Batavia's new Shared Street easily converts to car-free civic space.
As Chicago prepares to convert Uptown’s Argyle Street into the city’s first shared street, we can look to the Fox River town of Batavia, Ill. for guidance. Batavia made a bold move in attempting to breathe new life back into a suffering downtown—and it’s working! The City has transformed the one-and-a-half-block stretch of River Street by removing the typical infrastructure that we know and expect on our streets: Absent are curbs, traffic striping, traffic signals and crosswalks, as is asphalt paving, which has been replaced with brick pavers to create a space that feels like a plaza and can be used by everyone. This is because pedestrians, cyclists, and yes, (slow-moving) cars are all sharing the space in ways that the Dutch have been modeling for decades.
Shared streets easily convert to car-free civic spaces for festivals and markets and are attractive to many business owners because of the added visibility from increased foot traffic and opportunities to bring their business outdoors to participate in festivals and other programs. In Batavia, the response to the project has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to City Administrator Bill McGrath. “The residents were very curious in the beginning to see parking taken off the street, but now they see the benefit it has had for outdoor dining, the farmers market and more freedom.” A new Gaetano’s restaurant just opened on the shared street because owners were attracted to the location’s exposure from increased foot traffic. McGrath also notes that “the project creates [the feeling of] a room on that part of the street” and has positively impacted local businesses.
River Street in Batavia closes to cars for the farmers market.
The positive business impact that McGrath notes is consistent with the Metropolitan Planning Council's (MPC) research on the impact of Chicago’s People Spots – where a few on-street parking spaces have been converted into tiny parks. People Spots are part of the City’s Make Way for People program, where space traditionally meant for cars is converted into places for people. People Spots have proven to positively impact the area surrounding them: Our research found that 80 percent of businesses reported that People Spots brought more foot traffic, increased sales and prompted businesses to “up their game” by investing more in the exterior appearance of their location. Click here to see the full report.
Construction for a shared street in Uptown will commence in 2015 on Argyle Street between Broadway and Sheridan Road. For the last two summers, this stretch of Argyle has transformed on Thursday nights into a vibrant market scene called the Argyle Night Market. In a guest blog post, Uptown United President and CEO Alyssa Berman reflected after last year’s success:
[This regularly occuring program] marks an exciting achievement in realizing the vision encapsulated in the 'Discover Asia on Argyle' Technical Assistance Panel, led by MPC and the Urban Land Institute in 2008 in partnership with Uptown United, Uptown’s longstanding community economic development organization. The Market itself helps organize and energize the business community, many of whom are serving as vendors, activates the commercial corridor at night and introduces the area to new shoppers and visitors.
Argyle Street will be reconstructed as a Shared Street in 2015.
Forty-eighth Ward Alderman Harry Osterman hopes that upping Argyle’s game will attract new businesses while improving the environment for the night market. Alderman Osterman is “extremely excited to have Chicago’s first shared street come to Argyle Street” and believes “the concept will further Argyle’s unique “sense of place” with a plaza-like feel, no curbs and the use of bollards, planters and other furnishings to designate driving, parking and pedestrian spaces.” He further notes that “both the business [owners] and residents are excited for the shared street concept to come to Argyle." MPC is excited for this transformation, too! We anticipate the shared street having a positive impact on local business and the surrounding community and hope to see this project become a model for similar investments across our city and region.
MPC Research Assistant Zoe Chapin contributed to this post.