct crosswalk could be provided on Fullerton to connect pedestrians who are walking east-west along Fullerton. The KLOA authors call it a "shortcut" but it's not a shortcut; it's simply the most direct route.  Currently, people on foot are made to walk a longer, indirect, two-stage route and wait for two signal cycles (once to cross Halsted, once to cross Lincoln) in order to continue along Fullerton. Incredibly, at some of the crossings, the green light for cars appears for many seconds before the green light for pedestrians so that cars can turn, before pedestrians are "allowed" to proceed, and then the pedestrians are given a short crossing time. In effect, there's a Leading Driver Interval in place here. Hello, 1964? (None of these details are mentioned in the KLOA report.)

In any case, the authors said that a "shortcut" crosswalk for Fullerton would indeed reduce the travel distance and the travel time for pedestrians, but then they quickly added "it does increase the vehicle delay at this intersection." 

Taken from the KLOA transportation study.

Maybe a direct crosswalk for pedestrians would delay motor vehicles a few seconds. We'd like to point out that this intersection was probably last redesigned decades ago, and 16,000+ pedestrians a day have been delayed every day since then. We're thankful that under Mayor Emanuel's administration, there's a clear recognition that people who are walking are not second-class citizens. We want to encourage people to choose modes other than private motor vehicle whenever possible, and providing safe, convenient and direct routes for people walking, using transit, and riding bicycles is a high priority. That commitment starts with steps like providing direct crosswalks.
The modal hierarchy as spelled out in Chicago's Complete Streets guidelines (see our prior post).
As I said, we don't have the solutions for this intersection, but this generic intersection graphic below is an example of what might work better: Decrease crossing distance for pedestrians, increase sidewalk width, add bus shelters (and bike racks!), remove turn lanes, increase the angle of turns to slow drivers during the turns, add direct crosswalks.
Taken from Chicago's Complete Streets guidelines.
Those are some of our opinions on the proposed changes. What are yours? Did we miss any important points? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

4 comments:

  1. Close Lincoln Avenue to car traffic a block before and after the intersection. Extend the sidewalks and leave a two-way bike lane through the intersection. Leave the lights on Lincoln for people riding bikes. Then, add a "scramble" phase where all lights are red and people can cross however they like. Make sure the scramble phase is three times the length of a green.

    In fact, this should be done at all three-way intersections in the city, starting with the ones that have the most bike and foot traffic.

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    1. That's something to think about. We've thought about "all way" crossings for pedestrians for this intersection before, but they really are very long distances at these three-way intersections. -- MS

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  2. Wait, I must have misunderstood this plan. If I see you tomorrow perhaps I can get clarification. The public square, that's to have a U-shaped driveway around it? Even if it is on the same level as the pedestrian space, it won't work. It'll be like that Roosevelt Collection complex off Roosevelt in the South Loop.

    Lincoln Square works because it is car-free on a car-lite street. Most of Lincoln on that two-block stretch is slow traffic, with people walking wherever - not just at the raised crosswalk at Giddings - and cars moving very slowly. I walk through that plaza every day. In nice weather, even the recent 50 degree day after Christmas, it is thriving because parents feel safe letting their children run free and allowing Cafe Selmarie to have a seating area. If there were a cut-through for cars added in, it would not be like it is now.

    Definitely need to make it to this meeting tomorrow!

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    1. Shaun, the U-shaped driveway was in the 2012 plan. The new 2013 plan has a square, looped driveway, as reflected in the 4th and 5th images in this post. I agree Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square is the best example we have about what a true public plaza in a neighborhood can feel and look like. Hope to see you tomorrow! -- MS

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