To the Editor:
According to the Herald, at the recent Chicago Plan Commission meeting, one of the supporters of Vue53, Richard Gill (of the South East Chicago Commission), encouraged the commission “not to allow fear of traffic congestion to deter their vote.” Gill said, “This project is too important to the neighborhood to be derailed by something like that.”
This sounds suspiciously like the view of someone who lives far enough away to be unaffected by the problem, and so doesn’t care about anyone who will be affected — GITBY (Great In Their Back Yard) as opposed to NIMBY. To paraphrase his comment, yes, this project is important to the neighborhood — too important to be sold on the basis of inaccuracies, omissions, inconsistencies, disinformation, self-interest and off-handed dismissal of opposing views.
As someone who drives a delivery van for a living and has lived less than a block north of the site of the proposed development for more than 30 years, and who owns a vacant lot on 52nd Street where I plan to begin construction of a new single family home this year, I read the Traffic and Parking Study commissioned by the developer first with interest, then with concern and finally with alarm at its defects and inadequacies. While I am just as concerned as most of my neighbors about the sheer out-of-scale size of the building, the out-of-character design, the loss of our view of the sky in general and sunlight in particular (especially in the winter when we need it most) and the precedent-setting nature of this project that will allow future claims that any proposed large buildings would be “in character” with this one, I also have some particular concerns about traffic that I haven’t yet seen addressed:
• The “existing traffic” part of the study only shows traffic using one of the driveways into Kimbark Plaza (the one on 53rd Street at the east end of the shopping plaza) even though Kimbark Plaza has three access driveways: two on 53rd Street and one on Woodlawn Avenue; “projected traffic volume” doesn’t show these other two driveways either. So the actual in-and-out traffic for Kimbark Plaza parking lot is probably something on the order of twice what the traffic study shows. This alone should raise questions concerning the study’s accuracy.
• Vue53 will have only one driveway, and projected traffic volume for the whole development is estimated as much less than the one Kimbark Plaza driveway they counted, despite the fact that Vue53 will add approximately 500 residents and an amount of retail space roughly comparable to Kimbark Plaza. It seems to me that the retail component alone would generate roughly the same amount of traffic as Kimbark Plaza, before adding even more traffic for the residential units. The traffic study predicts that only 47 percent of the building’s parking spaces will be rented by tenants, leaving the rest for employee and retail customer parking — but projected traffic volume into and out of the new building seems to be based only on tenant usage of the driveway and this 47 percent figure.
• Where traffic from the parking levels exits onto 53rd Street from inside the building, drivers will not be able to see approaching pedestrians or bicycles until they actually cross the sidewalk, and pedestrians and bicyclists will not be able to see approaching vehicles until they actually emerge from the building.
• The alley behind the building is not wide enough for two trucks to pass each other (at its narrowest point it is 16ft., 8 in. wide, and at several other points it is 17 ft., 6 in. wide) and thus will have to be one way (which direction?) and frequently blocked by delivery trucks. (See the alley behind Kimbark Plaza from Woodlawn to Kimbark avenues for proof.) I also question whether it’s wide enough to allow a semi (“multi-unit truck” in the study’s terminology) to back into the dock from the existing alley — if it’s even possible, certainly any time this happens it will be cumbersome and time-consuming, completely blocking the alley for a time. From the plans it also looks like whenever there is a semi in the dock it will reduce or eliminate the space available to other trucks, and the cab of any parked semi will probably stick out of the dock and block the alley until it leaves.
• No matter whether the alley becomes one-way eastbound or westbound, all truck traffic into and out of the loading dock will have to either enter or leave the alley by driving two blocks on smaller residential streets, and possibly also on Hyde Park Boulevard, on which commercial traffic is prohibited. Also, according to the study, “Parcel/package deliveries (i.e., FedEx, UPS, USPS) are likely to occur through the front lobby on E. 53rd Street” — which in the real world means that these trucks would likely be double-parked on 53rd Street, blocking traffic and forcing vehicles behind them into oncoming traffic to go around. The proposed future addition of a bike lane would only make this situation worse.
• More traffic congestion and more demand for parking always generate a certain amount of traffic that is just driving around the block looking for parking spaces, and due to its sheer size this building will be no exception. (This could be tenants who have chosen not to rent a parking space due to the expense, people coming to visit residents in the building, retail customers, delivery vehicles or people living in or visiting residences on the adjacent residential streets.) This location is especially ill-suited for this around-the-block traffic, with most of the nearby streets one-way and with cul-de-sacs on 52nd Street, 54th Street and Kimbark Avenue — which will lead vehicles to try to escape through an alley, which might well be blocked by trucks. Backing out of an alley and/or turning around at the end of a cul-de-sac and going in the opposite direction amounts to even more traffic than simply driving around the block. Add in an occasional lost or confused truck driver and it gets downright dangerous.
Most of the goals stated for the development are worthy ones with which I agree. But you simply cannot accomplish all those goals by stacking them all together in one enormous building — and then still maintain the existing character of the surrounding neighborhood. At least not at 53rd Street and Kenwood Avenue you can’t. The University of Chicago and its minions know full well that this building would not be suitable on its own inner campus, five or six blocks to the south. How can they be so insulated from the surrounding neighborhood that they don’t realize that it also isn’t suitable among the three-story buildings on this part of 53rd Street? Yes, there needs to be something there. Probably there could be some parts of this project and its worthy goals that would fit. But not everything in one place, all in one monstrous, oversized building.