Over the last two weeks, some Chicagoans have had a little more room to move outside, as streets have been opened up to cyclists, runners and pedestrians, while others have been converted into outdoor dining corridors. But despite enthusiasm from transportation advocates and eager residents, some of the shared streets aren’t ready just yet – and at least one previously announced plan for outdoor dining isn’t happening at all.
This past weekend, the South Side got its first shared street. Local traffic is still allowed on Drexel between Oakwood and Hyde Park Boulevard, but otherwise the street’s now open to pedestrians, joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists like Hyde Park resident Owen Lawson.
“I’m a cyclist, I love it. What do you mean, what’s my reaction?” Lawson laughed.
Lawson says making cycling safer, especially for seniors, helps promote a great way to get around. “What’s not to love? You’re burning calories, you’re exercising, you’re saving gas money, insurance, repairs,” Lawson said.
Drexel is one of three stretches of shared streets right now. Cortland and Wabansia recently opened as an alternative to the still-closed 606 trail. And in Lincoln Square and Ravenswood, Leland is a shared street from Lincoln to Ashland.
“People have really appreciated this opportunity, especially folks with younger kids who just want to be able to move around for a few blocks,” said Ald. Matt Martin (47 Ward).
Martin says making streets more bike and pedestrian friendly, and creating space for outdoor dining, doesn’t necessarily have to go away when the pandemic does.
“We have a program in other parts of the city where we’re closing down for a short period of time streets entirely to traffic,” Martin said. “A number of other cities throughout the country as well as Europe do that. I think that’s something we should consider.”
Broadway in Lakeview and Rush Street on the Near North Side have started closing to traffic over the weekend and opening for outdoor dining, and it’s coming soon in Chatham, including near Brown Sugar Bakery, where, according to owner Stephanie Hart, “You can get all kinds of things you might not think you should have, but have a little bit of this. It’s awesome!”
The original plan was to close a two-block stretch of 75th Street between Indiana and Calumet, but not everyone was on board. So Hart, along with other local leaders, business owners and residents came up with a plan to move the outdoor seating off of 75th, “So that traffic and buses can continue to run, and to the side streets right by the main thoroughfare. … I think it’s a great compromise, plus it’s shady on the side over there,” Hart said.
Hart hopes the shady seating will be ready by July 1. Outdoor dining is in the works on two other stretches as well. Local business group the West Central Association hopes to open Taylor Street between Loomis and Ashland as soon as Friday. That association is also working toward outdoor seating on Randolph Street between Halsted and Elizabeth, and plans to get that application in to the city this week.
But not everyone is interested in outdoor dining. When the city first announced the pilot program, one of the six streets included was 26th between Harding and Central Park in Little Village. But the Little Village Chamber of Commerce executive director told us they’re no longer planning to participate because businesses in the area say they lose money on days when the street is shut down.
As for more shared streets for pedestrians and cyclists, the timeline’s unclear. The city transportation department has secured permits for Palmer between Long and Spaulding, and Roscoe from Milwaukee to Narragansett, both on the Northwest Side. Local aldermen say they’re still doing outreach, but so far the reaction’s been positive.
The city also got permits for the Leland shared street to run all the way east to Sheridan Road. But Ald. James Cappleman (46th Ward) told residents that was never under consideration because there’s too much upcoming construction along that stretch.
For his part, Ald. Martin hopes to see shared streets like Leland throughout the city.
“Today and most days it’s not been too busy, which I think is great, but we also want to make sure we’re seeing around the curve to ensure that it doesn’t get to a point where it is too busy.”
The city is still taking feedback on what coronavirus-related transportation changes you’d like to see. Send them your thoughts here.