Monday, February 17, 2014

Is making the Magnificent Mile a "Car Free Zone" a Good Idea?

The Active Transportation Alliance has released a proposal recommending that portions of 20 Chicago Streets be turned into “car free” zones. Most notably, the proposal recommends turning the lower part of the famed "Magnificent Mile" along North Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to the Chicago River into a “car-free” zone. Ron Burke, the executive director of Active Transportation Alliance, stated: 
“Car-free streets and zones can make communities more attractive places to live and shop, generate more biking and walking and thus improve mobility and health, and reduce traffic crashes.”
City Officials and the public have weighed in on the proposal over the last few days. Some critics have pointed to the unsuccessful State Street Pedestrian Mall which was initiated in 1979. From 1979 until 1996 the Loop portion of State Street was closed to the driving public. Ultimately, State Street was reopened to the driving public in 1996 under the watch of Mayor Richard Daley. 

However, Burke has said the State Street Pedestrian Mall is not a good example because the design was flawed. Burke acknowledged that the proposal is a mere starting point for conversation. “Our hope is to jump-start conversations that lead to further study and the creation of car-free spaces,” said Burke. “Let’s give Chicagoans more car-free zones to walk, bike, shop, socialize or just relax.”

The proposal has undoubtedly been successful as the web is buzzing with the opinions of supporters and critics. The Illinois Bicycle Lawyers are strong supporters of the Active Transportation Alliance and their commitment to make Chicago a safer place for bicyclists. Off of the Lakefront, there is a dearth of park areas in Chicago and this is the kind of forward-leaning thinking that will help keep Chicago as a world class city to visit, work and live in year round. 

Most significantly, Chicago today is vastly different than it was in the 1980s or even the mid-1990s. The State Street proposal was an effort to fight the trend of businesses and residents leaving for the suburbs. However, today there are literally hundreds of thousands more residents who live in the Loop, River North, and Streeterville. In addition, Chicago has grown immensely as a tourist attraction. Anyone who has tried to walk down Michigan Avenue in the summer realizes there is drastically more "foot traffic" than vehicular traffic. 

Creating a car free zone on Michigan Avenue will make this area of Chicago even more attractive as a destination. A compromise may be to allow buses to continue along dedicated lanes on Michigan Avenue and move other motor vehicles onto other streets. In any event, we support the "Car Free Zone" along Michigan Avenue and agree that this is an important conversation. The goal is to keep Chicago great.
The Illinois Bicycle Lawyers of Keating Law Offices, P.C. may be found on the internet at The firm is located at 79 West Monroe, Suite 1024 in Chicago, Illinois. Phone: 312-239-6787. Email: