Goal: Revitalize Commercial Corridors - Recommendation 2: Make Archer Avenue a Livable Street

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Archer Avenue carries 27,000 vehicles a day. Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc. conducted 24-hour traffic counts at Archer Avenue in March 2018. Throughout the count period, heavy freight traffic was captured at each intersection within the study area. This high level of traffic impacts not only the design of the roadway but also the experience of pedestrians and bicyclists. Despite these challenges, Archer Avenue is a tremendous asset to the community. Because of the shops, services, and transportation that it provides, Archer Avenue functions as more than a route for travel — it is a community space. This corridor includes the densest concentration of shops and restaurants, as well as the 35th/Archer and Ashland CTA Orange Line Stations.

The following strategies align with the City’s complete streets policy to improve access, safety, and mobility. Implementing these strategies will make Archer Avenue a livable street, allowing it to continue to provide for residents’ everyday needs, attract new patrons and visitors, and provide for a diversity of housing options near transit, as presented in chapter 4.

Encourage mixed-use developments that promote convenient, safe, and efficient travel

Mixed-use development promotes walkability, livability, and transportation efficiency. There are several locations for mixed-use development at key nodes along the highly trafficked commercial corridor. For example, the intersection of Archer Avenue and Leavitt Street provides a major opportunity because of its access to major arterial roads and residential neighborhoods, and proximity to the CTA station. More information on transit-oriented development can be found in chapter 4. 

Target safety improvements at key intersections along Archer Avenue

Complete streets are designed to facilitate all modes of travel, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists. Streetscape improvements can make streets safer and more attractive. By calming traffic, improving visibility, and accommodating pedestrians, streetscape can make people feel welcome, safe, and comfortable walking throughout a commercial corridor, encouraging the foot traffic vital for local businesses. This section focuses on enhancing four strategic locations along the Archer Corridor — at Ashland, Damen, Leavitt, and Western (under strategy 5.4a). While the entire length of Archer Avenue is important to McKinley Park, focusing on these key areas will help community stakeholders prioritize future investment in the most important locations.

The following streetscape concepts illustrate a variety of potential interventions to improve the mobility, accessibility, safety, and appearance of the Archer Avenue corridor. The intent of these strategies is to create a thriving commercial corridor that is safe, sustainable, and can accommodate a variety of transit-oriented uses in the future. Consideration of these treatments requires further engineering analysis. The neighborhood plan calls for the city and IDOT to study infrastructure treatments that alert drivers, slow down traffic, and guide pedestrian safety. A potential funding opportunity to study these improvements is IDOT’s Statewide Planning & Research Funds Program Guidance.

Exhibit 5.1 Archer Avenue & Ashland Avenue

McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan Archer Avenue Ashland Avenue intersection

Archer and Ashland: Residents identified the intersection of Archer and Ashland as being uncomfortable and unsafe to pedestrians due to higher traffic volumes and faster traveling vehicles. Changes to travel lanes and vehicular operations at this intersection would be difficult to employ due to the heavy volume of both vehicles and freight trucks traveling through this intersection. Similarly, curb bump-outs to reduce pedestrian crossing distances would impede a freight vehicle’s ability to maneuver. Removing travel lanes along Archer Avenue to install bicycle lanes or employ traffic calming measures could potentially increase congestion at both the intersection and throughout the McKinley Park study area.

A potential treatment to consider would be the addition of a refuge island on the south approach along Ashland Avenue. This would shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians (see Exhibit 5.1). In addition, adding extra sidewalk width on the northwest side of Archer Avenue would provide extra comfort for pedestrians walking along the roadway.

These two improvements are intended to provide additional comfort and safety for pedestrians traveling to the CTA Orange Line Ashland Station, connections to nearby CTA bus stops, and surrounding commercial uses along Ashland Avenue.

Exhibit 5.2 Archer Avenue & Damen Avenue

McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan Archer Avenue Damen Avenue intersection

Archer and Damen: The intersection of Archer Avenue and Damen Avenue is another key intersection to consider for roadway improvements. Because of the I-55 ramp at Damen Avenue, more than 23,000 vehicles pass through this intersection each day. Potential treatments to consider include widening sidewalks on both sides of Archer Avenue to provide extra comfort for pedestrians, which has been described as an uncomfortable walking environment.

During the planning process, CMAP’s engineering consultants found that motorists traveling northbound and southbound along Damen Avenue approach the intersection as if there were left-turn lanes, despite there being no striping to denote two separate lanes. Therefore, another potential treatment could be the addition of left turn lanes and accompanying traffic signal phasing along Damen Avenue on the northbound and southbound approaches. The left turn phasing will allow more motorists to turn onto Archer Avenue from Damen Avenue. 

This could increase safety for pedestrians crossing through the intersection, as fewer vehicles will idle in the middle of the intersection waiting to turn left onto Archer Avenue.

In addition to these recommended treatment options, the installation of trees along each side of both roadways, as well as clear painted crosswalks, will increase the comfort and safety of pedestrians crossing this intersection.

Exhibit 5.3 Archer Avenue & Leavitt Street

McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan Archer Avenue Leavitt Street intersection

Archer and Leavitt: This intersection is especially critical because of the Orange Line Station and bus hub. From 2013 to 2017, there were 18 total crashes at this intersection, with one crash involving a bicyclist and one crash involving a pedestrian. The majority of crashes were rear-end collisions and striking a parked vehicle.

Exhibit 5.3 displays several design elements to explore for further pedestrian safety and mobility at this key intersection. Potential treatments include adding a pedestrian refuge island on the southwest approach along Archer Avenue to provide a “break” while crossing Archer Avenue and serve as a safety refuge (see image 5.1). Additionally, curb bump-outs at the northeast, southeast, and southwest corners of the intersection would also help achieve shorter crossing distances and increase the separation between pedestrians and vehicles. The bump-out in the northeast corner should also avoid impeding the turning of buses onto northbound Leavitt Street coming from either direction of Archer Avenue.

When decreasing the width of the driveway on North Leavitt Street and West Archer Avenue, a 5-foot distance must be maintained between the turning vehicle and fixed object, such as the curb. Bus Operations under the Chicago Transit Authority would need to approve any changes regarding road infrastructure improvements.

In the northeast quadrant of the intersection, an access drive permits ingress/egress directly into the Archer Avenue & Leavitt Street intersection. This access drive is unsafe and should be closed. Patrons can easily access the parking lot through the two other existing access points. In addition to these proposed treatments, the installation of trees along each side of both roadways, as well as clear painted crosswalks at the intersection and at both CTA driveways, will add to the comfort and safety of commuters. The current designated Kiss N’ Ride Zone along Archer should be clearly signaled to deter drivers from parking on the north segment of Leavitt Street to drop-off and pick-up commuters.

Use tactical urbanism to demonstrate potential improvements

Tactical urbanism is a strategy to install temporary improvements to streets to make them more oriented toward people than motorized vehicles. These improvements often serve as the framework of complete streets, a policy and design approach that allocates space in the roadway for all users. During a tactical urbanism event, volunteers use tape, cardboard, scrap wood, chalk, and other common materials to cordon off portions of the roadway so that cars will not use them. They might build a raised crosswalk, which is a technique to get drivers to be aware of pedestrians. They might put in a temporary bike lane so that people can see what one would look like before it becomes a permanent fixture. Treatments that benefit bus operations and customer safety such as painted posts for bus boarding bulbs should also be considered.

Photo gallery from "Street Artists, Businesses Unite to Support Paleta Vendor, Create New Public Artwork," published September 21, 2020, in the McKinley Park News:

Tactical urbanism uses low-cost and easily deployable placemaking interventions that improve spaces and neighborhoods. MPDC should pursue one or more of these activities as an early action after the plan is completed, and the blocks near the Archer-Leavitt intersection (the 35th/Archer CTA Station area) would be an ideal location for the first event. When installations are proposed, the Chicago Transit Authority needs ample time to review and comment on them. Potential partners that have engaged in tactical urbanism in Chicago in the past include Active Transportation Alliance, Congress for the New Urbanism, and CDOT’s Make Way for People initiative.

Case Study: Placemaking Project at the Six-way Intersection on Southport, Lincoln, and Wellington Avenues

CDOT’s Make Way for People initiative could be one way to improve safety and create new public spaces for gathering. 10 This program aims to create public spaces that build community and enliven neighborhoods by opening streets, parking spots, and alleys to new uses that prioritize people over vehicular traffic. The program consists of four types of “people spaces” that modify existing transportation rights-of-way: people spots, people streets, people plazas, and people alleys.

In the Lakeview neighborhood, CDOT worked with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce to create spaces for seating, walking, and calming car traffic at the six-way intersection on Southport, Lincoln, and Wellington Avenues. Large-scale people streets projects require a sizable local match from a community partner, which may require neighborhood stakeholders to raise funds or seek private-sector sponsors.

Install green infrastructure along the right-of-way for stormwater management

As part of this planning process, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) provided pro bono assistance through their Rain Ready program to assess flooding in McKinley Park. The report found areas with the highest runoff along the Archer Avenue corridor and in industrial areas in the community. This has detrimental effects on our aquatic habitats and our water supply. Installing green infrastructure along the right-of-way for stormwater management is a top priority of this plan as our region experiences more frequent and severe weather events, extreme heat, and flooding.

Currently, there are few street trees and little landscaping along Archer. Between Ashland Avenue and Western Avenue/Boulevard, areas with green infrastructure include the parkway at the 35th/Archer CTA Station; four trees between Hamilton and Leavitt; landscape buffers at the two commercial parking lots adjacent to Damen Avenue; and street tree coverage between Damen Avenue and 33rd Street.

Chicago’s Resilient Corridors Project has installed attractive, dual-purpose, site-scale stormwater sites across the city. DPD should prioritize the right- of-way along Archer Avenue with linear infiltration and detention, similar to what was implemented in Pilsen along along Cermak Road and Blue Island Avenue. 11 Bioswales, small native plantings, and/or permeable pavers could be added along the corridor to help mitigate stormwater (see Figure 5.2).

Equally important is prioritizing the installation of street trees throughout commercial corridors. Increased tree canopy coverage has been linked to numerous health and social benefits, including improved air quality, lower crime rates, and a whole host of other benefits. Furthermore, these trees will be grown within the McKinley Park community and will allow some residents to develop and hone urban agriculture skills while fostering a sense of environmental stewardship.

MPDC’s new beautification committee and volunteer groups should lead maintenance responsibilities of green elements of the proposed rights-of-way if the roadway agencies are willing to make upfront investments.

Figure 5.2 Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape

McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan Cermak Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape
Source: Chicago Department of Transportation

Widen the sidewalks along Archer Avenue

While Archer Avenue has the most pedestrian traffic of any corridor in McKinley Park, narrow sidewalks through much of the corridor create little to no barrier between pedestrians and high-speed traffic, making sidewalks unsafe and not ADA accessible (see Image 5.3). In order to improve feelings of safety along Archer Avenue, the Institute of Transportation Engineers recommends that a sidewalk be at least 9 feet wide, although it is ideal to be 16 feet wide to accommodate not only the movement of pedestrians but also the social space where people interact and walk together. Within a sidewalk that is 9 feet or wider, street trees and other street furniture amenities, like trash receptacles and benches, can be placed without blocking the movement of foot traffic.

There appears to be potential to separate the sidewalk from the curb in the northwest quadrant of the Ashland and Archer intersection. In order to provide a good bicycling, pedestrian, and transit environment along Archer Avenue, the city should work with IDOT to widen the sidewalk by 1-2 feet to obtain increased comfort and safety. Appendix A offers potential concepts that show how public rights-of-way could be rearranged to provide more space for the sidewalk.

Reconfiguring the right-of-way to provide more sidewalk space is an expensive long-term improvement. In the shorter term, the city should also investigate options that would not require the reduction of lane widths, such as adding curb extensions at key intersections where trees can be planted (reference strategy 5.2b).

While periodic curb extensions will not address the central issue of a narrow sidewalk throughout Archer Avenue, they will provide more space for the amenities that help make a street more pedestrian-friendly. This strategy should be designed to maintain as much of the on-street parking as possible as well as in coordination with other parking strategies (please reference recommendation 4.3 for more on parking management strategies).

Improve the appearance of viaduct underpasses

Graffiti artist Anias Machin creates a mural under the Orange Line viaduct on the 3400 block of South Hoyne Avenue on Monday, May 25th.  (Julie Jaidinger/McKinley Park News)From "Graffiti Artists Bomb Neighborhood Viaducts with Colorful Designs; City Paints Them Over," published June 4, 2020, in the McKinley Park News.Local residents expressed great interest in improving the appearance and safety of community viaducts to promote safe passage for students, commuters, and visitors. Viaducts that run below the rail tracks adjacent to Archer Avenue are in various states of disrepair, often creating an uninviting environment for both pedestrians and cyclists. Residents do not feel safe walking, especially below the railyards. With different jurisdictions responsible for maintenance and improvements, it is difficult for local residents to know whom to talk to for changes. When residents do not want to walk in certain places, they end up driving for short trips.

The planning process identified viaduct enhancement opportunities, including the installation of murals that acknowledge McKinley Park’s history and welcome visitors into the neighborhood. The plan recommends installing artistic murals and lighting in the walkway to increase security and safety for pedestrians (See Image 5.4). One strategy is to work with the Chicago Public Arts Group and solicit bids from artists to create an LED lighting display prioritized intersections. MPDC should also work with CDOT, as they have a being they have a viaduct lighting improvement program that replaces old lighting with brighter, whiter smart LED lighting. While all underpasses need attention, the community has identified the viaduct adjacent to the 35th/Archer CTA Orange Line Station as a top priority given its high pedestrian traffic.

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