WEST LOOP — New bike lanes along Hubbard Street proposed as part of an update to the city’s Fulton Market plan aren’t a done deal, the area’s alderman said Thursday.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) weighed in on the bike lanes at a virtual meeting to discuss the overhaul of the Fulton Market Innovation District plan Thursday. The planning document steers development and transportation improvements in the 217-acre zone bound by Hubbard, Halsted, Randolph and Ogden Avenue.
The updates to the Fulton Market Innovation District plan are in response to the area’s unprecedented growth and soaring land values. Since the city adopted the original plan in 2014, more than 1,700 hotel rooms, 3,800 residential units, and 8.1 million square feet of office space have been built or approved, city officials said.
The presentation showed conceptual renderings of how Hubbard Street could appear with realigned bike lanes, new sidewalks and lighting to highlight the B Line murals spanning the rail embankment.
While some attendees expressed enthusiasm about the proposed changes to Hubbard Street, others had questions about how it would impact street parking. Burnett said that new bike lanes and sidewalk improvements aren’t “a done deal.”
“When I first saw this, I said the bike lanes are going to be a challenge and a concern,” explained Burnett. “So we need to see how it relates to what’s happening in the community and how [the residents] feel about it.”
City planner Cynthia Roubik stressed that the images of Hubbard were conceptual, and more work would be needed before the city makes a decision on how to proceed.
“We would have to do a lot more analysis and study — and find the funding, honestly — before we could really dig into the options there,” Roubik said.
Other transportation improvements highlighted under the plan include new crosswalks, Divvy stations and Metra crossings.
Longer-term infrastructure goals include burying utilities, improving rail viaducts and the possibility of a new Metra infill station — which is currently being explored in a separate feasibility study.
Addressing a comment about lack of parking in the neighborhood, city planner Karen Rogulja said the West Loop is well served by transit and a large parking structure was recently approved for construction on Randolph Street.
“We are aware that parking is limited in the neighborhood. City street parking is important to maintain for businesses and residents,” Rogulja said. “We work very hard to balance bike access, pedestrian safety, rail crossing requirements, parking, and driving lanes. We will have to consider all users and all demands on the right-of-way.”
Rogulja said that a comprehensive traffic study for the Fulton Market area is in the works, but has been delayed due to the drop in traffic caused by the pandemic. Once car counts return to normal, the study should allow officials to look at circulation patterns and implement changes, which could include a realignment of one- and two-way streets.
Lifting The Ban On Housing North Of Lake
Among the most significant changes proposed in the Fulton Market Innovation District update is lifting a ban on new residential development north of Lake Street.
“[In the 2014 plan] there were still a lot of industrial users in this geography and we felt it was important not to have conflicts between the residential users and the industrial users that still were operating in this area at that time,” Roubik said.
As more industries moved out and the pandemic took its toll on the economy, Burnett voiced his support for lifting the ban last spring.
“With the economy going the way it’s going, we’re trying to help to keep the economy going in the city by opening the floodgates to Fulton Market residential development,” Burnett said in May.
Officials hope to achieve 30 percent affordable housing in new developments north of Lake. The planning department is working closely with the department of housing to coordinate the Fulton Market Innovation District update with new citywide affordable housing rules expected to pass City Council in the first half of this year.
The new Fulton Market Innovation District plan also prioritizes opportunities for new public open space, such as expanding parkways with more greenery. City officials hope to leverage open space improvements from private developers seeking zoning approval for future projects.
The updated Fulton Market Innovation District plan also aims to preserve and enhance the area’s “historical and cultural assets.”
The original plan paved the way for the adoption of the Fulton Randolph Landmark District, but buildings outside the district — such as the threatened former 1891 Schlitz tied house at Lake and Ogden — will have little protection beyond the city’s existing demolition delay rules.
The Department of Planning and Development intends to present its updated Fulton Market Innovation District plan before the Chicago Plan Commission on Feb. 18, but will continue to collect community feedback and update the plan in the meantime. Residents can submit comments and questions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are editing the plan document continually because we are trying to be as responsive as possible to questions and comments and making sure people understand our direction,” Roubik said.
If the Fulton Market Innovation District plan is approved in February, the city aims to pass a change to the zoning code the following month that would permit residential development north of Lake Street.
A video of Thursday’s virtual meeting is below.
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