“Transit-Oriented Development” in Lakeview to feature 116 parking spaces

November 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm

A new “transit-oriented” development at 3200 N Clark St in Chicago (the northwest corner of Clark and Belmont) will be built with basement, ground-floor, and second-floor retail and 100 residential units.

I write “transit-oriented” in quotes because the development will increase the amount of parking at the site by 102 spaces. There currently exist 14 spaces at the Dunkin Donuts lot at the corner. The development will include 116 spaces.

The 3200 N Clark development. Photo: Howard Hirsch Associates

The 3200 N Clark development. Photo: Howard Hirsch Associates

I attended a meeting on Tuesday night where the developer presented the plans as part of the planned development process. Some brought up the height of the building (which is many floors higher than surrounding buildings), and there were many questions about the retail uses that will occupy the building. The anchor use will be a grocery store.

I commented that I appreciate the developer taking advantage of the new TOD ordinance to reduce the amount of parking necessary (the development is a short walk from the Belmont Red/Brown/Purple line station, as well as adjacent to two bus lines, the 22 and the 77, and a short walk from the 8 and 36). However, the developer is not taking full advantage of the ordinance.

The ordinance permits developers to reduce residential parking requirements by 50%. In this case, only 50 spaces will be provided for use by the 100 residential units. The ordinance also permits developers to completely eliminate commercial parking requirements. That means this development would need only 50 total parking spaces (36 more than currently exist). The developer is still building over twice as much parking than necessary.

When I asked the developer why they are building so much parking, they gave a list of reasons (abridged quotes below), some of which end up contradicting each other:

  1. “We cannot attract retail tenants without building parking”
  2. “The residential tenants will want to keep their cars, even if they’re not driving to work, but to have for other uses”
  3. “It is a mixed-use development, it will require parking”
  4. “The development is in a walkable neighborhood and we are bringing some retail uses closer to people, meaning it will generate less trips from this neighborhood to other neighborhoods”
  5. “The development will occupy a few existing buildings that also generate traffic”

A comprehensive study on the issue would be nice, but you need only take a walk through city neighborhoods to see that parking is not necessary to attract retail. Walk in Andersonville, for example: Very few retail uses have parking structures or lots. Andersonville is not even directly adjacent to a rail line, yet it still attracts a lot of people walking on the sidewalk, riding a bike, or using the bus. Even larger retail uses like grocery stores do not need parking lots to attract business. In neighborhoods with lots of foot traffic, as well as important bike routes and heavily-used transit routes, parking is not necessary to support retail.

#2 and #4 almost contradict each other. If a developer is bringing more “quotidian” retail like a grocery store to the area, then it means the people living close to it will have less need to travel outside the area for their daily needs. A new grocery store means some will no longer have to drive, bike, or take public transportation to a store a little further away. This reduces the need for parking, since more trips can be made without cars. And #5 doesn’t mean much: There is no existing parking structure on any adjacent lots, so any additional parking will not replace, but will instead add, more capacity.

Another concern of note is that the sidewalks will not be expanded. It is to be expected that a transit-oriented development will generate more foot traffic. The existing 12′ sidewalk on Belmont and 8′ sidewalk on Clark will not be expanded.

The existing narrow sidewalks on Clark St will not be widened.

The existing narrow sidewalks on Clark St will not be widened.

Furthermore, drivers will currently be permitted to turn left and right out of the parking garage; currently, traffic turning out of the existing lot cannot turn left. Left turns should also be banned with the new development, as it will likely lead to obstruction of the bike and traffic lanes on Clark when drivers pull out of the garage and pull into the street to turn.

Left turns in and out of the garage entrance, shown in red above, could lead to more traffic on Clark St. The blue arrow denotes a right turn that is unlikely to cause more conflict than exists today. Site plan image from Hirsch Associates LLC.

Left turns in and out of the garage entrance, shown in red above, could lead to more traffic on Clark St. The blue arrow denotes a right turn that is unlikely to cause more conflict than exists today. Site plan image from Hirsch Associates LLC.

I worry that these left turns could impede the 22 Clark bus, which is already a poorly-performing route in terms of bus bunching, and carries a lot of the traffic on Clark St without any dedicated right-of-way or signal prioritization.

When I brought up these concerns with the developer, they said that the new synchronized signal to be installed at School and Clark and an eastbound-to-northbound left-turn arrow on Belmont will help ease any additional traffic. “Our traffic analyses show” that there will be no averse impact on traffic, they stated. The thing about traffic analyses is that they can often be tweaked to suit exactly what needs to be proven.

This bus stop, often congested, will be right up against the wall of the development.

This bus stop, often congested, will be right up against the wall of the development.

The transit-oriented development does not really go all the way in becoming truly transit-oriented. It is a good start to have less parking capacity than would normally be built. However, this is a chance for a developer to build a truly human-scale building in a very dense, walkable neighborhood. While technically transit-oriented per the ordinance, the developer can go further in reducing the need for car capacity as well as reduce the amount of traffic generated on nearby streets, and should be encouraged to do so by the community.

parkingcycle

At this point, it appears that decades of parking overbuilding have done much damage and that permitting lower parking minimums isn’t enough. Chain retailer developers may be relying on parking and traffic models from their suburban stores, but have not adapted them for urban environments. Developers actually need incentive to build less parking, not just the ability to do it. Until forced maximums are in place, developers will likely continue to build parking out of the false premise that driving is inevitable and must be accommodated. This cycle needs to be broken. The TOD ordinance has made it easier to do, but it needs to go further.