a different Bucktown parking gripe

The Bucktown Community Organization recently voted, 11-5, to support a zoning change requested by a developer proposing a retail and parking structure at 1615 N. Damen Ave. I stayed away since I’d had a long day at the office and didn’t particularly want to sprint back home just to get into a shouting match over parking, so now I’ll just vent like a typical paper-tiger blogger.

From a traffic, transportation demand management, land use, safety — from every single standpoint, this is a singularly awful place to put a parking garage. In fact, the forthcoming WPB plan unequivocally states: “In identifying locations for possible future parking lots, we concluded that the one location that is not appropriate is in the area of the Six Corners intersection.” We want people walking past our neighborhood’s shops to get to Milwaukee, North, & Damen [MN&D] — as opposed to driving right there; we can’t fit any more cars at the neighborhood’s most congested spot; and frankly, the neighborhood deserves better. State & Washington, or Michigan & Chicago, don’t have parking garages hulking over them, and neither should MN&D.

In the grand scheme of things, the number of spaces (around 100?) is pretty marginal; this is a good/bad or bad/good thing, depending on your perspective. It’s too small to materially affect “the parking problem,” and probably too small to really impact traffic flow in the area. (I guess the developer finally paid up and hired someone to do a traffic study, but no one’s actually read it — and of course the BCO couldn’t be bothered with such details.)

The “parking problem” is absolutely not one of under-supply. WPB’s plan recommends metering and better managing 1,200 on-street parking spaces and working with the owners of the 2,400 off-street parking spaces within WPB to better utilize their spaces. That’s 3,600 parking spaces right here in the neighborhood — the size of an 8 1/2-block parking lot, the size of a parking garage that could fill all 65 floors of 311 S. Wacker, twice the size of the Cumberland Avenue parking garage — and none of it is more than a 12-minute walk from MN&D. There’s very little economic rationale for standalone parking garages outside large downtowns and airports, and the same economic rules hold for Bucktown: construction costs are sky-high, and the competition is practically giving it away (free or for $0.25 an hour). The developer acknowledges this, and has claimed in earlier meetings that he wanted to do something better for the neighborhood than just another mixed-use building. I naturally stated that a mixed-use building would be ideal there and that there are many other ways to really give something back to the entire neighborhood.

Here are a couple of ideas, most of which are tax-deductible:
* Spruce up a nearby park, like Wicker, Ehrler, Churchill, Park #529 (Wabansia) — or create new parks, at a Bloomingdale Trail entrance or in one of the “living room” spaces identified along Milwaukee in WPB’s plan. This could be accomplished through a donation to the appropriate park Advisory Council (or TPL, for Bloomingdale) or to the Open Space Impact Fee fund for West Town.
* Help to establish a neighborhood bike share. Six locations would cost under $500K.
* Make retail space in the building available at below market rate for creative new businesses or neighborhood arts organizations; for example, moving the (nonprofit) Around the Coyote into a storefront gallery.
* Implement intersection improvements at MN&D, consistent with the recommendations of the WPB Plan, that will significantly enhance pedestrian safety and even traffic flow.
* Adopt the Damen station.

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