Another season of Kirkwood street closures, parklets OK’d by Bloomington city council

This year, parts of Kirkwood Avenue in downtown Bloomington will again be closed to automobile traffic—for six months from April 3 through Oct. 1.

Again this year, residents and visitors to downtown Bloomington will also notice orange water-filled traffic barriers marking off some on-street parking spaces, so that restaurants can serve customers there.

The “parklets,” as they’re called, come this year with a “beautification” requirement, which can include construction of seating platforms, incorporation of art and other cosmetic improvements.

This year, the closed-off sections of Kirkwood are the same as in the last three years.

The Kirkwood closure includes the half block east of Walnut, where the Uptown Cafe and FARM have used the additional outdoor dining space in the street, since the parklet and Kirkwood closure program was first implemented three years ago.

Also included in the closures are the blocks between Grant Street and Dunn Street, and the block between Dunn Street and Indiana Avenue. Dunn Street, which runs north-south, will stay open to car traffic.

It was at its meeting last Wednesday that the Bloomington city council approved the fourth year of the Kirkwood closure and parklet program.

The program, which includes the two separate concepts of closing Kirkwood to car traffic, and using parking spaces for outdoor dining in other parts of the downtown, runs under the official name, “Expanded Outdoor Dining Program In The Downtown Corridor.”

The view of business owners about parklets on the courthouse square was about evenly split, according to a survey done by Downtown Bloomington, Inc.

At the public mic last Wednesday, Michael Carmin, whose law firm is located on the north side of 6th Street on the courthouse square, weighed in against the program, saying it makes it harder for his clients to reach his office.

Last Wednesday, the vote on the outdoor dining program was 7–0. Absent were Susan Sandberg and Jim Sims.

An amendment to remove the block of Kirkwood from Dunn Street to Indiana from the program failed, getting support only from Dave Rollo and Ron Smith. Others who were present voted against the amendment, except for Steve Volan, who abstained.

The vote on this year’s closures had been postponed from the council’s Feb. 15 meeting, to give the council more time to reflect on some of the issues that had been raised at that meeting.

One of the lingering concerns from Feb. 15 was access by parishioners to the Trinity Episcopal Church building.

Giving the administration’s presentation this past Wednesday was Chaz Mottinger, who is special projects manager for the economic and sustainable development department. Mottinger led off last Wednesday by giving the council an update on accessibility to the church.

Mottinger said the engineering department had developed a plan to add more ADA parking spaces in the Kirkwood area. One of the additional ADA parking spaces is on the west side of Grant Street, across from the church’s ADA entrance.

Mottinger told the council that the department of public works had assured her that the new ADA space on Grant Street would be designated by April 1, which would be in time for the April 3 start of the program.

At both of its meetings on the topic, most of the city council’s attention was focused on the Kirkwood closures, not the parklet program.

On the question of the proposed amendment, which would have removed the block from Dunn Street to Indiana Avenue from the Kirkwood closures, councilmember Matt Flaherty appealed to the city’s transportation plan in voting against it. Flaherty was in favor of keeping the block as part of the plan to close Kirkwood.

About the Dunn-to-Indiana block, Flaherty said, “In particular, I think this block is really important because it connects directly to the Sample Gates in that expansive pedestrian environment of the university system.”

Flaherty continued, “So that direct avenue spilling out of the Sample Gates and the university and having that continuity of a safe and pleasant public space that is focused on pedestrians, like our plans call for, I think, is really crucial to the whole project.”

Councilmember Dave Rollo offered a counter to Flaherty by pointing out that permanent closure is not what’s called for in the city’s transportation plan. Rather, it’s a “shared street,” which is not closed to automobile traffic.

For Rollo, it was right to frame the issue on the block in question as a balance between the competing interests of the Bicycle Garage, which is opposed to the street closure and Lennie’s which is in favor. Lennie’s is the only restaurant on the block that used the street last year. Rollo voted against closing the block between Dunn Street and Indiana Avenue.

For council president Sue Sgambelluri, the deciding factor on the closure of the Dunn-to-Indiana block was the idea that 2023 could potentially be the last year when data can be collected on the same configuration that’s been approved in the the last three years—but in a kind of post-pandemic context.

Next year, city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) will likely be starting a project where the Campus River flows into the underground culvert between 6th Street and Kirkwood Avenue. That means Kirkwood would need to stay open for the Dunn-to-Indiana block.

Sgambelluri put it like this: “[O]ne of the themes we’ve heard [from city staff] in this conversation is the degree to which we are relying on this year to provide us with data.” She added, “[I]n the absence of a closure on that particular segment of Kirkwood, we’re missing information.”

Sgambelluri expressed a certain lack of enthusiasm for the parklet program: “I’m generally supportive of the closure of Kirkwood—I’m less enthusiastic about parklets.” She based her lack of enthusiasm about parklets on their appearance. “[W]e haven’t yet found a way to make them look like something other than a construction zone. And I think we need to work on that,” Sgambelluri said.

Opposing the outside dining program from the public mic last Wednesday was local attorney Michael Carmin, whose law firm is located on the north side of the courthouse square, on 6th Street.

Carmin said, “This is wrong. I said last year, and I’m going to say it again: Bloomington is more than Kirkwood.” He continued, “It is not government’s role to benefit a…few selected restaurants at the damage of other businesses. And this does harm other people.”

When someone drives downtown and does not park on Kirkwood or at a parklet, they still park somewhere, Carmin said.

“Where’s your analysis of all these outside diners?” Carmin asked. “Are they walking and biking to get there?” Carmin asked. His answer: “No, they’re driving. They’re parking someplace else, in front of another business, pushing parking away from that business.”

About his law firm’s clients, Carmin said, “I’m really tired of the growing number of people—I’m sorry, call them ‘lazy’ if you want—who complain about how far they have to go to find a parking space to get into my office.”

“If you want Bloomington to be nothing but restaurants, taverns, and students, then just say so, because that’s what you’re doing,” Carmin told the city council.

Carmin also objected to the way that the downtown outside dining program benefits just some businesses in Bloomington: “Where have you reached out to any other business other than on Kirkwood and said, We will give a public subsidy to ensure that you survive or to help you thrive?”

Carmin’s mention of business survival was an allusion to Bloomington’s launch of the outside dining program in 2020 as a way to help business continue to operate, by giving them a way to serve customers who were wary of patronizing indoor establishments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carmin’s mention of the outside dining program as a “subsidy” is based in part on the amount that businesses are charged for participation in the program.

For a parklet, the cost is $1,250 per parking space. A parklet that uses two spaces costs $2,500.

Under existing Bloomington local code, for a contractor to use a parking space, the cost works out to $20 per day. An example of that kind of use is when motor coaches reserve spaces outside of downtown hotels.

If the cost of parklets were charged for the duration of the parklet program at the same rate as contractors are charged for parking spaces, that would work out to $3,600 per parking space, or $7,200 for a two-space parklet.

To use the street space that is made available by the Kirkwood closures, for a restaurant with a capacity between 20 and 100 customers, the cost is $1,250. For a business with a capacity 100 or more, the cost is $3,500.

10 thoughts on “Another season of Kirkwood street closures, parklets OK’d by Bloomington city council

  1. Pardon my hyperbole but eating within a few feet of College or Walnut is like licking the street. Vehicles passing at 20 to 40 mph throw up a plume of invisible road grit that almost certainly wafts over those nearby tables.

    1. We ate there several times and experienced so such thing. And the owner of Uptown said it was very popular. If you don’t want to eat there, don’t eat there.

      1. The Uptown was great. The Tap had a little parklet next to College that was pretty terrible, with traffic zooming by at 40mph and probably the road grit John mentions.

  2. The buses now need to be banned from Kirkwood also year round. The city administration has spent millions of highway funds to convert 7th Street to a pedestrian and bike and bus lane. The buses don’t need to go through there at all. Use the smaller buses instead to deliver passengers to their destinations. The city for once had the road paved very nice during the pandemic.

  3. Carmin is talking out his patootie. Study after study shows the benefits of pedestrian infrastructure on retail and food sales. For example, in 2012, bike lanes were installed on Central Avenue in Minneapolis by reducing the width of the travel lane and removing parking lanes. Retail employment increased by 12.64% — significantly higher than the 8.54% increase calculated in the control study area a few blocks away. The same corridor also recorded a dramatic 52.44% increase in food sales, which more than doubled the 22.46% increase in the control area. A protected bike lane along Broadway in Seattle that was completed in 2014 was accompanied by a significant 30.78% increase in food service employment compared to 2.49% and 16.17% increases in control areas. If he needs driver business so badly, he should move his office out to the west side where cars rule.

    1. Also there’s three public parking garages within two blocks of the north side of the square. Three!

  4. I’ve said it once, and, actually, I’ve said this a thousand times to anyone who will listen: The solution is not to partially close Kirkwood a few months a year. The solution is to permanently close Kirkwood to all but cross traffic. We need a full-pedestrian mall. That will benefit ALL businesses downtown. Many urban centers have done this, and it has increased pedestrian traffic and had economic benefits. Church Street in Burlington, Vermont comes to mind, as does numerous city blocks in cities such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam. I agree with Mike Carmin that people are lazy. There is plenty of parking in parking garages, and all of the parking garages are a few short blocks to the square or kirkwood. In fact, thousands of people live within 1-2 miles of downtown, a distance that is easily walkable for most able-bodied persons. Let’s leave the car spaces for those who are not able-bodied, and start walking or riding our bikes when we go downtown.
    As the EPA has found: “Car trips of under a mile add up to about 10 billion miles per year, according to the 2009 U.S. National Household Transportation Survey (NHTS).2 That’s like the entire population of Chicago driving to Las Vegas and back! If we all chose to power half of these short trips with our feet instead of petroleum, assuming an average fuel economy of 22 mpg and an average fuel price of $2.50/gallon, we would save about $575 million in fuel costs and about 2 million metric tons of CO2 emissions per year. That’s like taking about 400,000 cars off the road each year.”

    Bloomington needs to show some leadership and strength on this one. Let’s lead the way by closing down Kirkwood year round and stimulating business growth along that pedestrian corridor!

    1. Hell yes, Christie! Thank you for backing up the car-free design with robust data.

      Pearl St in Boulder, CO also comes to mind as a success story.

      I think the dream of a permanently car-free Kirkwood can be realized with the right folks in City Council and the Mayor’s office. This is a big election year for Bloomington.

  5. The parklets and eating spaces on Kirkwood epitomizes Bloomington…a community sharing spaces and enjoying our town.

  6. So they have to beautify the parklets and such? The first thing they should do is paint those hideous orange water filled barriers to a neutral color like off-white or beige or deep green which I would think would be a beautification in itself. Those barriers are the epitome of wanting me to avoid those businesses.

Comments are closed.