A constructive takeover of Milwaukee Avenue

While perusing photos of this year’s PARK(ing) Day back in September (also see Fall diversions in Logan Square:  PARK(ing) Day installations), I got to thinking that we might expand on the idea for more than a day in a way that’s more than just making a statement about the use of public space.

Milwaukee Avenue is challenged to have the lively street life that outdoor dining can bring because of its narrow sidewalks.  On the east side of Milwaukee Avenue, the sidewalks are about 11.5 feet wide, and on the west, 10.5 feet wide.  Where there are street trees, the sidewalk clearances to the tree well are only 6.5 feet and 5.5 feet respectively.  A three-foot clearance is the minimum required for accessibility, and six feet is recommended to allow for easy two-way pedestrian traffic.

These constraints permit sidewalk seating, if any, just one table deep (and a two-top at that) (see photo below). But what if we could expand the space available for outdoor seating by co-opting six to eight feet of the street itself for a limited season?

Café con Leche Summer Sidewalk Seating
on Milwaukee Ave.

Cafés will (soon) be popping up on the streets of New York.”  And San Francisco is several steps ahead with periodic requests for proposal, a formal application process, and insurance and maintenance requirements for these sidewalk extensions or “Parklets,” just one of its Pavement to Parks projects.

San Francisco Parklet

I would be surprised if The idea for these sidewalk extensions did not emanate from PARK(ing) Day, though I don’t know for sure [Update: Confirmed.]

The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat…at least until the meter runs out!

The sidewalk extension idea goes beyond PARK(ing) Day’s aim in scope and length of time as a use that could potentially add value–both aesthetic and economic–to Milwaukee Avenue for about six months of the year.

PARK(ing) Day Installation in San Francisco

The bad news is that the City has practically ceded control of its parking lanes to Chicago Parking Meters, LLC for the next 73 years.  Any co-opting of parking spaces will require a corresponding cash contribution to the “concessionaire.”  Assuming a couple of parking spaces front a typical 25 foot property width, and based on the numbers provided to Alderman Scott Waguespack last year and adjusted for rate increases, each business would have to fork over at least $1000 a season for the privilege of using the public way.  Not that they shouldn’t pay for using it; just that they would have to take the extra cost into consideration.  Also, the cost will rise with currently scheduled and future approved parking rate increases.

While parking on the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that is the focus of this blog has been underutilized since the parking meter lease deal, you don’t want to eliminate all street parking.  Besides the convenience to drivers who might patronize the businesses, parked cars do form a comforting buffer zone between pedestrians and moving cars.  It would be advisable to place some sort of limit on the number of parking spaces that could be co-opted, either a limited number of spaces per quarter mile and/or a required separation between the spaces.

Milwaukee Avenue also has regular street cleaning that must be maintained.  However, since most places with outdoor seating move their tables indoors or at least stack up their tables and chairs for the night, Milwaukee Avenue businesses could design their sidewalk extensions to allow them to pack up their platform each evening.

These seem like obstacles that could be overcome for a greater benefit for the neighborhood.


Fall diversions in Logan Square:

Celebration of IshootRockstars VISITORS, a year-long photography project on Friday, November 18, 8:00 p.m. at Logan Square Auditorium; ticket options can include a coffee table book, proceeds of which will be donated to Humboldt Park’s Reason to Give.

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13 Responses to A constructive takeover of Milwaukee Avenue

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Luke Krzysztofiak, Lynn Stevens. Lynn Stevens said: A constructive takeover of Milwaukee Avenue >> http://wp.me/pfIrz-1pa […]

  2. Dre says:

    That would be a great for Milwaukee Ave. I think it could also bring more restaurants and bars to that area.

  3. Carter says:

    I like the idea, but I think the tables need to be connected to the buildings’ footprint to prevent pedestrians & waitstaff from being forced to compete for sidewalk space because the sidewalk runs between the restaurant and the sidewalk seating.

    Carter: I think, e.g., Longman & Eagle’s seating works out okay with the sidewalk between the building and the tables. ~ Lynn

  4. Steven Vance says:

    Like the parklets provide in San Francisco, Milwaukee Avenue, near North Avenue, is in desperate need of more bike parking.

    Ah, but what do you do with the snow in these parts? ~ Lynn

  5. jason says:

    I’ve been thinking for a while that Fullerton between Kedzie and Pulaski is horribly underused in this respect. Relatively wide sidewalks fronting loads of empty storefronts. The high speed of traffic doesn’t lend itself to businesses thriving. A road diet would dramatically change the situation, but I believe IDOT has jurisdiction for that street, so it’s pretty unlikely.

    jason: I agree. Maybe Fullerton is where we should focus some plaza efforts. ~ Lynn

  6. payton says:

    This approach appears to be widespread in French-speaking countries; I’ve seen it in Geneva, Outremont (inner suburb of Montreal), and even in small towns in France. I’ve also seen photos of an interesting community garden project in suburban Paris which used old pallets to build a framework for a raised-bed community garden over a paved space. I’m not sure why, but there are several streets in Chicago where the sidewalk cafes are typically on the curb side of the sidewalk rather than next to the building.

    As for bike parking in the street, there are two approaches. In Montreal, many of the racks get picked up and stored for the winter. In most other cities, they’re bolted into the street, and bicyclists just walk over the snow — as they do for sidewalk racks in Chicago.

  7. Payton mentions Montreal. I noticed something like this in Ville Marie there, on Rue Amherst in “The Village.” This was on a street in full use.

    Somewhere, I have a cd with photos from Montreal with the aforementioned photo I think.

    On St. Catherine, a part of which is closed to traffic for the summer (Aires Libre or “free air”), they also do it, but it’s different than capturing a parking place from car usage.

  8. payton says:

    It appears that most of the sidewalk cafes on Milwaukee in Wicker Park are on the curb side of the sidewalk. It probably has to do with maintaining a straight-line sidewalk “clear zone” so that blind pedestrians don’t have to weave around various obstacles (most of which, like newsboxes and utility cabinets, are by the curb).

    Waitstaff, on the other hand, are supposed to be trained to weave around various obstacles. 🙂

  9. Carter says:

    IMO objects in motion like waiters (who are also holding large trays) are far more complicated to navigate around than fixed objects like mailboxes, newspaper boxes, light poles, etc.

    I would wager there is often no rhyme nor reason, and it’s up to the whim of the local politician/city agency in charge. But the bottom line as I see it is some streets are simply not wide enough to accommodate outdoor seating. And my litmus test would be that if it can’t be done connected to the building’s footprint, it shouldn’t be done at all. When it’s one restaurant it’s one thing, but the law of precedence dictates that once you open the flood gates, you get a flood.

    Milwaukee is full of people bicycling on the sidewalk, families pushing strollers for babies and shopping carts, and at some point people just need to understand a sidewalk is a public way, not a commercial opportunity/sale to the highest bidder.

    There are loads of open storefronts on Milwaukee – if a restaurant needs more space, they can always look into expanding horizontally into an adjoining space.

    Milwaukee’s biggest problem is the sidewalks are too narrow. The holistic solution is to reclaim one of the parking strips and convert it to pedestrian usage. But then of course we’d need to reimburse LAZ for the parking swindle.

  10. […] I’ve seen it recently in Switzerland and Quebec. However, it appears to be difficult to do in Chicago, since said public space is no longer controlled by the public. (I would think a private vendor […]

  11. Carter says:

    Let’s hope the next mayor allows the multiple lawsuits to go through which are fighting the contract.

    What is particularly galling is the consortium which was awarded the lease is international, *but* one of their major players is JP Morgan Chase, who just so happened to receive a whopping amount of TARP funding as they were “too big to fail.”

    So here’s the math – federal tax dollars ultimately supported the hostile corporate takeover of municipal revenue-generating infrastructure. Nice work if you can get it.

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