The lack of better bike lanes: I just don’t get it

Streetsblog Chicago did a great job again today of keeping two-wheeled Chicagoans informed as to what is going on with the city’s improving bike infrastructure. One of the newest additions to the city’s growing network of buffered bike lanes is the half mile stretch along Noble Street between Augusta Boulevard and Erie Street near Eckhart Park. Pictured below, the freshly painting bike lane and newly paved street looks great, but I really can’t help but ask why wasn’t this route turned into a barrier protect or curbed bike lane?

This bike lane includes a nice buffer along the right-hand side adding room between cyclists and cars helping to prevent safety hazards for cyclists such as drivers opening car doors directly into the bike lane. This is a much welcome improvement to the types of stripped bike lanes Chicagoans used to know well, which had the bike lanes flush up against parked cars.

This bike lane includes a nice buffer along the right-hand side adding room between cyclists and cars helping to prevent safety hazards for cyclists such as drivers opening car doors directly into the bike lane. This is a much welcome improvement to the types of stripped bike lanes Chicagoans used to know well, which had the bike lanes flush up against parked cars.

Here’s my thinking: if you look at the buffer on the right side of the bike lane, the width of the street, and consider the obviously low traffic flow along Noble, there is no reason to think that this half mile stretch through a relatively dense residential area wasn’t ideal for a bike lane that was either barrier protected or built up on or with a curb to physically separate it from automobile traffic. The space was clearly available and the disruptions to parking or car traffic would like be little to none. So why just implement the simpler solution?

This is a barrier protected bike lane in Amsterdam. Just glancing at the photograph it is clear a bike lane like this isn't much wider than the bike lane along Noble Street in Chicago, While the barrier is a bit wider than the space available in Chicago this image goes to show that a barrier protected bike lane need not be particularly extravagant.

This is a barrier protected bike lane in Amsterdam. Just glancing at the photograph it is clear a bike lane like this isn’t much wider than the bike lane along Noble Street in Chicago, While the barrier is a bit wider than the space available in Chicago this image goes to show that a barrier protected bike lane need not be particularly extravagant.

While I recognize that it is significantly easier and cheaper to put in buffered bike lanes with paint I really am beginning to wonder as to the reason why all these buffered bike lanes aren’t just taken to the next level in the first place? While more expensive to build than the example we see along Noble, a protected bike lane is still significantly cheaper than other transportation options and really is one of the keys to getting more people out of cars and onto bikes. Shouldn’t that be a priority in a city that is trying to ease its collective environmental impact, make itself more livable, attract middle-class families and young professionals, and ease car congestion on its streets?

While this is a point of frustration for me, I do recognize that buffered bike lanes, even if only made out of paint, are a big step in an American city and one we should be proud of. As we expand Divvy and look towards biking as a reliable alternative to cars as well as a key player in developing a truly intermodal transportation network, we have to stop relying on the crutch of buffered bike lanes and begin building more barrier protected and curbed bike lanes. I can’t say whether it is a financial bottom line, cultural resistance, even laziness on the part of CDOT to go further that results in the bike lanes we have, but when are we really going to make this a true biking city and get past to model we’re currently using for most bike lanes?

Here is another Dutch lane (presumably in Amsterdam) that includes a barrier adjacent to parking spaces for cars. The bike lane appears to be a bit wider than the images above, but what is exemplified here is that protective barriers need not be extravagant either. Here they consist mostly of space between parked cars and the bike lane created by a slightly raised curb and differently colored and textured paving surfaces.

Here is another Dutch lane (presumably in Amsterdam) that includes a barrier adjacent to parking spaces for cars. The bike lane appears to be a bit wider than the images above, but what is exemplified here is that protective barriers need not be extravagant either. Here they consist mostly of space between parked cars and the bike lane created by a slightly raised curb and differently colored and textured paving surfaces.

None of this is to say I don’t welcome the expansion of buffered bike lanes in Chicago. It is great that CDOT and the mayor support such projects and expanding bike infrastructure has long been a goal of the mayor’s office that thankfully continues. But what gets me is how the city has for so long plodded along content with its merely acceptable bike infrastructure despite a desire to make Chicago the most bike-friendly big city in the United States.

The mayor’s office and CDOT just showed how easily they are capable of missing great opportunities to put in better bike infrastructure with the example of the Noble Street bike lanes. I realize high quality bike lanes are not possible in every part of the city, and in some places we will need to remain content with stripped lanes or plastic poles, but it is the few opportunities to build world-class bike infrastructure that we are missing out on that will prevent us from 1) becoming a truly bike-friendly city and 2) create that first example of what really could be that will help grow support for high quality bike lanes.

Even the Dutch have to share bike lanes with cars sometimes. Notice the use of different colors to make the different spheres as clearly visible as possible though.

Even the Dutch have to share bike lanes with cars sometimes. Notice however the use of different colors to make the different spheres as clearly visible as possible.

I kind of see it like the city is somebody going on a jog: they do 5 miles every day and are doing really great getting to that 5 mile mark, but they keep stopping there just because that’s where the jog is supposed to end rather than going that extra mile or two or three even when the momentum and energy is there and ready. This may be just a peep in the larger conversation about transportation infrastructure in Chicago, but perhaps if enough people start talking about the need to really begin taking things to the next level, and city-wide for that matter, the ball will get rolling and better bike infrastructure will make an appearance all over. The Netherlands is famous for its bikes for a reason. Wij zullen een voorbeeld aan ze nemen.

Petition and open letter for improved Milwaukee Avenue

At a recent public meeting discussing a ‘road diet’ for North Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence and Elston, former (and apparently current) aldermanic candidate John Garrido ‘grandstand’ against the proposed changes was reported Streetsblog Chicago. While it is unclear how much real support or political influence Garrido has over this project, it is concerning that such forceful opposition is building for a project that aims to improve safety conditions on the street for cars, bikes, and pedestrians in a manner that in all likelihood will help improve social and economic conditions in the area too. Because of the debate being raged about the project, it seems prudent to take the opportunity to publish ways supporters of this project can show CDOT and Alderman John Arena, a supporter of the project, that community members believe in the virtues of the changes being sought.

A petition begun by bike advocate Bob Kastigar is linked HERE. His petition for improvements to Milwaukee Avenue at this times trails the online petition begun by Garrido by about 60 something signatures. Whether you’re from the Jefferson Park area or not please sign this petition if you believe in improving street conditions city-wide in a way that is positive for the great Chicago community.

Additionally, I will be sending a letter to Alderman Arena to express my support in a more traditional way. The text to that letter is quoted below. Feel free to copy it and use it as a template for your own letter or e-mail if you wish to address Ald. Arena in a more direct manner.

“Dear Ald. Arena,

I am writing in brief to express my support for the redesign of North Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence Avenue and Elston Avenue. I believe that redesigning the street to decrease car speeds, improve bike lanes, and make conditions better for pedestrians is in the best interest of the greater Northwest Side community.

While the Northwest Side is lucky to have the transportation options we have, there is no question that we are far behind when compared to areas like Wicker Park-Bucktown or Lakeview. For that reasons, it is my belief that communities on the Northwest Side must take every step possible to maximize connectivity via intermodal transportation options and make it as convenient and safe as we can to get around by foot, bike, and bus. We should take advantage of modest improvements like this in order to build to a greater whole.

I also support this project because it fits in with the nature of ‘triple bottom line’ sustainability. It is a project that will help the area become more economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. That is something that is good for everybody.

While it is understandable that there is opposition to this project, the purpose of my letter is to express to you that many people in the area are still in support of this project. While talking with family and friends about this I more frequently hear support rather than opposition. Push forward with this; fears of negative impacts will prove to be unfounded and the benefits will make themselves clear.

Thank you for taking on this project.”

 

Chicago’s Next Infrastructure Projects, pt. 1: Biking the Boulevards

There has been a recent spurt of news in Chicago about new infrastructure projects reaching completion, beginning construction, and as many new proposals as German goals against Brazil. To say it simply: Chicago’s infrastructure is starting to get some serious attention, but if we want to keep up the good momentum, the city’s citizens and community and planning organizations need to generate ideas for what’s next. There is a layer of projects that are long forgotten as well as new ideas that deserve attention too and this series over the next few weeks will looks at some (very preliminary) ideas for what we should start planning next. The projects do not included proposals by the City of Chicago, CTA, Active Transportation Alliance (that is, none of this include Transit Future projects) etc… The attempt is to be as original as possible and indeed offer a critique to some more serious ideas already out there to add to the conversation of what our priorities should be as well as what’s plausible. Also, the proposed projects try to mix cheap projects that could be feasibly proposed, planned, and completed in a 2-5 year period as well as projects that may have been much further in the future, but warrant consideration. Now is the time to start this, because the energy for infrastructure improvements is there.

Much like boulevards, the Ringstraße in Vienna, which encircles the city center, provides space for a mix of uses: its green space, has broad bike lanes, sidewalks, trams, and room for automobiles. This is more the image Chicago should embrace for its boulevards.

Much like boulevards, the Ringstraße in Vienna, which encircles the city center, provides space for a mix of uses: its green space, has broad bike lanes, sidewalks, trams, and room for automobiles. This is more the image Chicago should embrace for its boulevards.

The first of these projects looks at bike connectivity in Chicago. Take a gander at the bike routes on Google Maps and one of the most obvious things is despite the large number of routes, the overall connectivity of the entire system is feeble–at best. There are a few consistently long stretches of street that included a dedicated bike lane (Lawrence on the Northwest Side, Damen in Wicker Park, and Halsted through Lakeview and Lincoln Park). Other than these though, few major bike routes extend from one end of a major street to another with dedicated lanes in some form (an exception is Elston, which is in a rather dire state the further north one bikes) and most cyclists must contend with serious gaps in bike infrastructure to move between neighborhoods or even continue along a single street.

While the City and CDOT have done a great job of implementing improved biking infrastructure in the city the gaps in infrastructure are pretty severe. The city’s fantastic grid system and boulevard system are not being taken to full advantage though, and these offer some of the best solutions for improving infrastructure as a whole, but also vasty improving cycling connectivity.

Dedicated bike lanes have been a huge improvement in Chicago, but the city has been slow to embrace protected and curbed bike lines like those more common in places such as Paris or Amsterdam, where extensive bike infrastructure is pervasive throughout the city. Certainly there is truth to the fact that expanding curbed bike lanes would be more expensive and difficult in some places simply because of space availability; what is unfortunate is how the city and CDOT have not taken advantage of a system of streets planned a century ago that provide the space, physical beauty, and calmness to support vastly more extensive bike lanes such as barrier protected or curbed bike lanes: the boulevard system.

This map shows how the city's system of boulevards, which create an arch around the city center from north to south through the West Side could create an until now untold amount of connectivity within the city. The boulevards are particularly ready to be redeveloped with curbed and barrier-protected bike lanes. Additional extensions into surrounding arterials would bring more people to the boulevards and park system.

This map shows how the city’s system of boulevards, which create an arch around the city center from north to south through the West Side could create an until now untold amount of connectivity within the city. The boulevards are particularly ready to be redeveloped with curbed and barrier-protected bike lanes. Additional extensions into surrounding arterial streets would bring more people to the boulevards and park system. New curbed and barrier-protected bike routes are shown in orange.

Building a barrier-protected bike lane or curbed bike lane between Logan Square and Lincoln Park would complete a boulevard bike system that arcs from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park and brings the Logan Square  neighborhood closer to Lakeview and Lincoln Park as well as the lake.

Building a barrier-protected bike lane or curbed bike lane between Logan Square and Lincoln Park would complete a boulevard bike system that arcs from Lincoln Park to Hyde Park and brings the Logan Square neighborhood closer to Lakeview and Lincoln Park as well as the lake.

These are bike infrastructure gold! Their width and the broad planted medians which separate local traffic from the faster center running traffic have plenty of room to accommodate biking and walking paths. The system’s size would bring high-quality bike infrastructure to a huge part of the city too and make the boulevards the park-like thoroughfares they were planned to be. The beautifully planned medians would be like those in Paris or Vienna, which double as community green spaces and plazas and don’t simply fall into the realm of the decorative. Additionally, some of Chicago’s best parks would be easily connected by bike and foot, turning the boulevards into a true web of parks simply by bringing them within reach by means other than the car.

Like in Vienna, the Parisian Boulevard de Clichy near Montmartre includes space for cars, buses, pedestrians and bikes and other activities. Here it is more similar to Chicago though, with large medians as opposed to the wide edges in Vienna.

Like in Vienna, the Parisian Boulevard de Clichy near Montmartre includes space for cars, buses, pedestrians and bikes and other activities. Here it is more similar to Chicago though, with large medians as opposed to the wide edges in Vienna.

Unlike in Paris or Vienna, Chicago's boulevards are relatively quiet although they offer large swaths of space for playgrounds, small athletic facilities, cafés, food cart stands etc., which would liven them up. Bike lanes and walking paths could bring the human density to sustain such activity.

Unlike in Paris or Vienna, Chicago’s boulevards are relatively quiet although they offer large swaths of space for playgrounds, small athletic facilities, cafés, food cart stands etc., which would liven them up. Bike lanes and walking paths could bring the human density to sustain such activity.

Connectivity within the city would take a huge leap forward by utilizing the boulevards as spaces for advanced bike lanes, but such lanes would necessarily have to move beyond the borders of the boulevards to achieve a more interconnected end. While the boulevards would bring places like Humboldt Park, Logan Square and even Hyde Park within closer reach of each other, expanding dedicated and protected bike lanes, particularly curb protected bike lanes, to additional streets in a larger system would dramatically increase the city’s bike infrastructure and instigate a huge step forward in turning Chicago’s bike lanes into a system comparable with cities like Paris or Berlin. This starts with Diversey Boulevard.

This map shows an early 20th century view of Chicago's lakefront parks and the 'emerald necklace' of parks and boulevards that encircle the city.

This map shows an early 20th century view of Chicago’s lakefront parks and the ‘emerald necklace’ of parks and boulevards that encircle the city.

While Diversey Boulevard only has two traffic lanes and two parking lanes the street seems relatively wide. Not wide enough to make it a three or four lane street, but certainly wide enough that a bike lane could be added there (at least in Logan Square) and perhaps even wide enough for a curbed bike lane. Adding one here would do a few things. It would complete the full arch of a boulevard bike system ending at the lake in the north and south; it would also create the most direct bike connection between Lakeview and Lincoln Park to Logan Square. Diversey straddles the border of these two neighborhoods and bringing them within better reach of Logan Square would mean connecting some of the city’s more popular neighborhoods. It would also be a potential boon for Diversey, which has a cluster of restaurants now, but certainly needs a little push into the realm of fully developing into a great street. Other options include extending this boulevard system along Ogden from California to where it meets with Elston, along Archer from Pulaski to Chinatown and west along Fullerton to Cicero.

Chicago’s boulevards are a forgotten vestige of 19th century planning and urban beautification. They are a beautiful and rich addition to the city’s urban landscape, but they also provide fantastic potential for biking in the city than most other streets right now. While expanding bike lanes else and the expansion of Divvy to more parts of the city is commendable, rethinking the way we use the boulevards could offer a keystone to constructing a city-wide, comprehensive, and interconnected bike lane system in Chicago. Thinking about the boulevards differently in terms of bikes could be the stepping stone towards reinventing them as a whole: they have the potential to be a greenway through the heart of the city that mirrors the lakefront parks. They offer potential to add streetcars back to Chicago’s urban transportation, and bring new It bring myriad neighborhoods together in one well-knit web of vitality and life to an often overlooked. They forgotten system of green space and urban planning genius that should get some much needed attention beginning with bikes.

Improving American rail: Chicago’s Union Station, part 3 (delayed posting) – Intermodal connections are essential keys to success

Getting to Union Station by any means other than car or taxi, especially for people unfamiliar with the layout of Downtown Chicago, is by no means easy. Although there are numerous bus routes that terminate at Union Station and the area is certainly within walking distance of the Loop and things like Divvy bike share have made it easier to get around town by bike, unlike in most major Western cities, none of Chicago’s train stations (not one!) have direct access to the city’s subway/metro system—the ‘L’.* An effort to improve Union Station necessitates taking on such a groundbreaking infrastructure project like a subway along Canal Street that would include the addition of ‘L’ stops at Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center as well as improvements to surrounding bus stops and terminals. Intermodal connectivity is a cornerstone of good transportation networks and one which Chicago sorely lacks at Union Station (and by extension all its major stations).

Union Station has been conceptually conceived as having the potential to act like a third airport right in the center of Chicago. However, it will not compete with these airports if it doesn’t get up to speed with the intermodal connections offered there. Both are connected directly to the ‘L’ at the very least and both offer some form of dedicated bus facilities. An overall renewal of intermodal connections at Union Station should focus on two major projects: the Clinton Street Subway and a new bus terminal with facilities for both local buses, BRT, coach buses.  These have the potential to hugely and positively impact the efficiency of transportation connections at Union Station, although one would be significantly cheaper than the other, the costs of both are certainly worth the long-term benefits.

In the case of a new ‘L’ route, the shortness of the route would both help to reign in the costs of the project and the overall impact of construction. Although it’s in a densely built up area, the impacts would be significantly outweighed by the potential benefits: direct ‘L’ access to O’Hare from the West Loop, more ‘L’ access for West Loop residents and workers, direct access by train between two major Chicago train stations with the potential to direct access to a third station** and all along less than a 1 mile stretch.

The new segment of subway would also be more than just direct access to Union Station, but the final segment in a secondary Loop that would be formed by the two branches of the Blue Line. This Loop would also be a station Loop facilitating direct connections between LaSalle Street Station, Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center with indirect connections to Millennium Station and potentially Van Buren Street Station along the Metra Electric via underground ped-ways. Improvements to service along the Blue Line branches would also be possible, by splitting the line into two new lines, one along each branch. The Forest Park branch has significantly lower use compared to the O’Hare branch and splitting them into two new lines, means the CTA could better customize service on each branch accordingly.

According to Google Maps, the route from the Clinton stop on the CTA Blue Line's Forest Park Branch is a 5 minute walk starting under and highway and going past mostly nondescript or empty buildings.

According to Google Maps, the route from the Clinton stop on the CTA Blue Line’s Forest Park Branch is a 5 minute walk starting under and highway and going past mostly nondescript or empty buildings.

Uninterrupted access from a subway station to the interior of Union Station could be  a way to increase the use of the Great Hall as well. A mezzanine level built below Canal Street could facilitate the construction of street portals along Canal between Van Buren and Adams as well as access portals to a bus terminal and the Great Hall in Union Station. The availability of space inside the west end of the station’s Great Hall means there is ample room for elevators, escalators and stairs to the mezzanine level. This infrastructure need not be in the Great Hall itself either, but rather adjacent to it. A mezzanine level to an underground ‘L’ station also doubles as a covered and heated passageway to the bus terminal, which in Chicago is a huge plus considering how extreme summer and winter weather can get.

The Clinton stop on the Blue Line is far from appealing, even for Chicagoans let alone visitors and is often an impediment to those looking to getting to Union Station late at night.

The Clinton stop on the Blue Line is far from appealing, even for Chicagoans let alone visitors and is often an impediment to those looking to getting to Union Station late at night.

The bus terminal would also facilitate better intermodal and inter-bus transfers. First, it gives passengers transferring from train to bus or arriving at Union Station just for the bus an identifiable landmark towards which they can go knowing they’ll find their buses. As it is now, the curbside bus stops are difficult to find if you don’t know where to look. The different bus companies terminating at Union Station use different blocks of Canal Street too, which leads to confusion as to which block to wait at for a bus. Secondly, the curbside bus terminals don’t facilitate easy transfers between busses and cause overcrowding of the sidewalks. They are uncomfortable places to wait for a bus too and don’t include shelters, awnings or benches for passengers. Additionally, the curbside stops mean coach buses must contend with other traffic to get a spot to load and unload and crowds the streets. They not only get blocked, but they block traffic. Altogether this system is creating a traffic nightmare.

A bus terminal would include that and much more. An indoor waiting room provides an additional level of comfort for waiting customers and also doubles as a space for bathrooms, rental lockers, cafés and food stands as well as ticketing and information kiosks or offices. A staff lounge would also be available for the staff of bus companies. A terminal could also host a small staff to beginning taking tickets or act as baggage handlers to speed up turnover and departure times. Bus operators could also use the more comfortable space to improve transfers between routes. A shuttle bus could ferry passengers to the Greyhound terminal south of Union Station beyond walking distance.

A 0.7 mile stretch of subway connecting the O'Hare Branch and the Forest Park Branch of the CTA Blue Line would effectively connect all but one major Chicago train station (LaSalle, Union, Olgilvie). It would also create a second 'loop' allowing for O'Hare and Forest Park bound trains to be turned into two new routes with more effective schedules. It would also be the first time Union Station had direct access to the CTA 'L' in decades, bringing it up to par with European and other American counterparts.

A 0.7 mile stretch of subway connecting the O’Hare Branch and the Forest Park Branch of the CTA Blue Line would effectively connect all but one major Chicago train station (LaSalle, Union, Olgilvie). It would also create a second ‘loop’ allowing for O’Hare and Forest Park bound trains to be turned into two new routes with more effective schedules. It would also be the first time Union Station had direct access to the CTA ‘L’ in decades, bringing it up to par with European and other American counterparts.

Creating strong, efficient, and user-friendly intermodal connections at Union Station will require a mix of simple and extreme solutions. However, no great train station, especially those in large cities, exists within a transportation vacuum. And considering the proximity to other stations downtown a well-connected Union Station could effectively create a Downtown ‘super station’ split between Union Station, LaSalle Street Station and Ogilvie. Such connections would also facilitate the movement of people to, within and out of Downtown Chicago.

The importance of such connections does not go unnoticed in other cities either and should be a lesson for Chicago to emulate. Although plans exist for improvements to Canal Street and Union Station, a more impressive master plan should consider some helpful projects in other cities. In Berlin for example, the first part of a major extension of the U-5 subway was to first and foremost build a connection to the new Berliner Hauptbahnhof. The U-55 is a mere 0.9 miles long with three stops, but effectively connects the otherwise unconnected subway system to the main train station. The London Underground offers a more dramatic example with the Circle Line, which connects 5 major intercity stations with the larger Tube network. The importance of access to bus terminals doesn’t go unnoticed either. Denver is the best new example of bus and rail intermodal connections being brought together. Even little Kalamazoo offers convenient bus-train connections at its main Amtrak station.

A key, if not one of the most important keys to Union Station’s success is dramatically and wildly improving intermodal connections. This won’t just bring it to the same level as stations around the world, but truly help it become the center of rail in Chicago and the Midwest as well as the Downtown ‘airport’ Chicago is dreaming of.

*To get to Millennium Station from the ‘L’ one has to get off at either the Lake Red Line, Washington Blue Line, or Loop Randolph stops then walk 2-3 blocks further east or through the complex pedestrian passage ways underground. To get to LaSalle Street Station from the LaSalle Blue Line stop one has to walk a block south and find the hidden entrance to the platforms and Olgilvie Transportation Center requires a two block walk from the Clinton Green-Pink Line stop. 

**Olgilvie and Union stations are both along Canal Street, for direct access between the CTA Blue Lines LaSalle stop and LaSalle Street Station reconfiguration of the former would be necessary. 

Talking alternatives to the Lucas Museum in Chicago

It’s official! George Lucas chose Chicago as the new home for the museum he is building to house his collection of movie memorabilia and private art collection. And boy is this one going to be a doozy of a conflict. The site chosen by Lucas, and offered by the City of Chicago, is Chicago Park District owned land south of Soldier Field and north of McCormick Place that is currently parking lots. The question becomes though, can and should this museum be built there considering it is a private development on land that the City declared must remain free of such development? Supporters of the museum argue for the benefits: jobs, financial investment in the city, a new cultural institution. Opponents point out that this is threatening public space and challenges the concept of keeping the lakefront forever clear and free. From either side, Chicago is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yes, winning the bid for the Lucas museum is a huge boon, especially considering our West Coast rivals, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it nonetheless was successful in large part because of the proposed site. Now, that’s not the entire story, the city’s significantly higher number of annual tourists certainly helped, but it does mean there will be a fight over where to put the museum.

Supporting arguments state that the museum belongs on the lakefront site, because it will add 12 acres of parkland in addition the museum itself that will take up only 5 acres of land. It would also be fitting to have the museum on that site adjacent to the Museum Campus and convention halls at McCormick Place. Opponents point out that if the museum doesn’t go there, the city has the freedom to build those parking lots into parks in the future, ones that would be 17 acres without the museum. Others are questioning why the museum is being put into an already built up area when parts of the city still need investment and large vacant pieces of land are scattered all over. Both sides makes good arguments. None of this takes into account an ordinance passed by the city in the late 1970s to prevent further development of non-park projects east of Lake Shore Drive.

Embracing river front property south of Roosevelt Road offers a fine alternative to lakefront property: it is waterfront land, would add new park land, and it would develop a long empty space close to the Loop in the heart of the burgeoning South Loop.

Embracing river front property south of Roosevelt Road offers a fine alternative to lakefront property: it is waterfront land, would add new park land, and it would develop a long empty space close to the Loop in the heart of the burgeoning South Loop.

All these issues considered, the biggest problem is there appears to have been and likely will not be a discussion about possible alternatives. But, without a doubt, there needs to be a discussion as to the most appropriate site for this museum long-term. If it is intended to be something enjoyed by the city for generations, then we should explore more options. Here are four sites I propose as potential alternatives.

1) Hyde Park at the southwest corner of 63rd Street and Stoney Island Avenue: Yes, the site isn’t right on the lake, but it is within walking distance and in an area that is a good mix developed (the University of Chicago is three blocks north), but still in need of investment. The site, which is currently part empty and partly occupied by a YMCA would necessitate relocating the YMCA, but with lots of availability nearby it wouldn’t be so far removed that the current YMCA would not longer be able to serve the community. The site is also adjacent to Jackson Park, the home of the Museum of Science and Industry and very close by to three proposed sites for the Obama Presidential Library. The DuSable Museum in Washington Park, the Oriental and Smart museums at the University of Chicago and the Robie House could collectively turn Hyde Park into ‘Museum Campus South’. The site is connected to the 63rd Street Metra, could help build momentum for an extension of the Green Line to 63rd and the 63rd Street Metra (just 0.7 miles).

2) The University of Illinois at Chicago: This is another site proposed for the Obama Presidential Library and if it isn’t used for that purpose it may be a good candidate for the Lucas Museum. The site is adjacent to the UIC-Halsted Blue Line stop, it is in an area with lots of activity (within walking distance of Greektown, the Near West Side, and Little Italy) and perhaps most importantly the site would offer sweeping views of the city’s impressive skyline.

This is the view of Chicago from the UIC campus, the proposed location of the Obama Library would have unobstructed views of this because of the Circle Interchange, which keeps the sight lines free; the Lucas Museum could benefit and have this view  if the library is not built on this sight.

This is the view of Chicago from the UIC campus, the proposed location of the Obama Library would have unobstructed views of this because of the Circle Interchange, which keeps the sight lines free; the Lucas Museum could benefit and have this view if the library is not built on this sight.

3) The vacant land south of Roosevelt Road at the Chicago River: While a lakefront site is ideal, perhaps a more reasonable option, and also the next best option, is a river front site. The long vacant area between Dearborn Park, Roosevelt Road, and Chinatown would not only give Lucas a waterfront site for this museum it is large enough to offer ample land for the museum’s building, parkland, access to the river, it is adjacent to Roosevelt Road and soon the Wells/Wentworth connector and a short 0.5 mile walk to the Museum Campus. It is a block from the Red, Green, and Orange line stop at Roosevelt and within walking distance of Chinatown’s main commercial area, Wentworth, Cermak and Archer avenues. Not only would this benefit the city by finally putting a huge piece of land to good use, it would expand new parkland in the process and extend the riverfront parkland along the South Branch of the Chicago River further north from Princeton in the south to Roosevelt in the north, an addition of 0.5 miles of riverfront park.

4) 23rd Street and State: As the entertainment and business district west of McCormick Place expands this site doesn’t seem unreasonable. The land wedged between State, the Stevenson Expressway and the off-ramp to Cermak Road would give the museum ample room to build and add green space in addition to absorbing Park No. 540 creating new parkland and adding to the attractions in the area. It would be a short walk from McCormick Place, the new Green Line stop on Cermak, the Chinatown Red Line stop, adjacent to State Street and offer views of the South Loop skyline while bringing investment further from the Loop and more into the neighborhoods.

None of these sites is perfect in any way. But each has its virtues and perhaps those are virtues that are in the long-run better for the city, its citizens, and its neighborhoods.