Parking space party: celebrating Chicago’s first permanent parklets


The Lakeview “People Spot.”

A new city initiative is taking land that’s currently dead space, or used only for parking cars, and turning it into public space that could energize neighborhood business strips. On Friday the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) officially launched its “Make Way for People” program to transform surplus asphalt into seating areas and lively plazas, unveiling a new parklet in the parking lane in front of Heritage Bicycles, 2959 N. Lincoln Avenue.

The $25,000 installation, which CDOT is calling a “People Spot”, was paid for by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce via Special Service Area (SSA) #27. (An SSA is a designated district where additional services, programs and projects are funded by an additional property tax.) The parklet, which will be removed in the fall and re-installed in the spring, will be maintained by the bike shop/café, but non-customers are welcome to use the space as well. Due to the city’s contract with LAZ Parking, removing the two metered parking spaces in front of Heritage for the parklet required creating two new metered spots elsewhere in the neighborhood.

Last week a new People Spot also debuted in Andersonville at the T-shaped intersection of Clark Street and Farragut Avenue. It was funded by SSA #22, the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and a Kickstarter campaign. for a total of about $20,000. Two more parklets are proposed for the neighborhood, and an on-street bike parking corral is slated to open this fall in front of Hopleaf, a tavern at 5148 N. Clark, where it’s sorely needed. Another pair of People Spots funded by SSA #47 / Quad Communities Development Corporation should open in Bronzeville next week, at 47th and Champlain Avenue, and at 47th and Greenwood Avenue.


The Andersonville parklet.

In addition to the parking lane seating areas, CDOT plans to convert cul-de sacs, dead-end streets and other excess pavement into public spaces called “People Streets.” Underutilized existing public plazas, malls and triangles will become “People Plazas” with better maintenance and new event programming, possibly bankrolled by private sponsorship. “People Alleys” will be alleyways used for seating, artwalks and other events.

Here’s a partial transcript of CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein’s remarks at the celebration:

People Spots are a new use of our public space. It’s fun and good for business. It’s a way to enhance our public space and activate it, make it more inviting and also to create space for people to hang out, read or have a nonalcoholic drink where there might not be enough public space. And in this case we’re using two parking spaces, which we’ve offset with two parking spaces somewhere else. [“In my ward,” chimed in 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney, who attended along with 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack – the parklet is located in Waguespack’s district.]


Klein, Waguespack and Tunney.

[Klein thanked the aldermen, the city’s law department (which drafted the ordinance that permitted the new land use), Lakeview Chamber of Commerce director Heather Way and Heritage owner Michael Salvatore.]

I was talking to the mayor yesterday and we were talking about a host of different topics including the Make Way for People program, and he said something that I found inspiring. We were talking about this and we were talking about the Open Streets event that’s going to happen in the next month or so and he said, “When you think of all these different things that we’re doing with public space, what it’s really all about is celebrating Chicago.” And I think what he meant is that Chicago is known for its public space, its architecture, for its arts and its creativity, and this celebrates all of those things. And Chicago should be leading the country in utilizing its public space in the smartest ways possible.

[Klein thanked CDOT staffers Janet Attarian and Gerardo Garcia, who managed the parklet project. He then defined People Streets, People Plazas and People Alleys and mentioned that the city wants to turn a Loop alley, Couch Place, as public space.]

Next year we envision a much larger, more formal rollout of the program, again with People Spots, plazas, alleys and so on. And so we want to hear from the public, what they like, and their ideas. We’d like to hear from the SSAs. The SSA is extremely important for the funding, managing the construction, and also making sure that they’re maintained afterwards. So this is a true public/private partnership and we’re very excited about it.


Afterwards I asked Klein about the issue of the parking contract, which requires the city to compensate LAZ for any loss of revenue due to the removal of metered parking spaces, limiting the amount of space available for People Spots and other novel uses of the public way, like protected bike lanes

Great project. You guys did a great job of getting around the problem with the parking meters on this. But it seems like the parking meter contract has really hampered your ability to do creative projects like this citywide. Is anything being done to reverse the contract so that you can do more innovative projects like this in other parts of the city?

It’s funny you bring that up. I was joking with David Spielfogel, who’s the head of policy and strategy for the mayor, this morning on Twitter about all of the obstacles that we come up against in our jobs and I used the quote, “Persistence always overcomes resistance.” There’s always a way to do things if you’re creative. So what’s wonderful about this project is the incredible partnership between all these people that you see out here and the public in general. If we all put our minds together we can get something done.

With the parking meter issue in particular, there is unregulated space, we just have to find it. So we looked around here and we found some space that wasn’t metered. The beauty of it is that will become a permanent space that will produce revenue all year [while parking revenue will only be lost in front of Heritage for half the year] and we can bank it, so that next year we’re covered as well.

But are there any efforts to overturn the parking meter contract that you can tell us about?

You know I don’t actually manage that, and not that I know of.

Published by

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.

39 thoughts on “Parking space party: celebrating Chicago’s first permanent parklets”

  1. This is pretty, but it’s going to make it harder to find parking in front of those businesses. I don’t know enough about that block to know whether there is always enough parking or whether it’s hard to find.

    1. RE: “but it’s going to make it harder to find parking in front of those businesses”

      Great! Let’s green-over more auto parking spaces. (Not sarcasm)

      Show me evidence of where greening-over auto parking spaces in a dense, thriving neighborhood has negatively effected sales to the adjacent businesses. I dare you…

      1. Who in that neighborhood actually drives to cafes/restaurants anyway? I hear this argument all the time, that taking parking away will hurt businesses. I can see this argument holding water in the suburbs, but in a densely populated neighborhood like Wicker Park, Lake View, or Lincoln Park, I can’t imagine the loss of street parking affecting businesses at all. Can you just imagine someone saying “oh, I won’t go to Heritage anymore because there’s nowhere to park around there”?

        1. I agree with you, Adam. Any given restaurant in Chicago has 1-2 parking spaces directly in front. There are likely restaurants on either side. So no restaurant has dedicated or exclusive spaces (valet loading zones, notwithstanding).
          1-2 parking spaces equates to 1-10 people (closer to 1 than 10). A bike rack holds 2-4 bicycles equating to 2-6 people. Now imagine the space requirements for car and bicycle parking. And then add the attraction factor of a parklet.
          Oh, well. Cars rule.

        2. In the photo of the parklet, every visible parking space is occupied. If nobody parks in Andersonville, why are those cars parked at the meters? People park on the street in Andersonville all the time. Maybe the people who live a few blocks away walk to those shops, but many people visit Andersonville from other neighborhoods.

          When someone on this blog proposed eliminating car traffic on Clark and having rapid public transit instead, I thought it was a good idea that would ultimately help the businesses. But here, we are eliminating parking for something that isn’t going to positively incentivize or improve other options.

          Eliminating a car parking space in favor of bike parking makes sense. But the parklet is not useful. There have to be better places to put benches and plants than in the street.

          1. Sometimes taking a bus or walking just doesn’t cut it. In Andersonville I use the bakery for family parties and birthday parties. Hard to walk 8 blocks with a whipped cream cake and other treats on my way to wherever I’m going.

            Don’t get me wrong, I walk when its just me or me and a friend going for dinner… but about 25% of the time or so, I’m driving… and will now avoid that area for shopping.

            As for Lakeview / Lincoln Park area, it will have the same effect as shopping downtown for me. Either I take the train / bus downtown and do shopping in several trips which I seldom have time for, or I’ll fire up the car and head to Lincolnwood and go to the mall.

            Being car unfriendly doesn’t work… remember the State Street mall that was converted and then converted back? Shoppers don’t like hassles… whether they are walking, riding, bussing, or driving. In this economy, I’d think that the city and businesses would find ways to include everyone instead of ways to aggitate people. I don’t see the these little ‘parks’ generating more foot traffic…. but i do see them turning folks who have to drive away.

          2. I have to respectfully disagree with you on this. What cafe or restaurant wouldn’t swap two parking spaces for a dozen ormore additional seats?

            A more interesting question might be, what would the net effect be on the Andersonville shopping district if it was turned into a car-free ped, bike and bus mall? Sure, the State Street mall in Chicago failed, but this was partly because bikes were banned and it wasn’t a very nice place to walk. What if Andersonville emulated the State Street mall in Madison, Wisconsin, where most car traffic is banned but walking, biking and transit use thrives. It’s a thriving retail district and one of the chief tourist attractions of that town.

          3. The parklet spots have more spaces for people (chairs, benches) than two parked cars. The idea is to attract people to shopping districts. Seeing as this is funded by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce I hardly think it’s as anti-business as some of the comments on this post suggest. There are 10-12 pleasant spots or more in those parklets for pedestrians or cyclists — far more potential customers than the 4-6 vehicle occupants that would otherwise be parking there.

          4. At opening time last Friday, there was seating for over 20 people, and more seating is on the way. The new seating will be a daily permanence (while the free standing chairs must be chained up each night) so the parklet can be active 24 hours a day.

    2. I agree with Kevin M on this, but if I had to name a business where car parking wouldn’t be a big concern, a bike store / cafe would be pretty high on the list. Next door is a yoga studio, and I think yogis and yoginis are also less likely to drive than the general population.

    3. And what do you think were your chances to have even gotten the parking spot in front of the store when that parking spot existed?

  2. I HATE going down into that area now because of the lack of parking & all the congestion. This is just going to keep me from going down there. It doesn’t matter that I love the businesses down there. I will just start shopping elsewhere.

    1. You are correct that the lack of parking and the auto congestion makes Lakeview a terrible place to shop by car. Fortunately, the density of retail and good access to transit and bike facilities makes it a great neighborhood to visit and shop on foot, or by bike, transit or cab. Like many of the world’s great shopping districts Lakeview offers bustling sidewalks, bike lanes and parking, mom-and-pop shops, outdoor seating and slow (or no) car traffic, instead of the big-box stores, vast parking lots and multi-lane highways that make it convenient to shop by car in the suburbs.

      1. I don’t have a lot of time usually since my job takes me to the burbs during the week for work. When I go out and do shopping, I usually consolidate many little stops into one trip to conserve gas and time. I can’t really carry everything I get in one trip on the bus or train.

        Make me as another one that will avoid the area now. Between the higher taxes and the frustration of finding parking, it’ll just be easier to pick things up in the ‘burbs when I’m at work.

      2. Accessing Lakeview by public transit is just always going to be prohibitively inconvenient for a large number of area residents. If you live near a North/south bus route or the L it’s not too bad, but if you’re coming from the west or from the suburbs, you might be looking at one or more transfers each way, and it can add up to 1+ hour easy — often more than an hour if a significant leg of the trip must be spent on a bus. I used to have to travel around the city for work taking only public transit (a temporary injury prevented me from driving) and I’d type in some addresses and google maps would say “1 hour, 55 minutes” with 2 transfers, and it was just ridiculous.

        So I understand why a lot of people feel like if they can’t drive there, they won’t go at all — taking public transit just sucks too much time out of the day.
        I actually think driving to Lakeview isn’t that bad — there are metered spots, and you might have to walk a few blocks from the car, but it’s still much faster than public transit. But if a lot of people think it’s too much hassle, they’re just not going to go. That might be fine for Lakeview — density has many benefits, and there are always a lot of people there, so maybe it just has to be the case that people only shop and eat in their own neighborhoods (or adjacent ones) in the future car-free dystopia. But until we greatly improve public transit, “you can take the bus” is just not going to work for a lot of people.

        1. Thanks for the feedback, but I’d like to think it would be a (nearly) car-free *U*topia! Amsterdam and Copenhagen spring to mind, cities that made a conscious decision to make it difficult to drive and easy to walk, bike and take transit. As a result, they’re awesome places to live.

          1. I would love to have first class public transit like European cities. Right now it seems like we’re just using sticks and few carrots, making driving (and parking) more difficult and expensive every year while the CTA is worse than it was when I moved here because of the service cuts.

            I think eventually we’ll have to stop driving anyway because of global warming, energy costs, and so on — but whether it’s a happy or painful future will depend on whether we upgrade the other options.

    2. Do you live in the city proper, or are you coming in from the suburbs? If the former, maybe you could bike or take the L to go shopping, and if the latter, there are plenty of Park and Ride lots at outlying L stations that you could drive to and take the train into the city from. Not having to worry about finding parking makes the extra commute time worth it in my eyes.

  3. I must say, as the owner of one of the establishments with the People Spot in front, I am nothing but impressed! There was always plenty of metered parking up and down Lincoln, so the lack of parking is not a valid point. We STILL have plenty of parking WITH the People Spot.
    I have already seen our number of transactions go up with the People Spot…coincidence, maybe, but people are really enjoying it and I think it is attracting more business to Lincoln.

  4. All those flipping out about loss of parking should kindly stay away. The neighborhoods, merchants and city are much better off without you and your stinky trucks. AYHSMB!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *