Monday, April 2, 2012

a perspective on retail development, traffic and the 19th ward

For months, a years-old sustainable transportation graphic has been generating a lot of discussion about road use, specifically about how much road space each mode of transportation takes to move a person - car vs. bus vs. bike. In case you haven't seen it, I've included it below.

The Northwestern student news site ran a well written article about the graphic and response to it. When I visit 19th ward businesses, I am often struck by the limitations that parking and car dependence create for so many of those businesses.

Many locations along Western, 95th, 103rd (west of Western) and 111th (west of Western) and Kedzie aren't the easiest to reach by biking or walking, unless you're coming from an adjacent side street.  Western has a good number of bike racks.  Some of the other locations listed above are not as well equipped with suitable bike parking.

As traffic gets worse with the redevelopment of Evergreen Plaza and the 91st and Western nightmare (if and when it's built), it will certainly have an impact on our business districts, especially along 95th and Western.  If we start working now to promote walking and bike access to neighborhood destinations (more bike parking, education, promotions), it can help our local businesses by taking more cars off the roads for trips to nearby destinations.  This would ease traffic congestion and parking demand, allowing our businesses to serve more customers with fewer car trips, without needing more car parking spaces.

If we start working to improve conditions for pedestrians, it can help people using all types of transportation to reach our local businesses.  Right now it can be a life threatening proposition to cross one of our major streets at a non-stoplight intersection.  In spite of the Illinois law passed 2 years ago, things have not gotten any better for pedestrians in most locations.  The video in this news story illustrates the problem well.

I can wait a minute or more to cross half of 95th or Western and wait again to cross the other half, being passed by a dozen or more cars on each half, who could have allowed me to cross by easing off on the gas pedal for just a few seconds.   This doesn't just affect people walking or riding bikes.  It also affects people arriving by car who need to cross the street from where they parked to the business they are visiting.

The redevelopment proposal for Evergreen Plaza (shown below) appears to be a typical suburban car-centric design, uninviting and hazardous for pedestrian or bike access, as well as ugly.

As presented, this design does not appear to offer any accommodation for pedestrians crossing the parking lot from Western.  It's unclear if there's any pedestrian access from the stoplight at 98th St. or from Campbell.  To reduce car traffic congestion, there should be pedestrian access from ALL sides of the redeveloped mall.  Do you have a problem with this car-centric design?  I do, and I'm writing to the developer to ask for safe pedestrian and bike access. 

If it's built according to this sketch, it's unlikely that I'll be able to walk there easily.  I refuse to drive to a place so close to home if all I'm doing is visiting Carson's to buy something I can easily carry.  I refuse to add to our area's traffic congestion with an unnecessary car trip.  I am telling the developer that I will not patronize any business at the redeveloped Evergreen Plaza unless it's built to allow safe pedestrian access from adjoining neighborhoods.  If we can and do walk there, the traffic impact of the redevelopment could be significantly reduced.  If this issue matters to you, I encourage you to write to the developer.  Contact info via email and snail mail is on this page.

We can each make a difference by choosing to walk or ride bikes to existing businesses, and by asking for new businesses to safely accommodate customers and employees who choose to get there by methods of transportation other than individual cars.  We may or may not have a say in what gets built, but each of our choices can affect the overall impact of these projects.

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