Like many cities, Chicago devotes a huge percentage of its land to the public right of way—and most of that is reserved for motor vehicles. According to the Chicago Pedestrian Plan, 23 percent of the city is committed to uses like streets and alleys. Parking takes up a significant amount of room as well; a recent study by Michael Manville and Donald Shoup suggests that street parking in the Loop, including garages, accounts for 36 percent of downtown’s land area.
Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Department of Transportation (CDOT) Commissioner Gabe Klein, Chicago is moving to convert some of that concrete into “people” spaces replete with benches and landscaping designed to attract pedestrians and encourage an active streetscape. The “Make Way for People” campaign, which began last year, will expand to at least 12 locations across the city this summer. It’s an enlightened approach to providing more space for pedestrians to relax, while expanding access to business and promoting economic development.