The Time Is Ripe to Fix Clark Street Next to Lincoln Park

The safety problems on Clark Street between North Avenue and Lincoln Park West are well known. The roadway is too wide, leading too many drivers to speed. Back in 2011, Bike Walk Lincoln Park co-organizer Michelle Stenzel wrote that Clark Street needs a road diet:

A motorist heading northbound suddenly notices between the Chicago History Museum and the Moody Church that there are now four lanes for moving traffic, plus additional lanes on either side for loading. This wide-open feel is an invitation to step on the gas, and usually, the driver does.

Sometimes the vehicle is “caught” at the red light at LaSalle Drive. But after that, it’s hit the gas again. Now there are four wide lanes for moving traffic, no median, and no marked bike lane. There is a pedestrian crosswalk at Menomonee, but given the speeds taken and the width of the street, motorists barely take notice.

Last May, I measured drivers’ speeds for two hours at different locations along Clark Street and found rampant disregard for the 30 mph speed limit on the wider parts of the street.

Bike Walk Lincoln Park's proposal for Clark Street.
Bike Walk Lincoln Park's proposal for Clark Street. Click to enlarge.

Thankfully, there’s a good opportunity to tame speeding traffic on Clark. Later this month, Active Transportation Alliance’s Brenna Conway will lead a community workshop, according to Karl Anderson, constituent services liaison in the alderman’s office, to try to “figure out the what the issues are, figure out how to improve access to Lincoln Park [the park], and calm traffic.” Bike Walk Lincoln Park has proposed a host of improvements, including a road diet, but so far nothing official has been proposed yet. “We’re trying to make this a community event, develop a marketplace of ideas,” said Anderson. “There’s no plan set.”

Stenzel told me that she plans to attend the meeting, but just as a resident. “I’m not even going to bring the proposal,” she said. “This is going to be a grassroots type of thing. We’re trying to get bicyclists who commute past here, and invite businesses to attend, to point out where crosswalks sucks, where we need new ones, bicycling concerns, and even park things, like the lack of benches in certain areas.” The meeting is tentatively scheduled for August 20, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., where Green City Market sets up.

In case you need any further encouragement to help make Clark Street safer, here’s a look at the speeding data I gathered at four locations last year, using a speed gun for 30 minutes at each site.

Southbound Clark Street at Germania Place (two lanes wide)

There’s a pedestrian crossing island at this spot that greatly narrows the effective width of the travel lane, making this a safer location. Of 151 vehicles measured, not a single one exceeded the speed limit, though several reached the speed limit. The average speed was 17.2 MPH.

Measuring speeding on Clark Street
People crossing Clark at Menomenee often do so in groups.

Northbound Clark Street at Menomenee Street (four lanes wide)

This is where things get hairy. Of 121 cars measured, 53.72 percent exceeded the speed limit. The maximum speed was 50 mph (see video above) and the average speed was 30.8 mph. There is a crosswalk here, but it’s 66 feet long, and there’s rarely a safe break in traffic. This is the only marked crosswalk between signalized intersections — a distance of almost 1,000 feet — and a huge number of people are walking here to get to Lincoln Park.

Clark St from North to Armitage
A person bikes in the shared lane on Clark Street between Menomenee and Lincoln Avenue. ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/69734016@N06/sets/72157634849481095/with/9395951223/##More photos##. Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park

Northbound Clark Street at Lincoln Park West (four lanes wide, narrowing to two lanes)

Clark Street splits here, with one lane going north on Lincoln Park West and one lane continuing northwest on Clark Street. There’s a concrete traffic island here to separate the lanes. Of 58 drivers whose speed I measured, 27.6 percent exceeded the speed limit, and the average speed was 25.6 mph. The maximum recorded speed was 40 mph.

Northbound Clark Street between Lincoln Park West and Dickens Avenue (two lanes wide)

This is the second narrowest location (after Germania Place) and of 58 cars measured, only 2.4 percent exceeded the 30 mph speed limit, with the average speed being 22.5 mph and the maximum being 35 mph.

You can tell from the data that the people drive faster on the wider sections of the street, as Bike Walk Lincoln Park has also observed. Where Clark Street narrows, the number of drivers speeding drops along with the average speed. With the right plan, speeding could be tamed on the rest of Clark Street too.

  • Anonymous

    We keep running into individual cases of this, but is there a concerted effort by Gabe Klein/Chicago to identify all of these locations? I think it’d be helpful to find them, rank them in order of priority, and start working on them.

  • Andrew

    How do we sign up or keep up to date for that meeting, I would love to attend but you said it’s tentatively scheduled? Also why isn’t CDOT involved?– Completely agree that this stretch needs the improvements, but without CDOT being involved what can the alderman or residents really do in terms of large changes?

  • Anonymous

    I’d also love to attend this meeting.

    That’s my route home and, on my bike, I am routinely passed by
    speeding drivers much closer than three feet between North Avenue and Armitage. Just yesterday, one of them passed me where the road splits to Lincoln Park West, after honking at me when I signaled my intentions to continue up LPW.

    Clark above North Avenue could really use a barrier-protected bike lane, although I’m not sure how that works with bus stops.

  • Fred

    It would be even better to do this on a ward-by-ward or neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. No reason these meetings couldn’t be happening in many places at once.

  • The Complete Streets Design Guidelines, Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 and first-ever Pedestrian Plan would suggest the same, but I don’t think this is happening.

  • Pay attention to our calendar.
    http://chi.streetsblog.org/events/

    Also watch Bike Walk Lincoln Park’s blog or sign up for Alderman Smith’s e-newsletter.

  • You can use bus stop islands. They look like this:

    1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/16nine/2967786930/
    2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/fredpipes/8380379406/
    3. http://www.flickr.com/photos/adrimcm/5786731409/

    CDOT said less than two years ago that they’re interested in putting them in on 55th Street’s cycle track (and other feasible locations).

  • Anonymous

    certainly the “Grand Ave Freeway”, westbound after it crosses Western and angles to the NW, is deserving of a diet. There’s definitely less pedestrian usage (vs Clark), but it is used by a considerable number of cyclists and runs right by a sizeable park. The road is wide enough for 4 lanes, but there are next to no markings.
    I’d love to sit on a bench in Smith Park and measure the speeding drivers on the wide open road here.

  • I tried to raise $80 to buy one, but couldn’t solicit enough donations ;)

  • MH100

    I use the crosswalk at Clark & Menomenee almost daily when jogging to the lake and I can attest to almost getting run over multiple times by irresponsible drivers (typically in expensive SUVs). I’m 6’5″ (so I know damn well they can see me), but instead of stopping like a sane person, often they accelerate so as to not be inconvenienced by stopping for a whole 5 seconds.

    Given that the amount of foot traffic (particularly on Saturday during the farmers market) is quite considerable, I’m shocked there hasn’t been a serious pedestrian collision. Something as simple as a pedestrian island would help immensely.

  • Brenna Conway

    Glad to see there’s so much interest in improving Clark Street! We’ll be posting information about the event soon at http://www.activetrans.org and we’d love for everyone to join us. We plan to involve CDOT and share the results of the community workshop with them. First we want to hear from all of you who use Clark St. regularly!

    Thanks!
    Brenna Conway-Campaign Mangager, Active Transportation Alliance

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of…what is the process by which these situations are evaluated? I’m no urban planner, so I don’t know at all how these roads are studied. We may not be able to put in our own road diets, but collecting & presenting data on usage, speed, pedestrian issues, etc…that would seem to be ripe for activism, no? We identify road sections, take video like above, do vehicle counts, etc.

    Wouldn’t that help make a case?

  • This part of Clark Street has so much need for improvement, and I hope to see many of you at the workshop! I’ve now posted on Bike Walk Lincoln Park with the details of the meeting.

    http://www.bikewalklincolnpark.com/2013/07/help-create-new-vision-for-clark-street.html

  • Scott Sanderson

    What an improvement this would be.

  • The last step is get the attention of an alderman and convince them to do something about it.

  • Streetsblog Chicago has placed a pre-order for the WayCount DIY traffic counter so we can collect better data and not have to stand outside with a pen and paper for two hours (which is not enough time even for a single location).

  • I’ve posted this to our calendar.
    http://chi.streetsblog.org/events/

  • Anonymous

    A very similar situation exists on Foster Avenue (5200 North) between the Chicago River and the Edens Expressway.

    It’s only 42-feet wide, not really wide enough for 4 lanes. Yet there is little parking, so the parking lane is used by traffic, many passing on the right.

    There is a lot of pedestrian traffic along this stretch – two universities, three Park District parks, several neighborhood schools close by.

    A street diet is needed for Foster Avenue, to make it safe for pedestrians, children, senior citizens, bicyclist and anyone who uses the street without a car.

  • Anonymous

    A very similar situation exists on Foster Avenue (5200 North) between the Chicago River and the Edens Expressway.

    It’s only 42-feet wide, not really wide enough for 4 lanes. Yet there is little parking, so the parking lane is used by traffic, many passing on the right.

    There is a lot of pedestrian traffic along this stretch – two universities, three Park District parks, several neighborhood schools close by.

    A street diet is needed for Foster Avenue, to make it safe for pedestrians, children, senior citizens, bicyclist and anyone who uses the street without a car.

  • Anonymous

    A very similar situation exists on Foster Avenue (5200 North) between the Chicago River and the Edens Expressway.

    It’s only 42-feet wide, not really wide enough for 4 lanes. Yet there is little parking, so the parking lane is used by traffic, many passing on the right.

    There is a lot of pedestrian traffic along this stretch – two universities, three Park District parks, several neighborhood schools close by.

    A street diet is needed for Foster Avenue, to make it safe for pedestrians, children, senior citizens, bicyclist and anyone who uses the street without a car.

  • Anonymous

    A very similar situation exists on Foster Avenue (5200 North) between the Chicago River and the Edens Expressway.

    It’s only 42-feet wide, not really wide enough for 4 lanes. Yet there is little parking, so the parking lane is used by traffic, many passing on the right.

    There is a lot of pedestrian traffic along this stretch – two universities, three Park District parks, several neighborhood schools close by.

    A street diet is needed for Foster Avenue, to make it safe for pedestrians, children, senior citizens, bicyclist and anyone who uses the street without a car.

  • A group of citizens has started petitioning the alderman and CDOT to reduce speeds on this road.

    I don’t know what the future holds for citizen groups wielding their own radar guns, but good data can be key to changing people’s minds.

  • Brian

    I love to speed through here. It’s so funny seeing Barney fifes out with a speed gun. Haven’t you anything better to do? Oh wait, probably not.

  • Andy

    As an Edgewater resident I daily deal with the difficulty of being a pedestrian on North Broadway for many of these same reasons.