Top streets for creating car-free spaces in Chicago

To spur conversation about expanding the number of car-free public streets and plazas in Chicago, Active Trans just released a list of twenty streets and locations with strong potential.

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, and reduce traffic crashes.

As explained in the story in the Chicago Tribune, the list is inspired partly by places like Navy Pier, Times Square in New York City and local car-free plazas in Chicago.

There are many types of “car-free” streets. This can include closing an entire street or portions of streets year-round, like the popular transformation of Times Square in New York City or the Pearl Street Pedestrian Mall in Boulder, Colorado.

But there are other options as well, including seasonal (e.g., spring through fall) or periodic (e.g., evening and weekends) 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.

Nearly a quarter of Chicago’s land mass falls within a public right-of-way, but most of that space is dominated by cars. There's also an enormous amount of city space dedicated to private parking lots and parking garages.

We support the City of Chicago’s efforts to add more car-free spaces, such as the Make Way for People initiative that converts parking spaces, alleys and dead zones into temporary or permanent public plazas, including the plaza in the State Street median downtown.

The city’s People Plazas initiative aims to activate under-utilized city-owned parcels/plazas. And new protected bike lanes create a ribbon of car-free space for cycling.

Chicago has relatively few car-free public plazas and streets across its 234 square miles, and many are small enough to have limited benefits. This lack of car-free public places indicates a need to explore larger car-free spaces in addition to the smaller plazas the city is currently developing.

Some of Chicago’s best car-free spaces include Kempf 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. Cars, nonetheless, occupy most of the public right of way. 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.

Car-free streets and plazas won’t work just anywhere, and they have to be carefully studied and designed. Good candidates may abut existing or potential retail and dining locations, entertainment venues and community centers, and transit hubs.

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 in a safe, car-free location.

With the right designs, plazas on existing transit routes can still accommodate bus service — the best example of this is the narrow bus way and slow bus speeds in Denver’s successful 16th Street Mall. This is a more sophisticated design than Chicago’s infamously failed State Street bus mall where people had to dodge fast-moving buses across a wide street.

Active Trans selected 20 streets and locations that deserve serious 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 the streets with input from community leaders.

These aren’t the only streets that deserve consideration, but they are among the best. Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces. Let’s give Chicagoans more car-free zones to walk, bike, shop, socialize or just relax.

Downtown

  • Dearborn and/or Clark Streets, River North to South Loop. Example concept: convert a travel lane on Clark to a protected bike lane with a landscaped seating area next to it.
  • Monroe Avenue between Michigan Avenue 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 Avenue 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

South

  • Segments of 47th Street in Bronzeville.
  • Segments of E. 53rd Street in Hyde Park
  • Segments of 18th Street in Pilsen. Example concept: dead end Carpenter, Miller and/or Morgan Streets on the north side of 18th 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

North

  • One or more streets near Wrigley Field
  • Segments of Broadway in Lakeview. Example concept. From Diversey to Belmont Avenues, 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 Avenue in Wicker Park
  • Simmonds Drive between Lawrence and Foster Avenues through the lake front park.
  • Segments of Clark in Andersonville
  • Milwaukee Avenue through the square of Logan’s Square
  • Bryn Mawr Avenue between Broadway and Sheridan Road.
  • Segments of Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park

West

  • Taylor Street in University Village between Racine and Ashland Avenues
  • 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.

 

Photo of Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square courtesy of Hanncurt. 

What has the great influence

What has the great influence on the design of public spaces are the buildings that form them. But, if the streets interfere with these public spaces, which kill of these building to interact with these spaces. Good point to activate these spaces is to allow people to use sidewalk cafes interfering with pedestrian people and disabilities. It is important to realize the solid-void relationship and in particular the factors that affect exterior shaping of buildings and the spatial formation of public spaces. The conceptual pattern of an open and continuous street is to be the public right-of-way, it is open to everybody

Where do I sign up?

I completely support the idea of car-free zones. I can't believe that Mayor Emanuel is so short-sighted as to oppose the idea. Where can I sign-up to show my support?
Lynn

Dearborn St in Printer's Row

I think Dearborn Street between Polk and Congress in Printer's Row is a no-brainer. It would make an amazing pedestrian mall with all of the cool old buildings and numerous store fronts; bring back the old cobblestone street!! I think by closing off the street, local business would grow and flourish in the area and would be a great escape just south of the loop.

Business boon from car free streets

Reading follow up articles (see twitter) about this convinces me that businesses (along with pedestrians) will thrive on car free zones. One article queried where people would park to get to the businesses; a key point is that locals would simply walk, right? And, if people drive then park, I like the idea of pedicabs stationed at key entryways to the car free space. In a hurry and want to get a few blocks away in a jiffy? Hop in a pedicab - more business!

Some businesses may feel this is thrust in them. Many more will see the benefit and some new business will develop in the area because the owners want to be part of the fun and excitement. In the end, it's all good news for Chicago pedestrians and business.

Bryn Mawr & Peterson BRT

Bryn Mawr, Broadway to Sheridan is an interesting possibility. At first blush I rejected it because it is a transit hub with the Redline and Peterson Bus. But Alderman Osterman took Bryn Mawr out of the Redline Rehab so he could get special treatment for that Red-line stop.

One of my goals is the Peterson BRT (see link below) that would connect Bryn Mawr with the Jefferson Park transit hub. So if the Bryn Mawr station were moved north such that a connection at Hollywood with a Peterson BRT would work, then I could support this pedestrianizing Bryn Mawr there.

http://edgewaterobserver.blogspot.com/2010/01/parisifiing-chicago-peters...

car free space

As you advocate for car-free space, please keep in mind the needs of people with disabilities. All too often the expansion of sidewalks is quickly followed by the expansion of a business into that sidewalk with an end result of decreased space for pedestrians including those who use wheelchairs. We have two such examples in Oak Park. In the summer months a wide and attractive walkway leading from a public garage to businesses on Oak Park Ave is so full to tables and chairs from a nearby restaurant that pedestrians are squeezed up against the far wall. On the corner of South Blvd and Marion Street another restaurant has expanded into the sidewalk such that pedestrians must walk between the restaurant and the tables/chairs that have been set up, dodge the waiters etc. I don't have a disability but I find these spaces so unpleasant to navigate that I do my best to avoid them and I never patronize the restaurants that have created these obstacles. I heard the interview on NPR this morning and I am very concerned that the needs of people with disabilities was not mentioned once and, indeed, does not seem to be part of your thinking.

Good point about sidewalk

Good point about sidewalk cafes interfering with people with disabilities - that shouldn't happen regardless of where that seating is located. I don't think car free spaces make this problem more likely, since sidewalk cafes are more likely to interfere when squeezed onto a narrow sidewalk compared to a more expansive car-free space with room to maneuver. This is another reason we support car-free spaces. But car-free streets are going to be the exception to the rule, which is why spend a lot of time advocating for "Complete Streets" that accommodate everyone safely - people in cars, on bikes, on foot and with disabilities. More information at http://activetrans.org/complete-streets-container/resources/resources.

Thanks, Ron

pedestrain for ability people and disabilities

What has the great influence on the design of public spaces are the buildings that form them. But, if the streets interfere with these public spaces, which kill of these building to interact with these spaces. Good point to activate these spaces is to allow people to use sidewalk cafes interfering with pedestrian people and disabilities. It is important to realize the solid-void relationship and in particular the factors that affect exterior shaping of buildings and the spatial formation of public spaces. The conceptual pattern of an open and continuous street is to be the public right-of-way, it is open to everybody

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