Sunday, July 22, 2012

New Lanes on 55th St. a Learning Curve

-posted by chicago pop

It is truly amazing what good urban design is capable of. New lines on the street, and a few physical impediments to nudge behavior in the desired direction, and we already have tangible benefits: traffic moving at a much slower pace the length of 55th, improved safety for pedestrians at crosswalks, and more cyclists riding in the street - as they should be - with more confidence.

The sticky part is getting motorists to go with the new parking program, and park away from the curb. As of last week, local car owners must still be thinking all that new paint on the street was some kind of public art:

To their credit, on at least one block in about this area last week, I saw about half a dozen cars parking in the boxed lane BETWEEN the curbside bike lane and the lane of traffic - where the cars are supposed to go. But those vehicles were a minority.

That may change quickly, however, if - as the HPP reader who submitted these photos reports -- vehicles parked in the bike lanes continue to receive tickets, as they began to last week. 

It would help, also, if more bollards were deployed to make parking in the bike lane physically impossible. My assumption was that these were on the way, but I don't know. It would make sense, after all this effort, to situate the bollards in such a way that the desired behavior was perfectly clear.

Everything comes with a learning curve. Even if it takes a few weeks for the locals get the hang of this, or maybe even the rest of the summer, in the long term it's what we call here at HPP 'real goddamn progress.' A round of applause to CDOT and to the Adlermen and traffic engineers and cycling/pedestrian activists who made this a reality. Sometimes an ingenious idea really can make the world a little bit more civilized.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Del Prado Looking Good: The Sip Cafe, Southside Shrimp come to HP Boulevard

-posted by chicago pop

It is my prediction - and also a fond desire - that 5 years hence the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard will be one of the most pleasant, exciting, and desirable in the neighborhood. The University of Chicago has already figured out that 53rd Street is the axis of Hyde Park's urbanity, and the buzzing activity all along that street from Lake Park to the old Harper Theater is a refreshing sign of the institution's commitment to the vitality of the neighborhood's commercial corridor.

The intersection of 53rd and HPB is the gateway to that corridor, and in terms of urban design one of the only real gateways to the neighborhood - the others being a longish viaduct (47th Street), a bucolic but unremarkable jog in the road (51st Street) a blockade (57th Street), and, uh, the Midway. 

Contrast these to 53rd between Lake Shore Drive and HPB: one of the city's oldest and grandest parks is to the north, one of its grandest old hotels, the Del Prado, is to the south, and one of the neighborhood's most stately thoroughfares, Hyde Park Boulevard, sweeps parallel to the lakefront. 

Fixing up the Del Prado is one of the most important things MAC has done in Hyde Park, and the progress made this summer - after what seemed like years of not much visible happening - is exciting. The building itself looks great, as masonry details are restored and a contemporary, modern foyer is installed on the HPB entrance.

The best surprise of the Hyde Park commercial scene this summer is the leasing of a cafe, "The Sip," for the corner space of the Del Prado, in what used to be a convenience store. This cafe will have the best table views in Hyde Park, without question. This is a real score for MAC. Thursday mornings in the summer of 2013, when shoppers at the farmer's market in Harold Washington Park are able to stop by for coffee, will make the corner a great destination. 

I only hope that the cafe will avoid what seems to be a long-term trend for neighborhood cafes and eateries off of 57th Street - what I call the "Third World Effect" - which is to slowly go to seed and eventually close out. There's the obvious example of Third World Cafe and its predecessors. Something similar came close to happening at Istria on 57th; Istria on Cornell is visibly going to pot (what's up with the tattered bar chairs and disappeared bike rack?), although the new coffee source is an improvement; and who knows what will happen to Z&H on 47th after a recent management shake-up? 

Around the corner is a little local eatery, Southside Shrimp, with a few other locations in the city that have given it name recognition and what seems to be a positive reputation. It's basically fried seafood, but they emphasize freshness of ingredients to distinguish themselves from the legions of popcorn shrimp dives. They've clearly put some money into making the place look nice, and have gone to the trouble of getting a permit for sidewalk seating, which already makes the street more interesting. 

We're still waiting for word of a restaurant in the ballroom of the Del Prado's second floor - I'd like to book my window table as soon as possible.

Monday, July 9, 2012

On 4th of July Hyde Park Man Fires Gun over the Drive, says Everyone Was Doing It

-posted by chicago pop

But seriously, no one got hurt, so what's the big deal, right? 

The anything-goes culture of Hyde Park 4th of July celebrations has turned the holiday into a summer version of New Year's Eve with the added benefit of amateurs playing with professional explosives, or drunken professionals playing with guns.

Like this man:

Wesley Jackson of 5400 Hyde Park Boulevard
[Source: Chicago Tribune]

That a trained law enforcement professional could repeatedly fire his handgun in an urban, public park and feel that his behavior was consistent with that of other people in the lakefront parks - that it was normal - suggests that a culture of of recklessness has grown up around the holiday.

The only reason that this local culture has grown up ('everyone is doing it') is because the community has let it happen. Everyone from Alderman Burns and the District 2 police down to local property owners: MAC - with its Del Prado and East Park Towers right on Harold Washington Park - and East View Park, Regents Park, The Powhattan - do the owners and boards of these and other properties want this to happen on their front lawns again next year?

It would not take much to prevent festivities from escalating to the level at which drunks and pyros comfortably indulge themselves with little worry of police intervention.

From Evanston Now:
The Chicago Tribune reported Friday that Chicago police arrested Jackson and he was charged with felony reckless discharge of a firearm after he allegedly fired several rounds across Lake Shore Shore Drive toward Lake Michigan near the University of Chicago campus.

Police who stopped him said Jackson told them he was drunk and "everybody" was firing guns in celebration.
 From the Chicago Tribune:
Chicago police officers responded to the 5400 block of South Shore Drive to assist University of Chicago police with a "man with a gun" call about 10 p.m. Wednesday and university police told them they heard three shots and saw muzzle flashes coming from behind a tree in the park, according to a police report.
They saw Jackson standing, facing Lake Michigan, with a gun in his hand and he placed his hands up and dropped the weapon when they asked him to, according to the report.

Prosecutors said that Jackson fired several rounds across the Lake Shore Drive and toward Lake Michigan.
A witness identified him and during an interview with Chicago police, Jackson said he was: "Just shooting at the lake -- it's the 4th of July and everyone is doing it,'' the report said.

He explained repeatedly that he was intoxicated after drinking five beers and was "f----- up,'' the report said.
Jackson is employed by the Northwestern University Police, and has been placed on administrative leave.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Massive Illegal Fireworks Display Endangers Hundreds in Harold Washington Park: No Police Presence

-posted by chicago pop

"For Licensed Display Operators Only": 108 Shots Diamond in the Sky

Immediately after the City of Chicago's fireworks display came to an end a little before 9:30 this evening, a local entrepreneur - or, more likely, a number of them - decided to illegally keep the show going in the open area of Harold Washington Park directly east of Regents Park apartments, near Lake Shore Drive and the pedestrian overpass at 51st Street (4th Ward - Burns). 

Some of the explosives, such as the tubes and large box pictured below, require a federal license to purchase and detonate, and the inventory of fireworks detonated probably cost $400-500 retail.

One of a half dozen fireworks installations, many professional grade 'Class B' barrages, left in the northern section of Harold Washington Park, on plywood sheets approximately 6'x4'.

 Illegal fireworks barrage with launch burns visible in the grass towards Lake Shore Drive

For approximately half an hour, the safety of hundreds of people on the lakefront and dozens of passing motorists was endangered by a barrage of powerful, professional-grade pyrotechnics shot off directly over their heads. 

The fireworks appear to have all been lit by hand, and within yards of 4th of July spectators. As of late on the evening of 4 July 2012, when these photographs were taken, the detritus was left scattered across the park grounds.

1.3 gram "Aerial Bombs" (license required for purchase), "Asian Sensation", "Never My Love," "Mammoth Strobe Mini"

Embers from the explosions in several instances fell directly onto the Drive, within feet of both observers and vehicles. 

According to the Chicago Municipal Code, any person wishing to obtain a permit for an outdoor fireworks display must, among other things, be licensed by the City, have a letter of consent from the Alderman (4th - Burns), be insured up to $1,000,000, and have the site inspected beforehand by Deputy Fire Commissioner. The ability to purchase 1.3G explosives (like the candy-cane colored "Aerial Bombs" pictured above and below) requires a federal license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

I am curious to know if tonight's pyrotechnicians had taken to trouble to meet any of these requirements.

"Z Shape Tomy Gun: 360 Shots"

During the entire period, there was no visible Chicago Police Department presence, or response to repeated 911 calls. Transporting and arranging fireworks of this size and number obviously required some time, and the effort of more than one person, none of which was detected beforehand.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

55th Street Project is Under Way

-posted by richard gill


Work is in progress near 55th & Ellis, June 29.
Work is moving along on the much-anticipated safety enhancements for 55th Street between Cottage Grove and Lake Park Avenue.  The project primarily involves re-striping and new signage to improve safety and accommodations for pedestrians, bicyclists, and motor vehicle traffic.  This is one of several such projects being implemented by the Chicago Department of Transportation.  See the April 23, 2012 installment of this blog for details.
Initial pavement markings show arrangement of westbound traffic lane, parking lane, bike lane and bus stop.  Parking lane is adjacent to traffic lane; bike lane is next to the curb.