Yesterday, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a $500 million mixed-use development to be built at the corner of Chicago Ave. and State St. on a parcel now containing surface parking for Holy Name Cathedral. The development, “One Chicago Square”, will contain 795 rental units, 75 condos, multiple floors for commercial use and 1,090 parking spaces.
The existing surface lot has approximately 160 parking spaces, which means parking supply on this lot will increase by 580% in one of the densest, most walkable and busiest neighborhoods in the city. . It’s a shock to see the city’s transit-friendly policies so largely ignored.
Of these parking spaces, 225 are reserved for parishioners of the Saint-Nom Cathedral across the street, or 65 parking spaces more than currently. The remaining 865 spaces would be for residents and commercial uses. It is unclear if a resident parking spot will be attached to the price of the unit, or purchased/rented separately.
Just above Chicago’s Red Line station, this development could technically be built without parking spaces thanks to Chicago’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Ordinance, which allows developers to cut 100 % commercial parking minimums and 50% residential parking minimums. minimum. Through an additional process, the residential parking minimum can also be reduced to zero spaces.
Since its introduction in 2013, the TOD ordinance has allowed developers to provide fewer parking spaces in residential and commercial developments within 600 feet of “L” and Metra stations. The ordinance was revised in 2015 to allow developers to completely eliminate parking for developments within 1,320 feet (¼ mile) of these stations.
Clearly, to maintain the city’s progressive TOD policy, the ordinance needs another update, especially in the downtown area. Any development this close to public transit should be subject to maximum parking, rather than just eliminating the minimums.
The development site currently sits on land with mixed zoning, DX-7 and DX-12; the proponent is seeking to change the zoning so that the entire parcel is zoned DX-12. The existing parking minimum in the DX-12 zone would require 478 parking spaces for residential use (0.55 spaces per unit) and 0 spaces for commercial use. With or without the TOD ordinance, this development far exceeds the number of parking lots that would need to be built in a downtown neighborhood.
Councilman Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) posted earlier in the week that he was “inclined to support” the development – already approved by the Planning Commission – through a “Chicago Avenue Transit Improvement Program” which will be required as part of the development. This program will, according to Hopkins, “solve the traffic problems on Chicago Avenue”. The alderman may have misspoken, because the only transit-related commitments made during the planned development process and confirmed by his office involve paying up to $40,000 for the construction of a single “concrete bus pad” on Dearborn St., just north of Chicago Ave. , and move a CTA bus shelter on Michigan Ave., three blocks from the development.
Concrete bus platforms, unfortunately, do nothing for traffic or bus riders.
Commitments made as a result of the now approved planned development process also include the requirement for the developer to pay for a Divvy station on the property, but that is where the requirements for sustainable transportation end. The developer will also be responsible for modifying eleven traffic lights and adding left and right turn arrows at several intersections along Chicago Avenue. The neighborhood itself will move several metered parking spaces on Chicago Ave. to unmetered blocks in the 2nd Ward to add more traffic lanes on Chicago Ave.
The zoning committee has yet to approve the planned development.
Hopkins claims that the result of adding additional traffic lanes “will be better traffic conditions”, but that is not true. Many studies find that increasing car traffic capacity – by adding more lanes – ultimately results in the same amount of traffic filling the new capacity, a result called induced demand.
One way to increase the number of people, not just vehicles, moving along Chicago Ave is to implement bus lanes along the corridor. In fact, the CTA provided data showing that its Chicago #66 buses only account for 2% of vehicle traffic on the street, but carry about 30% of all people traveling on the street.
Streetsblog and other local transit advocates have already covered the need for bus lanes on Chicago Ave., one of the city’s busiest bus routes. By improving the level of service, the bus lanes could also bring some riders back onto the route, which saw a 4.9% drop in ridership between 2015 and 2016.
The development approval also comes at a time when CTA is conclusion of a multi-year study regarding the “Bus Slow Zones” on 79th St and Chicago Ave, which it plans to deliver at the end of this month. Although a copy is not yet publicly available, notes from Alderman Hopkins’ office suggest that dedicated bus lanes and locations for queue jump signals are recommended for this route. Unfortunately, these recommendations aren’t currently required as part of development, and while Hopkins’ office has said they will work with the developer to consider CTA’s recommendations, it’s not as strong a commitment as those that end up being integrated into the plan. Development (such as the new Divvy station).
Since the parking spaces to be removed are metered spaces owned by Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, they will be relocated elsewhere in the neighborhood. Normally, moving metered parking is a process the city avoids and has used to justify not putting bus and bike lanes on city streets. Although moving paid parking is a difficult process that the City wants to avoid, it’s obviously a worthwhile move when it comes to moving more cars, but not always when it’s is about moving more people by public transport.
The increased car travel that will occur due to new traffic lanes and all the additional parking also poses an increased threat to people walking or biking on Chicago Ave. From Paulina St to State St, Chicago Ave is designated a “high collision corridor” by the city’s Vision Zero action plan and as such should be given priority when it comes to improvements However, the only major action taken here is to modify traffic lights with the sole aim of improving vehicular traffic – there are no explicit plans to improve walking and cycling safety along along Chicago Ave.
Adding capacity for over 1,000 vehicles and increasing road capacity is a misguided approach to solving traffic problems, especially in a dense, transit-rich neighborhood. The next stage of this development involves approval by the Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards Committee, which holds regular public meetings at City Hall, and gives you the opportunity to provide feedback regarding Development.
The next meetings are scheduled for January 25 and February 22, but the agenda for the latter has not yet been set. Alderman Hopkins’ office can be reached online, by email at [email protected] or (312) 643-2299.