Can more be done? An update on the Kenmore Green proposal


Kenmore Avenue. Can you spot the monk in this photo?

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Janet Attarian recently told me about DePaul University’s proposal to create a new pedestrian plaza by closing the block of Kenmore Avenue (1030 West) south of Fullerton Avenue (2400 North). Known as the Kenmore Green, it sounded like a great plan to me, but it’s turning out to be more controversial than I thought.

Allen Mellis of the Wrightwood Neighbors Association, a local community group, has been spearheading opposition to the plaza. Mellis is concerned about the loss of 47 parking spaces associated with closing the block. Also, a traffic study conducted by the firm Kenig, Lindgren, O’Hara, Aboona Incorporated found that the closure would funnel thirty percent more southbound traffic onto Sheffield Avenue (1000 West), the nearby business street. Mellis also argues that the project would create little additional green space. He also feels that, unlike the closure of Seminary Street (1100 West), which created the campus quadrangles, a popular dog walking site for neighbors, the Kenmore Green would be used almost exclusively by students.


The DePaul quadrangle at Seminary Street.

At an October 11 meeting on the DePaul Campus, dozens of community members showed up for an update on the plan, and many joined Mellis in voicing their opposition. I recently contacted DePaul spokeswoman Valerie Phillips and asked for DePaul’s perspective on Mellis’ claims, and an update on the project. She provided the following statement:

“DePaul has always welcomed neighborhood residents to its campus. The university consistently supports community events and makes accommodations to provide meeting space for the community. Kenmore Green would increase the quality of on-campus park-like space that can be enjoyed by all members of the Lincoln Park community.”

“The proposed street closure between Kenmore and Belden Avenues is designed to create open green space for DePaul and the surrounding community. The “greening” of the street would feature pathways, landscaping and a pocket park that could be used for university and community activities such as art fairs and food fests.”

“Both the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and a DePaul-commissioned study conducted by the firm Kenig, Lindgren, O’Hara , Aboona Inc., have reported that closing Kenmore during a month-long trial this past May had a relatively minor impact on parking and traffic in the studied area. They also found that there would be some levels of impact on pre-existing traffic hotspots—the intersections of Sheffield/Belden, Racine/Fullerton and Racine/Webster— and recommended improvements to address traffic conditions in those hotspot areas that would improve existing traffic operations and mitigate the impact of the Kenmore closure. [These included adding a through lane in each direction at Sheffield and Fullerton and adding a traffic signal at Belden Street (2300 North) and Sheffield.] CDOT also stated they did not favor the improvements in the specified locations due to pedestrian safety concerns.”

“The final decision about whether or not the plan moves forward currently rests with 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack.”

Waguespack apparently has not made a decision for or against the plaza, saying he is still gathering information on the project, according to a recent article in DePaul’s student newspaper. I dropped by the block on Wednesday afternoon as classes were letting out. During the fifteen minutes or so I observed traffic on the street, many dozen DePaul students crossed Kenmore from one campus building to another but there were only a handful of southbound automobiles on the one-way street. So, if the parking issue doesn’t wind up being a dealbreaker, it seems to me that it makes sense to turn this block of Kenmore over to people rather than cars.

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

50 thoughts on “Can more be done? An update on the Kenmore Green proposal”

      1. True, this makes the situation a lot easier. Less parking isn’t a bad thing though – it usually means less cars and less people willing to drive in fear of losing their coveted parking spot.

    1. Then move to the suburbs…again, 2.2 cars (or whatever it is) for every 3 car garage. Don’t whine about parking and live next to the largest Catholic university in the nation. You knew about parking issues prior to moving to the neighborhood. You also knew that DePaul was growing. Opening up streets to green space does not make for a closed campus. Try walking! It might just help curtail a bit the growing obesity epidemic in this country. And for pollution… Enough said. Go for it DePaul!!!

      1. Was that comment directed at me or the people rallying against the greenway? I personally am in favor of the closure of Kenmore and turning it into a pedestrian space.

  1. I lived just north of DePaul for several years. The area really needs streets to remain streets. The area is congested year round – Living there was the reason I took up biking! Closing off Seminary was one thing as there were no apartments and no parking allowed when it was still a street. For DePaul to take over another street, one with apartments, asks a lot of the residents and the neighborhood. I am sure DePaul would love to have a sort of “closed campus” where all streets had limited or closed access. It benefits the school to have a real campus feel, not a jumble of buildings in the middle of a bustling neighborhood. There are just too many cars, people, deliveries, and activity that are not part of the university to let this happen. Look at the numbers, unintended consequences putting more cars onto less streets is not a good thing. If they want the street, they need to buy every piece of property and then negotiate.

    1. I wish I could upvote this more than once. DePaul just wants to create a campus superblock… aka wall itself off from the city, which should be the exact opposite that any clear minded urbanite should want. It is important to keep these areas connected to the existing fabric of the neighborhood… pedestrian/bicycle/parking/motorists

  2. I’m confused. A KLOA study found that a closure would increase traffic on Sheffield by 30% and another KLOA study found that a temporary closure had a “relatively minor impact.” Which is it?

  3. I’m in favor of just about anything that makes Chicago more friendly to pedestrians and less friendly to cars. Cars already have too much space in the city. When it’s tougher for cars to get through, more people take the pub. trans. or pedestrian options, which is what living in a dense metropolitan area is supposed to be all about anyway. The kind of density that makes the city what it is, and what we love, came about before the automobile industry sprung up and had its effect on our built environment. Cities (and parts of cities) built after everyone owned a car, well, they suck.

    1. Let us not forget that roads were originally built for bicycles. The League of American Wheelmen lobbied hard for good roads back around the turn of the century. At the time, most roads were dirt or gravel – not very fun to ride a bike on. Then the cars came along and stole the roads from the cyclists. It’s time to take our roads back!

      1. You can have “your” roads back as soon as cyclists pay specific
        taxes to support bike lanes that are atop streets, bridges and
        intersections maintained by the city which is funded by an overwhelming majority of people who do not ride bikes on major
        traffic lanes. It’s time bike riders pay their fair share, pay attention to
        rules of the road and accept the fact they do not own the streets…
        more than walkers or drivers.

        1. We do pay our fair share – where do you think that tax money comes from? Property tax, sales tax, and believe it or not – some cyclists also do drive cars. Bike lanes cost a fraction of what it costs to build a highway, which by the way are heavily subsidized by the government. Maybe motorists should pay their fair share as well – when’s the last time you paid a toll to drive down Western Ave? I would argue that drivers of motor vehicles are the ones who think that they own the roads.

          1. Um, no bikers do not pay for their use of bike lanes. They should.
            Chicago has enough trouble paying to keep potholes filed and
            bridges safe…and stop lights working that cyclists feel free to ignore along with most other rules of the road. Bike lanes that
            are meant to be used only a few months of the year are a waste
            of scare funds. Fools who insist on riding in traffic all winter should
            be taxed double. Bikers should be ticketed heavily for blowing through intersections and endangering pedestrians. I am sick
            to death of people who try to say bike lanes are “cheaper” than
            highways. One is essential, the other is not. And, I have an IPass-
            how about you?

          2. So you don’t like bicyclists. That’s one thing. But that is a different discussion than whether non-car owners pay their fair share.

            A few years ago my (residential) street got repaved. Harry Osterman, who was my state rep at that time send every resident a letter announcing that the repaving was funded by a bond from the State of Illinois. I do pay state taxes. So yes, I did pay for that repaving work. And no, I don’t own a car. Next argument please.

          3. I pay state and federal taxes and am not happy that the majority of the transport bill this year went to fund highways. But that’s just part of living in a civilized society. You pay taxes to pay for whatever the government decides to fund. I am just glad that they are considering other modes of transport that aren’t the private automobile.

          4. The majority of cyclists – myself included – DO follow traffic laws and stop at red lights. Some bikers do break the law, but guess what? – many motorists consistently break the speed limit and run stop sights. It’s a two way street, buddy.

        2. People who bike pay the same taxes as everyone else that are used to build and maintain roads. The main tax that builds and maintains roads is a tax on gasoline purchases. However, this tax is not commensurate with the amount of wear and tear that automobiles place on roads so money is pulled in from non-gas tax sources (like property, sales, and income).
          This article has the best discussion and links to additional resources about how roads are paid for and the share of impact and benefit each mode receives:

    2. Or people move away to the suburbs, SE Wisconsin, or NW Indiana.

      I agree with you in spirit, but I think the jury is still out whether making the inner core neighborhoods less traffic friendly actually makes them more pedestrian friendly. Neighborhoods like Lincoln Park actually used to have large numbers of factory and blue collar jobs and people *did* walk everywhere.

      Look at Lakewood Avenue – there was a train line that raw materials/shipped products from factories going all the way to Belmont Avenue (if not beyond).

      By that I mean, I don’t think stopgap solutions which result in more stop-and-go traffic is the solution, that just adds to road rage & bad driving behavior. In that case for example, it may be true that closing a block of Kenmore will result in less people driving, but it’s just as likely it will just make other neighboring streets more of a disaster.

      What I do know is everything is connected. Nothing on a scale like this should be undertaken lightly.

      “When it’s tougher for cars to get through, more people take the pub.
      trans. or pedestrian options, which is what living in a dense metropolitan area is supposed to be all about anyway.”

  4. We see this all the time when it comes to *free* parking. People should not be entitled to free on-street parking at the expense of more walkable, livable, “green” communities, especially in a dense neighborhood of a major city. I really hope this project is completed and that more follow – Chicago needs to become a leader in pedestrian/transit-oriented development.

    1. The people on the street pay taxes for streets. I think if you have an apartment you should be able to have street parking.

          1. The only people with designated parking spots on streets are the handicapped…
            Anyways I wouldn’t call the space used for parking cars prime real estate in most cases. If on street parking was taken away we’d either have wider streets for driving (and less “calm” traffic) or else more grass between the sidewalk and the street which no one really seems to use.

          2. I’m not sure what classification model you’re using, but protected bike lanes instead of parking would be useful on many residential streets near me: California, Belmont, Fullerton, Diversey, Clark, Milwaukee, Kimball, Kedzie, Damen, and on and on.

          3. Ah, I was thinking more residential side streets, not arterials, even though some of those streets have very little in the way of businesses.

      1. I’m looking outside my apartment right now. There are at least 30 units in this building, and there is room for 4 cars in front of my building. My point is that there isn’t enough room to fit enough cars for people in this building (and that’s a good thing). I think that if you want to have street parking, you should pay for it with meters. I don’t suggest putting meters up on every single block but perhaps making it easier by paying for a space with an SMS message or something. People, like myself, who pay rent and live here yet do not drive, should not have to pay for the few that do get to park on the street. My tax money is going to pay for a prime piece of real estate on the street that I don’t use. It could instead go to fund transportation projects that everyone *can* use like public transit, pedestrian, cycle facility improvements…
        Just because “the people on the street” pay taxes for streets doesn’t mean the entire urban fabric should serve them. Drivers, or parkers in this case, should pay the cost of parking on the street.

      2. Really? Parking is a right? Tell that to anyone who lives in the Loop, River North, or the majority of the world’s major urban areas.

  5. 3 non-DePaul buildings, right? And Does DePaul already own the various vacant/surface parking lots?
    Also, calling the 2300 block of Sheffield a “business street” is a little silly.

    1. There are only 2 non-DePaul affiliated private homes on Sheffield Ave. between Fullerton Ave and Belden Ave. along with the non entry side of a private non-DePaul apartment building (which DePaul leased through 2003) at Sheffield and Belden’s NW corner.

  6. It may seem fine unless you live between Fullerton and North Avenue, west
    of Halsted Street. If you did you would know that traffic is bottlenecked on
    the gateway streets -Halsted, Clybourn, North and Fullerton much of every day.
    The interior streets are the way residents maneuver their neighborhood to get in
    and out. The “study” failed to examine traffic patterns for the entire area that will
    be impacted. Cars don’t drive 2 blocks south and stop at Webster.
    The school cannot justify inconveniencing an entire neighborhood for this.

    Growth has occurred in the absence of wise urban planning despite numerous
    so-called “traffic studies” purchased by developers over the years. Sheffield
    terminates at the clogged and dangerous Sheffield, Willow and Clybourn…a 5-corner nightmare that pits drivers, walkers and bikers against each other 24/7.
    Clifton dead-ends into Armitage which is a narrow pedestrian street that easily
    gets jammed between Halsted and Racine. This has nothing to do with “green”
    or “pedestrian-friendly.” It is a land grab by the school despite push back
    from tax-paying property owners who already contend with unresolved traffic
    issues. Kill Kenmore “Green.” Bad idea. Next.

    1. You do understand that when traffic does “get jammed”, it is because of cars, no? The other cars on the road create the traffic delay for you. Not bicycles, not pedestrians, but cars.

    2. I do agree with you that urban planning seems to be non-existent in Chicago. My favorite example is the North-Clybourn-Sheffield corridor. I do go out of my way to avoid that area.
      Having said that, what is the solution? Continue to prioritize car trafic over other modes of transportation? I don’t think that will lead to a sustainable solution. But we shouldn’t be limiting commercial development either, since that bring in tax revenue and makes Chicago an attractive place to live.
      I think the solution lies in making sure that residents have alternatives: bike, walk, public transit, and cars all are part of the transportation solution. But right now ther is no balance. Cars have the upper hand, and whenever somebody suggests a change, car owners cry foul with false arguments (taxes, ignoring traffic laws,etc.).

    3. Sheffield has been a mess for ages, I don’t think it’s fair or wise to punish today’s DePaul students with unsafe pedestrian conditions due a lack of past urban planning (which I completely agree with).

      But to Duppie’s point, it’s hard to get more transit-friendly than this area, you have the Fullerton Red-Brown-Purple junction right here. It’s just a very well-populated/popular neighborhood, it’s been congested forever.

      How are daytime school classes are interfering with traffic patterns? Who actually needs to be cutting through this area in the middle of the day?

      This is a very relevant and topical look at that stretch of Clifton, btw:

      >Now We Live on Clifton (1974) follows 10 year old Pam Taylor and her
      12 year old brother Scott around their multiracial West Lincoln Park
      neighborhood. The kids worry that they’ll be forced out of the
      neighborhood they grew up in by the gentrification following the
      expansion of DePaul University.

  7. This block is not a private residential street all buildings on it are DePaul owned. There is DePaul’s Library, 3 academic buildings, and 1 dorm. Also, no taxes are made, as it is free parking. Will not lose any pay spots and parking and traffic will stiff be difficult regardless of what Alderman Waguespack and the City Council decide. Given that only 10% of parkers are neighborhood residents and not DePaul affiliated, this plan could go either way depending on the opinions of the alderman and city council

  8. DePaul has been in the neighborhood for over a century. This sudden surprise that DePaul desires more green space is a charade. Mr. Mellis knew or should have known that he was moving into a neighborhood with a large, urban university and all that entails and is likely to entail. The neighborhood benefits by green space in both the increased property values and quality of life. Indeed, the neighborhood is the university! Its richness and vibrancy comes from DePaul otherwise it would be Wicker Park. College towns are a desirable place to live. I assume that is why Mr. Mellis moved to DePaul? Funny, DePaul didn’t move to Mr. Mellis’ neighborhood he moved to DePaul.

    Enough of the nonsense. This is a pure play benefit to the neighbors – a positive externality – they get the benefit of beautiful green space and don’t have to pay a dime for it. Again, property values increase as well as quality of life. Let’s be honest, it sounds like many of the loud few opponents would asphalt over Central Park if they could just to get 47 additional parking spaces. DePaul has bent over backwards for the neighborhood and enough is enough. Green space is good for everyone. If Mr. Mellis wants asphalt then let him move to the suburbs where every home has 2.2 cars in their 3 car garage. Think. Don’t let noise stop you from thinking!

    1. Steve, I went to grammar school right down the street from DePaul, at St. James.

      I have a *far* different recollection of the neighborhood.

      Its development was not driven overwhelmingly by DePaul, it was driven by the young upwardly mobile folk taking advantage of aging yet incredible housing stock which just needed people with the incomes and desire to rehab it. DePaul’s expansion started fairly recently in the big scheme of things. If anything Childrens Memorial had more impact in terms of supporting the commercial vitality which DePaul students were drawn to.

      You can also give credit to the City of Chicago and the taxpayers for acquiring a huge stretch of real estate to build out Oz Park (connecting the old Waller HS to Oz was no mean feat) and Jonquil Park. Jonquil Park specifically was a massive boon to DePaul, whose students started flocking to it in the late 80s as quasi “quad” space, to use a Big 10 campus reference.

      I think DePaul has been a great neighbor, but DePaul’s “campus” is primarily City of Chicago infrastructure.

      Kudos to them for their success, but taking over a city street is a big bloody deal, and the burden is on them to sell it to the neighborhood, not the other way around. This is a private university – and an expensive one – not UIC.

      They can afford to buy up more real estate to develop as green space.

      Or maybe as part of this DePaul could have a hand in returning the old Sheffield bus. Now THAT would be a serious improvement.

  9. MCASS 777 are you for real? Your arguments are not serious are they? Your kidding, right. Closed campus? With all due respect, you are making this argument up out of whole cloth. DePaul wants to close 2 streets in 112 years as a university (145 years as a parish) and now they are a “closed campus.” Opening streets makes them a closed campus. Open to get closed. Enough already.
    These people are making up new “rights” to the point that pretty soon they will have a right to land a jet plane on Kenmore. I have a very simple idea – you don’t like a large college campus then don’t move next to it. If you do then expect more walkable green space and don’t complain. Otherwise move to the suburbs where you can drive your car up to your house, grocery store, and bowling alley. You can literally burn almost no calories if you like while you eat at TGI Fridays or Bennigan’s at the Mall and later popcorn at the 80 theater movie plex with the 40 ounce Mountain Dew slushies.

  10. I am a student at DePaul University, and I have almost been hit by cars trying to speed down this street, drivers who completely ignore the crosswalks. Students, hundreds of them, cross between Levan/O’Connel and the new Arts & Letters Building at multiple times per day, and I’ve seen the traffic get backed up to Fullerton during those times. It just doesn’t make sense to keep Kenmore between Fullerton & Beldon a street any longer. It’s unsafe to pedestrians, students, and also to bikers who don’t have access to Fullerton (legally) unless they travel two blocks south, or three blocks north. Most end up just biking against traffic for a half block, and I’ve witnessed several near accidents. While yes, one might blame them, it’s also happening. We’re not talking a huge amount of space here, we’re talking one small block. I pay for your ridiculous parking space, why don’t you support my green walking spaces?

  11. I recently became a resident of the 32nd Ward, so I called Scott Waguespack’s office to express my support for the plaza. The lady who answered the phone told me that almost all the calls they have received have been from De Paul area residents who are stridently opposed due to the reduction of street parking. She said I was one of the only calls in support of the plaza. I would encourage anyone reading this who lives in the ward to call and voice your opinion. The number is (773) 248-1330.

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