Jefferson Park development proposal sees opposition — Petition overlooks value of new development

The Northwest Side seems to be going through some serious growing pains. The recent spurt of news about and backlash against new development proposals and streetscaping projects is evidence that this more or less residential swath of the city, dominated by its single-family homes and above ground pools is not emotionally prepared for the slow advancement of more dense features likelier found in Lakeview or Andersonville. Yet such projects also have the potential to transform the area with less impact that expected. The most recent frustration comes from the proposal for a dense five-floor apartment development in Jefferson Park adjacent to CTA, Pace, and Metra transit center.

The site’s location adjacent to the numerous bus routes, the CTA Blue Line, and the Metra Union Pacific NW line is ideal, because it increases the chances residents will commute to work by public transit instead of a car. It puts more people within walking and biking distance of the Lawrence/Milwaukee and Milwaukee/Central business districts, which both sorely need vitalization and investment. The opponents argue that the project is just too large and out of scale with the area, it would put undo burden on the nearby Beaubien Elementary School, and that this project would set a negative precedent for the entire area.

The petition against this development totally overlooks the value such changes can bring to an area. This is particularly true for Jefferson Park and many other neighborhoods on the Northwest Side, which have a very limited scope of housing options and development types. Dominated almost entirely by single-family homes, the Northwest Side is essentially out of the question for young couples looking to start a family in a smaller place, small families who don’t need or want a larger house, and empty nesters wishing to stay where they raised their families and have friends. Introducing some housing options like this is a potentially vital move in this part of the city as a means to attract new families and retain residents, because housing options specific to their needs become available.

What is apparent looking at a map of Jefferson Park is its potential for higher-density development, because of the transportation connections, potential to support local business, and the availability of land.

What is apparent looking at a map of Jefferson Park is its potential for higher-density development, because of the transportation connections, potential to support local business, and the availability of land.

And it is true that this type of development will likely set a precedent, but one that is actually good for the area, not bad! Jefferson Park needs a boost to its economic vitality and economic investment. The area has definitely stagnated and isn’t moving anywhere fast. While attempts to improve the situation are in the works (the improvements to the far northern end of Milwaukee Avenue, potential expansion of Divvy into the area, and Blue Line investment) a major boost would likely come from building more higher-density condo and apartment buildings within the immediate vicinity of the Jefferson Park Transportation Center and the intersection of Milwaukee and Lawrence. This area has the space available and the connectivity to support such developments and it would be a huge lose to the neighborhood to work against positive development proposals.

The precedent being set shouldn’t be feared either, because it is one that seeks to fill in long vacant lots, which in theory should be something neighbors welcome. The lot at Argyle and Long was in fact and old industrial storage yard.

The only legitimate problem may be requiring the local elementary school to take on more students, but considering the proposal only calls for 48 units, which families with children may not even rent, it is hard to imagine a huge influx of students suddenly.

Killing this project on unfounded fears and speculation would be a small blow for the neighborhood that is representative of a larger movements to halt projects that have a collective potential to hugely benefit the area. One way or another, it is important that this project or at least a revision of the same project go through, so it can become an example for Northwest Side residents that such development projects are both possible and beneficial. That is necessary if needed development elsewhere in the neighborhood is to go through. Indeed, there is a small number of three to six floor buildings in the neighborhood that exist side-by-side blocks of single-family homes; buildings old enough that the residents likely voluntarily chose to live near them.

Options exists to soften the potential impact of the Long-Argyle project: make the building closest to homes on Argyle three or four floors instead of five for example. Whatever happens, a proposed solution would be much better than an outright rejection of the project. Living in a city means providing and living in an environment of mixed-use and mixed-design buildings. This is a benefit of city living, because it affords options and diversity that positively impact neighborhoods. It is diversity of people, diversity of economy, and social diversity. This quality of city life shouldn’t be lost in Jefferson Park.

Six Californias!? What about the great states of Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia (maybe?)

While I don’t foresee California being divided into six new states quite yet (hey, who knows though), I do concede that I can’t help thinking that the plan proposed by Silicone Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper is on to something about the shape of US states: maybe bigger isn’t always better? His argument for splitting California into 6 new states is based on his belief that the state has become too big to govern properly and that sometimes it is better to let smaller regions and more homogenous social and economic ecosystems govern themselves in their own interests. Granted, his plan may just be a “silly con” for Silicone Valley’s benefit and it also raises a lot of questions about how state-wide structures in California would be governed post partition. (The water system, California high-speed rail–what happens to those?) Nonetheless, it makes for a dreamy vision of other parts of the country where political differences can cripple government and others  where multiple layers of government overlap to create a recipe for even more dysfunction.

Thus, I invite you all to imagine the great states of Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia! One of the things that intrigues me most about the United States compared to many Western peers is the noticeable lack of city-states as a political unit. With the exception of Washington, D.C. none exist here even though a number of urban regions throughout the country have populations and economies comparable with sovereign states. This is opposed to Spain, Germany, and France all of which have at least one provincial unit that is a city-state. Spain has Madrid, France has the Ile-de-France around Paris, and in Germany Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin are all clearly defined city-states. While in the case of Germany, Bremen and Hamburg are the historical remnants of the Hanseatic League, the Berlin city-state is similar to the Ile-de-France, Madrid, or Greater London in that it gives the nation’s capital and largest city a degree of autonomy to do as it wishes according to its needs. Inspired by a call for 6 Californias based on the same model it would seem prudent to add a few city states to the United States’ collection and call it a day.

So why Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City? For me, the city-state model seems most prudent when an urban region is divided into administrative levels which make it difficult to govern or creates a system in which competition becomes detrimental to the entire urban unit. Or in some instances prevents beneficial improvements across borders. In fact, the bickering of states might make it impossible for cities to compete on a larger stage. Of these three cities, the larger urban region sprawls across multiple state lines (in each case three).

An example of problems with this is in Chicagoland. With the exception of the single branch South Shore Line, there is almost zero mass transit between Cook County and the City of Chicago in Illinois to Northwest Indiana and more than 770,000 people living in LaPorte, Porter, and Lake counties. This is only one example of how policies on one side of a border make it difficult for a larger urban region to build an interconnected infrastructure network and a small nod to the barriers created by multiple political borders. Another is how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker gloated (once upon a time) about taking jobs from Illinois rather than seeing the potential in connecting the urban mega-region that includes Milwaukee, Chicago, Rockford, Madison, and Northwest Indiana. The cross-border changes and competition makes it impossible for the region to function as a whole. This is surprising given these are just states and yet in places like Scandinavia sovereign countries are looking to improve connectivity in mega-regions. So US states are hindering urban regions true potentials it seems.

While other cities straddle state lines (Omaha, Nebraska; Saint Louis, Missouri; or Kansas City, Missouri for example) the three mentioned above are by far the largest and most influential and could above all others benefit form a uniform government, which encompasses the entire region and can more directly address the needs of each region. It would also free these regions from the frequent tumult of state politics and the not-so-unfamiliar urban-rural conflict that seems to constantly plague states with large swaths or rural area and a domineering urban center. Indeed, calls for to separate Cook County in Illinois from the rest of the state have frequently come from Downstate politicians. This would be detrimental though in that it would add another layer of governance to Chicagoland.

This map shows the NFL teams that got the most Facebook 'likes' in each US county. Notice how the Bears did well into Indiana and even Michigan, well within Chicago's sphere of influence.

This map shows the NFL teams that got the most Facebook ‘likes’ in each US county. Notice how the Bears did well into Indiana and even Michigan, well within Chicago’s sphere of influence.

A city-state around Chicago would be better served by including Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will, and Kane counties in Illinois, Kenosha County in Wisconsin and at least Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. Around Philadelphia it would make the most sense to cut out a chunk or northern Delaware including Wilmington, southwestern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania to create a new city-state, while the communities along the Hudson River in New Jersey and New York and southwestern Connecticut would make for appropriate additions to the city-state of New York.

The city-state isn’t an idea that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Yes, history and culture and identity and politics would play preventative roles (and reasonably so) in blocking such dramatic changes to the geopolitical map of the United States, but such changes could be hugely beneficial to cities and potentially make a balance of power that is more reasonable across the country. First, many major cities would be able to determine their own destiny better. They would be free from the conflicts of state politics and potentially have more money, because taxes produced in urban centers would no longer go to supporting rural areas. Additionally, three new cities states would add a number of new urban representatives in Congress. There would be 6 new senators all guaranteed to be representative of urban areas and depending on how congressional districts get redrawn potentially 30-40 House members would be from these states. This could make cities gain more influence in federal affairs to their benefit.

It is difficult to ignore how cities often don’t align with states and inevitable conflict seems to arise. Even from a sociocultural stand point it might make sense to establish city-states. Ironically, I think an argument for the importance of states based on maps from Aaron Renn’s blog/website Urbanophile shows more about how some areas just don’t belong together than do. In each three maps he shows, the sociocultural unity of the regions around Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York City are clearly expressed. Indeed, the sphere of influence for Chicago goes as far as Michigan in some instances. This again makes it seem plausible that city-states could succeed. If they are large enough to include a decently sized rural hinterland that if not politically is at least culturally connected enough to the urban core of such states to function well within it. This might make for states actually more similar to Massachusetts with a strong urban core in Boston, smaller urban centers like Springfield, but enough rural area to mix it up.

This map shows where the most county-to-county phone calls were made. Again notice how around certain cities with cross-boarder urban areas the calls stay within those regions.

This map shows where the most county-to-county phone calls were made. Again notice how around certain cities with cross-boarder urban areas the calls stay within those regions.

This map shows the same thing as the map above, but with county-to-county texts. Notice the same phenomenon and the indication that in some places, urban influence is significantly greater than state influence. While Renn manages to show how some states are closely connected as a community, he also gives evidence to where urban regions might be better independent communities.

This map shows the same thing as the map above, but with county-to-county texts. Notice the same phenomenon and the indication that in some places, urban influence is significantly greater than state influence. While Renn manages to show how some states are closely connected as a community, he also gives evidence to where urban regions might be better independent communities.

These maps also show why some places, like Chicago or New York City, might be better fit for city-state status than say Atlanta. The capital of Georgia is more closely linked to the state politically and culturally than Chicago is to Illinois or New York City   to the Empire State (neither are state capitals and relatively isolated geographically in corners of the state). Growing up in Chicago for example, I can say I almost never met somebody who was from northeastern Illinois and identified with the state–we all identified with the city. Even people from Kenosha, Wisconsin identified more with Chicago than their home state. On the other hand, Atlantans seem proud of their city and state, and looking at some of the above maps, the spheres of influence that include Atlanta and Georgia seem to go much beyond urban boundaries and indeed include multiple states. Indeed, just thinking about Atlanta as I write this I can’t help but think about Georgia.

There is still the problem that states matter to some extent and even in places like Illinois, where urban-rural conflict is high some projects might benefit from the presence of large cities in the state. This includes high-speed rail. Or what about the instate tuition Chicagoans get to pay at the University of Illinois? While this might create conflict as to the benefits of building high-speed rail through Illinois from a Chicago city-state or access to higher education it doesn’t necessarily mean those cons outweigh the potential benefits. However, this is based on unfounded evidence and it may be that a stronger city-state in the heart of the Midwest would create an economic output strong enough to benefit the entire region and give it more leverage region wide. It shouldn’t even be assumed rural states would be unwilling to work with city-states. Either way, it shouldn’t be assumed that it is just the states that keep these projects together.

States are incubators for experimentation and perhaps that’s the best thing that is coming out of the proposal to divide California. No matter what happens it is an opportunity to critically think about how we divide and unite ourselves at different levels. None of this will likely happen, but thinking about it can produce new methods of improving how urban regions function and how they relate to the federal and states’ governments. In the case of Chicago a more appropriate option may be establishing a port authority similar to that in New York that crosses boarders and operates the region’s complex infrastructure in a more uniform way. On the other hand, maybe a Silicone Valley like city(ish)-state will be so successful that there is no other option but to join that bandwagon and enjoy the ride. Hey, Chicago missed out on its opportunity to add a fifth star with the 2016 Olympics, maybe this is the next best chance.

 

 

 

 

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.