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Proposal To Close Mag Mile To Cars Meets Opposition

By Chuck Sudo in News on Feb 14, 2014 2:50PM

Photo credit: Natasha Jelezkina

One aspect of the Active Transportation Alliance's proposal to close parts of 20 streets to motor vehicle traffic is being criticized for not being well-thought out, even though the transit advocacy group acknowledged their plan was only a concept and would need tweaking and cooperation from the city.

Active Trans suggested closing off Michigan Avenue between Chicago Avenue and Oak Street—the shopping district along the “Magnificent Mile”—to cars as part of their plan. A senior adviser to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, David Spielfogel, said the idea “doesn’t make sense.” Spielfogel has been integral in implementing Emanuel’s transportation agenda which includes protected bike lanes, the Divvy bike-sharing program, bus rapid transit and the “Make Way For People” initiative where alleys, medians and other spaces have been transformed into public hangouts. Spielfogel brought up the specter of the State Street Mall, a failed experiment at a pedestrian and bus traffic-only section of State Street that ran from 1979 until 1996, and questioned whether it would work on Boul Mich.

Spielfogel admitted the mayor would not be behind shutting down that section of Michigan Avenue to traffic.

“Their plan is a list of possible places to find space for things other than cars. The mayor has been very clear since Day One that he’s into that. [But], I do not think you’re going to see large streets getting shut down any time soon. It doesn’t make sense. You want to make sure every form of transportation has space to live.”
The idea also met a cool reception with Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), whose ward includes the Mag Mile shopping district. Reilly called the idea “irresponsible.”

Active Trans executive director Ron Burke said Wednesday most of Chicago’s public right of way space is dominated by motor vehicles and has a butterfly effect of gobbling up city space for parking lots and garages. The group’s proposal would “give Chicagoans more car-free zones to walk, bike, shop, socialize or just relax.” It’s also worth noting that concepts like pedestrian malls cycle in and out of favor. Active Trans cited New York City’s Times Square and Navy Pier as examples of successful open public spaces. I’ve long been impressed by the layout of Denver’s 16th Street Mall, which incorporates bus rapid transit along its length to shuttle visitors along. The State Street Mall launched during a dark period in the history of Chicago’s downtown. Intended to counter the loss of retail business to the suburbs and popular shopping districts located off the elevated rail lines, it served as a death knell for department stores struggling to keep their doors open instead.

But downtown retail is stronger now than it was then and the possibility of making part of the Mag Mile pedestrian only or a mix of pedestrian and bus traffic is something Spielfogel said the city would maintain an open mind about.