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A Shared Street
Three Blocks in Uptown Chicago Revamped for Community Focus

Jenna Jones, site design group, ltd.

A Shared Street

In a three-block stretch of road between Broadway and Sheridan in Uptown Chicago, bicyclists and pedestrians traverse Argyle Shared Street in an area that was once off-limits to those not driving cars. While this layout allows for a deeper sense of community and safety, it does not slow the bustle of the city, as the train races above and cars continue to pass steadily through the street. Photo: Scott Shigley

A Shared Street

With raised streets and flat and slanted curbs, bollards were installed at intersections on Argyle Shared Street to protect newly built structures while colored pavers designate areas that are safe for people. This creates a clear demarcation for where cars should not be while pedestrians gain more access to the road. The pattern of the stripes decorating the Argyle pillar is derived from the Vietnamese lotus rice wrap, Bánh Bá Tr ng, a delicacy served in many nearby restaurants.

Located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, Argyle Shared Street is a shared-use, pedestrian-prioritizing streetscape that encourages a sense of community for the Uptown's diverse residents, businesses, and institutions. The unique street design celebrates green infrastructure, place making, accessibility, and economic development.

Historically, Uptown was a booming hub for entertainment in Chicago. After the Great Depression, many famous entertainment venues were shuttered, and poverty and blight took over. As one of a few affordable neighborhoods in Chicago, it began to attract immigrants from around the world. However, over the last several decades, Uptown has become known for its Asian influence and large collective of Vietnamese shops and restaurants.

Beginning in 2013, alongside community-wide initiatives to reinvigorate Uptown while keeping it affordable, the City of Chicago initiated the replacement of Argyle Street for a three-block area between Broadway and Sheridan Road. site design group, ltd. (landscape architect) led the project with Burns & McDonnell (civil engineer, project lead). Through the design process, it became clear that due to the scale, context, and enthusiasm of the community, Argyle would be an excellent candidate for a "shared street." It would provide a venue for community gathering and events while prioritizing the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit users and accommodating vehicular use.

A Shared Street

Not much of the street is off-limits to pedestrians and bicyclists, who are encouraged by the design to share the space with vehicles even in areas that are traditionally reserved for cars. Only the street parking sections are primarily designated for vehicles. Photo credit: site design group, ltd.

A Shared Street

The fluid integration of pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit commuters, and vehicles allows Argyle to function both as a people-focused community space and as a working street. Signage alerts drivers to the change in the street layout and the speed limit, giving them time to adjust their driving to focus on sharing the space with pedestrians and bikes that may be in the road ahead. Photo: Scott Shigley

Through an in-depth public input process that engaged stakeholders, it was confirmed that a shared street would address multiple community needs simultaneously. It would support the growth of local businesses, encourage multi-modal transportation, and provide opportunities to expand on local community programming. Two notable events that take place on the street are the popular Argyle Night Market farmers market and the Chinese New Year celebrations the community is known for. These types of festivities were part of what inspired the spirit of the shared street project. To help represent the values of the community, the colors seen throughout the streetscape elements, such as orange, green, red, and yellow, are tied to traditional Vietnamese culture.

The final design was based on "shared street" principles established as part of the project. The layout inverts the traditional street hierarchy to prioritize pedestrians rather than vehicles. The street creates a plaza-like feel by elevating the street and eliminating raised curbs, creating a universally accessible space. Bump-outs, narrower vehicle lanes, and chicanes help users to navigate the street safely. These not only slow down traffic, but they also encourage eye contact between drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians negotiating passage.

Contrasting colored pavers delineate pedestrian-only areas, and detectable warning pavers separate parking lanes. Infiltration planters showcase native plants while widened pedestrian areas provide flexible space for sidewalk cafes, retail establishments, and events. Place-making elements, such as a vertical "Argyle" identifier pillar and custom "Argyle Uptown" bike racks, contribute to community identity. "The Argyle Shared Street project is the result of an extensive community engagement process involving local merchants and residents of the community," commented Chicago City Councilman and 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman. "We have already seen broader use of the street as a gathering place, and the new streetscape is spurring local businesses to spruce up their storefronts."

A Shared Street

Previously, Argyle Street ascribed to the traditional "transportation pyramid," prioritizing vehicles rather than pedestrians or bicyclists with inaccessible streets and small public areas. The formerly narrow sidewalks would not have allowed for the scope of community events that now take place on the street. Photo credit: site design group, ltd.

A Shared Street

Every Thursday night in July and August, Argyle Shared Street closes to traffic and transforms into a farmers market that features live music, goods and produce from regional farmers, and dishes from local restaurants. During the event, the community takes the opportunity to celebrate the Asian culture that is so prevalent in the area. The pedestrian-friendly curbs make the market accessible to people of all abilities. Photo: Scott Shigley

The street features a number of sustainable elements, including energy efficient streetlights, permeable unit pavers, and rain garden infiltration planters that are designed to soak up rainwater. Argyle is one of four pilot projects in which a research team from City Digital, a UI LABS collaboration looking to enhance city planning, is monitoring the performance of green infrastructure through high tech sensors that deliver real-time data about the effectiveness of the system. This data will provide valuable insights to help inform the design of green infrastructure in Chicago and throughout the country.

Department of Water Management Commissioner Barrett B. Murphy said of the street, "The partnership created on this project helps all of us to better understand how working together we can resolve problems with integrated solutions. Incorporating the green technologies that we see here benefits our residents today, and provides a model for future sustainable collaborations."

The first shared street in the City of Chicago, Argyle is an innovative, flexible, and sustainable streetscape that demonstrates the idea that roads are not simply infrastructure that takes us from one place to another. They can in fact encourage a sense of identity and community. In September 2017, the city conducted a survey of Night Market visitors from the previous months. 74 percent of respondents agreed that the shared street improvements enhanced the market experience, with 96 percent of respondents noting they would return. When asked what they liked best about the shared street, common responses revolved around the way the street embraces diversity and culture, the pedestrian-oriented design, and the increased sense of community. This positive feedback may inspire future shared streetscape designs in the city.

A Shared Street

Custom bicycle racks stand beside trees to maintain the community-based theme of the street. Permeable pavers make up the sidewalks and street. The goal is to control stormwater at the source, reduce runoff, and improve water quality. This is an important feature for a street in Chicago where short, intense bouts of rainfall are frequent. Photo: Scott Shigley

A Shared Street

Infiltration planters, sometimes known as rain gardens, are landscaped reservoirs that collect and filter storm water, allowing pollutants to settle and filter out as the water runs through the planter soil and infiltrates into the ground. They contain a layer of gravel, soil, and vegetation. Here, a rain garden brightens the sidewalk and extends into the street to form a bump-out and create protected parking. Photo: Scott Shigley

The $4.5 million project led to a new addition for the Chicago Special Service Area (SSA), which funds expanded services and programs for local business owners, such as increased maintenance and stewardship. The expanded role helped bridge historic disparities between residents and business owners to work toward a common vision for a new community amenity that serves all of Uptown.

Argyle Shared Street is a vivid example of community-oriented, multi-modal streetscape development. It prioritizes safety, is easily accessible, creates a sense of place, and lays the foundation for neighborhood economic development.

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May 21, 2019, 12:36 am PDT

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