New Vision Plan addresses parking in Chinatown area
December 6, 2019

CBCAC has mapped out off-street parking in a color-coded map. Alleviating parking concerns is a big issue in Chinatown.

By Susan Fong

The Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC) is completing its audit of a parking study as a part of the Chinatown Vision Plan (CVP), after publishing an early walkability study in 2017. Both studies form part of the CVP unveiled in 2015, as parking and walkability go together as key elements to improve connectivity within, as well as to and from, Chinatown for residents, businesses, and visitors.

CBCAC initiated the CVP to understand Chinatown’s future demands and needs. “From this study, we noticed there is need to ensure effective land use within a densely populated community,” said Debbie Liu, consultant to CBCAC. “This means better management of our resources.” Liu is CBCAC’s former community development coordinator and the organization’s lead on the CVP.

Liu and Lindsay Bayley, senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), have been working together on the parking study, which began in May 2018, and on a final report. CMAP and CBCAC are funding the project.

“Parking and walkability are part of a greater transportation system,” Bayley said. “If someone has the option to drive, they will only choose to walk, bike, or take transit if the experience on those options is safe, affordable, and pleasant, because if transit weren’t useful, then people wouldn’t use it.

“There is a perception around parking that more spaces are needed to meet current and future needs,” Bayley added. “But that can be very expensive—upwards of $30,000 per space. We are taking the approach of how the community can better manage the resources that already exist and plan for growth,”

The report will cover a range of topics including but not limited to traffic congestion, parking pricing and availability, and active transportation.

Team members are consolidating data and ascertaining what is feasible and will publish results in a report they expect to complete in early 2020.

Bayley emphasized the items listed below are options they are considering but not necessarily final recommendations:

• Improving unpleasant underpasses, narrow sidewalks, poorly maintained walkways, and congested crosswalks such as the intersection at Cermak Road, Archer Avenue, and Princeton Avenue. The team believes that, if people feel safer and more comfortable walking, they will have less need to drive short distances, reducing the need for parking spaces.

• Approaching owners of private lots to open these underused parking options when businesses or other tenants are not using the spaces, such as bank and school lots on weekends.

• Speaking to the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) about a pilot study on reconfiguring one block for reverse angle or back-end diagonal parking. This move could add 40 metered spaces without removing any free spaces. Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez is requesting a revenue sharing agreement so that a portion of funds raised from these new meters would go toward safety and walkability enhancements in Chinatown.

• Improving bus and rail transit experience, promoting transit through employers, and encouraging people to walk and bike for short trips.

Promoting walking and bicycling

In the walking study, Liu had contacted the Active Transportation Alliance and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children to assist, said Julia Gerasimenko, advocacy manager at Active Transportation Alliance.

Chicago’s Chinatown population is growing, so officials must develop infrastructure to meet the demand, Gerasimenko said, noting, “The population has high percentages of youth and seniors living in the area, who are more vulnerable roadway users.”

The study examined seven key areas: pedestrian crossings, signals, crosswalks, curb ramps, sidewalks, parking, and bike lanes.

Recommendations fell into the categories of infrastructure improvement, amenity improvements, and educational campaigns.

Grace Chan, CBCAC executive director, said the organization finished the education portion in 2018 and 2019 through presentations and small giveaway maps with detailed street conditions so users could plan routes to their destinations.

“Implementation has already begun; a lot of the issues were related to infrastructure,” said Liu, who noted infrastructure requires funding.

“With the election of a new mayor and alderman, the funding landscape has changed,” said Chan. “CBCAC is working with its new 25th Ward alderman, Byron Sigcho Lopez. He is aware of our concerns and has been meeting with the community every other month as promised.”

Alderman Sigcho-Lopez was not available for comment.

Michael Claffey, CDOT director of public affairs, said infrastructure and safety funding can come from several areas, such as the aldermanic menus (money the City allocates to wards for infrastructure), tax increment financing, and Federal and State funding. “Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a steady stream,” Claffey said. 

State Rep support

“A $45 billion capital bill was passed at the end of May, $33 billion of which will be devoted to transportation infrastructure,” said State Representative Theresa Mah (D-2nd). “A total of $50 million will be allocated annually for pedestrian and biking. State roads such as Archer Avenue should be seeing improvements to walkability as part of overall improvements, but the $50 million will be made available as grants through a competitive application process for projects proposed by local governments across the state. Consideration will be given to disadvantaged communities.”

Mah added, “I am happy to advocate for the community in making sure that the City is responsive to community needs. One example is to assist with advocacy and relationships involving railroad companies that are responsible for the spaces under the viaducts,” but very little of the areas discussed in the study are State owned or controlled properties, she noted. 

Wells-Wentworth connector project

To facilitate entry in and out of Chinatown, CDOT completed phase one of its Wells-Wentworth connector project in 2016.The project connected pedestrians and bikers to Ping Tom Memorial Park with new sidewalks, bike lanes, and new streetlights from 17th to 19th Streets on south Wentworth Avenue.

“The second phase begun in 2018 is near completion,” Claffey said. “This part of the project realigns the intersection of Wentworth and Cermak, connecting to 19th Street, adds mid-block pedestrian crossing on Archer west of Wentworth, and also includes new sidewalks and improved drainage.”

The change will facilitate traffic flow onto Wentworth and Cermak and onto the expressway.

Phase three will construct a new segment of Wells Street from Roosevelt Road to 16th Street, resulting in a new north-south street between Clark and the Chicago River. This roadway will become an artery from the South Loop into Chinatown, connecting it with The 78 development project and points north.

Liu and Bayley noted parking is tied closely to walkability, and that crosses all goals. They agreed parking and walkability form part of the larger transportation system, which can help Chinatown grow and its residents thrive, ensure its cultural vitality and business growth, reduce traffic congestion and increase traffic flow, reduce transportation inequities and increase transportation options, and prepare for changes in coming years.

The CBCAC noted that the plan has received input from more than 1,000 community residents, business owners, workers, youth, and others, and that the plan provides a framework for future decision making that builds upon the past accomplishments and current efforts of Chinatown residents, organizations, businesses, and elected officials.

For more on the CBCAC and CVP, log on to https://cbcacchicago.org.