First shared street – devoid of street markings, signs – coming soon to Chicago

This has been tried elsewhere (see this example in England) but the first shared street will be in place next year in Chicago:

The New York Times editorial board recently called the concept of shared streets a “radical experiment” for the city of Chicago, which plans to start construction on its first one on Argyle Street early next year. Yet the philosophy behind them–that by removing common street control features, street users will actually act less recklessly and negotiate space through eye-contact—is actually not all that new. Shared streets have been built and shown to be effective in reducing accidents in London already. In the U.S., shared streets exist in Seattle, Washington and Buffalo, New York.

The Chicago project came about as the city was looking to implement a normal street improvement project for Argyle Street, an active block with businesses and restaurants in a diverse neighborhood where many Vietnamese immigrants settled in the 1970s. The street had also shut down for the city’s first night market for the last two summers, and Alderman Harry Osterman, whose ward includes the area, says officials wanted to continue spurring the revitalization of the area. The lakefront bicycle path is only two blocks away…

The $3.5 million street renovation will feature a design with no curbs or lanes, and minimal signage, though there will be stop signs, so as not to descend too far into chaos. Different colors and pavers will indicate where the sidewalk would normally end and where the street begins; the speed limit will be 15 miles per hour. Overall, the goal is to change the mood of the street: “Psychologically for drivers, they will know that they can’t just shoot from stop sign to stop sign.”

Osterman hopes that as a result of the improvement project, more visitors will come to businesses in the area, and that the open space will make it easier to encourage more sidewalk cafes and temporary events. The city is now nudging existing business to spruce up their facades.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in Chicago. Several of the interesting features here:

1. Such designs deemphasize the role of cars. Chicago drivers tend to like to go fast when they can so I suspect they will not like this change.

2. Pedestrians and businesses will probably like this a lot as it can enhance street life, leading to more people hanging around and frequenting the businesses.

3. In looking at the design, I did wonder about parking. If someone wants to drive to this stretch, this change might lead to more parking issues on adjacent blocks.

4. Even if this is successful, will it catch on more widely in Chicago? As noted above, while walkers and businesses will probably like this, you can’t have too many of these street or drivers will be really upset about their limited options.

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