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Car-Free Streets in Chicago? Reaction Ranges from Support to Skepticism

By Darryl Holliday | February 12, 2014 5:00pm | Updated on February 12, 2014 5:30pm
 "Tell them he smirked when he heard the plan," one man said — though others support the car ban plan.
A Car-free Chicago? Residents Range Wildly in Support
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LAKEVIEW — A proposal that would do away with cars in some public spaces is getting mixed reactions from drivers and pedestrians across the city.

The proposal from the Active Transportation Alliance suggests the city consider restricting and redirecting car traffic on roads at 20 locations across the city, including the Magnificent Mile, creating "car-free spaces for biking, walking and community place-making."

“We believe a Complete Streets strategy that accommodates all modes of travel, including cars, should be the standard approach to street design,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “But we should also look for those unique opportunities where converting street space into car-free zones really works to improve communities.”

 Open Streets Chicago closed down Milwaukee Avenue for three miles, from Logan Boulevard to Ashland Avenue over the summer.
Open Streets Chicago closed down Milwaukee Avenue for three miles, from Logan Boulevard to Ashland Avenue over the summer.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

Those car-free zones can include closing entire streets such as the half-mile stretch of Broadway in Lakeview, closing partial streets such as segments of Webster Avenue in Lincoln Park and on 53rd Street in Hyde Park and banning vehicles during summer months, including on a of Humboldt Boulevard.

“These aren’t the only streets that deserve consideration, but they are among the best,” said Burke. “Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces for biking, walking and community place-making.”

Residents and workers interviewed on the proposed car-free streets Wednesday had a range of reactions from outright skepticism to support for the plan.

In Lincoln Park, an acting manager at Bootlegger's Used Books, who declined to give his name, offered what he called a "disapproving smirk" of a proposal to prohibit cars on a stretch of Broadway between Belmont and Diversey.

"Tell them he smirked when he heard the plan ... take that to other businesses on the block and see what you get," said the manager as he looked out from the bookstore at 2907 N. Broadway onto street full of cars.

He, like others, recalled the city's attempt to pedestrianize State Street in the 1980s, calling the failed plan "the proof in the pudding."

The Active Trans proposal calls for making the section of Broadway "a car-free greenway with landscaping, seating, restaurant patio space and more ... [using] diverters to prevent local cut-through traffic."

Another neighborhood resident who identified himself as "Gary R." visibly scoffed when he heard the plan while standing on the half-mile stretch of Broadway packed with businesses and motor vehicle traffic.

"No," he said. "Why would you want to do that? This is a busy street that's been here for hundreds of years — that doesn't make any sense."

However, residents in Logan Square were more supportive of the plan for their neighborhood — a car-free zone on Milwaukee Avenue where it hits the Logan Square monument. According to Stan Shellabarger, a manager at New Wave Coffee, 2557 N. Milwaukee Ave., there are already numerous plans to limit cars on the park's encircling roundabout, which could be an ideal spot for a pedestrian-only walking zone.

"It was already designed for it," Shellabarger said. "I think it would be nice. ... It's made for pedestrians and bikers."

The report comes on the heels of Shaun Jacobsen's Transitized blog post that made the local social media rounds in December which pushed a car-free Michigan Avenue. In the post, titled "Pedestrianized Vision for Michigan Avenue," the 23-year-old University of Wisconsin graduate argues that the Mag Mile, from the Chicago River to Oak Street, is full of "undeveloped potential."

The Magnificent Mile, while packed full of motor vehicles, lacks parking spaces, he notes. It's "full of cars that don't need to be there," Jacobsen said, arguing that Chicago is lagging behind other global cities in establishing centralized, car-free walking zones.

A full list of the proposed car-free locations can be found here.