Senior mayoral advisor David Spielfogel had some disappointing quotes in yesterday’s Sun-Times, arguing that “it doesn’t make sense” to make large streets like the Mag Mile car-free. However, that doesn’t mean innovative changes to major roadways are off the table.
The car-free Boul Mich proposal by Transitized’s Shaun Jacobsen that inspired Active Trans to include the street on their list of potential streets for pedestrianization was fairly radical, calling for no motorized vehicles or cross traffic. However, Jacobsen’s idea represents just one end of the spectrum of solutions that would make Michigan a better street.
Perhaps Michigan could be transformed into a transit mall, like Denver’s thriving 16th Street or the vibrant State Street mall in Madison, Wisconsin. Alternately, car access could be retained, but a few of the six mixed-traffic lanes could be converted to uses like dedicated transit lanes, wider sidewalks, seating areas, and/or protected bike lanes.
Spielfogel raised the specter of Chicago’s State Street mall, viewed by many as a failure and often cited as evidence that pedestrianizing streets will never succeed in this city. “Shutting an entire street like Michigan Avenue is not something [Emanuel] would be very supportive of,” he said. “It seems like a drastic change. I can’t see that happening any time soon. Didn’t they try that on State Street and it didn’t really work?”
I got a mild chuckle out of the “Which do you prefer?” graphic in the upper right corner. Are they really kidding? Have you ever tried walking against traffic on the Chicago Lakefront Trail just after the final performance of the day during the Chicago Air Show? Have you ever tried to walk along the stretch leading from the Museum Quad area past the site of Lollapalooza in the summer? Or have you ever been caught in the mad crush along the Chicago Lakefront Trail when traveling south during the Fourth of July Picnic season? And do not get me started regarding the crush of humanity on foot when it leaves the Taste of Chicago and marches west along Congress Parkway.
In fact there is obviously little understanding of how wildly unpleasant it is to try and wade through crowds of any size following either a Cubs Baseball game or anywhere around Soldiers Field following one of their events. Last summer we got caught trying to ride down the walkway ramp on the west end of the Field Museum as crowds of folks were surging towards Soldiers Field for a soccer competition. Simply nuts!
Traffic in Chicago whether of the pedestrian or automobile variety is not conducive to bicycling in the midst of the activity. In fact I could safely say that you could get further on a bicycle in Rush Hour traffic along Michigan Avenue than you could if all the crowds of pedestrians were on foot in the middle of the street. Nope, give me any moment when neither group is in over abundance. Otherwise I would suggest staying away from the Loop altogether.
Silly Yes, Radical No!
Much of what passes as supposedly serious and thoughtful suggestions coming out of the Urban Cycling Movement is on par with trying to protest Climate Change and Oil Usage by stripping down your Birthday Suit and parading around on your bicycle before photographers and news cameras. Most of what we seem bent on doing is for shock effect and little more.
I suppose lots of the “Whine and Jeez Club” faithful gave the wink-wink, nudge-nudge when Shaun trotted out this proposal. Had it been accepted they would have rejoiced over pints of beer and ale before wobbling home in the Door Zone along Milwaukee Avenue secure in the knowledge that they had managed to once again “stick it to ‘da Man” as epitomized by anyone driving an automobile.
Fortunately the Mayor has “bigger fish to fry” as he tries desperately to deflect the criticisms that will be swirling around his re-election if he is unable to find the funds to keep the city’s debt from spiraling out of control following an rather unwise but necessary attempt to borrow more money than we can possibly repay without severe deprivation on the part of the citizenry.
We need to stop having smart-ass attempts at being clever foisted on us by someone, in fact anyone who thinks he really understands traffic science and gets summarily dismissed. We need thinkers. Having visited another city and seen something that we thought “looked cool” does not qualify you as having an opinion worth the consideration.
Choices about traffic management have to be cost effective, actually providing a safer environment and capable of being sustained for periods longer than the tourist season.