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Transit Advocacy Group Proposes More Car-Free Areas And Plazas

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 12, 2014 5:50PM

Photo credit: Jason McDonald

Would you want to see Monroe Street shut down to vehicle traffic between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive? Or a pedestrian plaza along 18th Street in Pilsen? Or a protected bike lane with landscaped seating on Clark Street downtown?

Those are three of 20 proposals revealed Wednesday morning by the Active Transportation Alliance to improve how Chicago utilizes its open spaces and streets for something other than vehicle traffic. The plan runs the gamut from shutting down entire stretches of streets to vehicle traffic similar to New York City’s Times Square or incorporating plazas with public transit like Denver’s 16th Street mall. Active Trans executive director Ron Burke said most of Chicago’s public right of way space is dominated by cars, with the butterfly effect of city space designated for parking lots and garages. “Let’s give Chicagoans more car-free zones to walk, bike, shop, socialize or just relax,” Burke said.

Active Trans police and planning director Amanda Woodall said, “Creating more unique, livable public spaces means looking beyond the so-called ‘pedestrian mall’ concept to newer, more innovative ways to reprogram the public right of way” and added the city’s Make Way for People Initiative is a good start that needs to go farther.

The list of the group’s proposals include:

• Converting a travel lane on Clark St. to a protected bike lane with a landscaped seating area next to it.
• Monroe 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.
• Turning parts of Oak and Rush Streets in the Gold Coast, and Michigan Avenue’s shopping district, car free.
• 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
• 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
• 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.

Keep in mind this is only a proposal right now and would need cooperation with the city to move forward. Burke said, “Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces for biking, walking and community place-making.”