Residents Reimagine Clark Street at Streetside Workshop

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Clark needs to be redesigned to better serve the needs of all road users. Photo: Kristen Maddox

When participants at Tuesday night’s Streetside Workshop on how to improve Clark Street from North to Dickens avenues were asked to identify which transportation mode currently dominates Clark, the answer was obvious: cars. The seminar, organized by the grassroots group Bike Walk Lincoln Park, the Active Transportation Alliance, and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith, took place at the intersection of Clark and Menomonee. The goal was to brainstorm ideas for transforming Clark from a wide, intimidating roadway to a complete street that safely accommodates pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, not just drivers.

After a brief introduction from Active Trans Campaign Manager Brenna Conway and Alderman Smith, organizers invited attendees to use a radar gun to capture the speeds of passing motor vehicles. There was some discussion about whether drivers would slow down due to the presence of the 35 participants. Regardless, the highest speed recorded on the street, which has a 30 mph speed limit, was 41 mph. One of the first people the group witnessed attempting to cross got stuck in the middle of the road, since there is no pedestrian refuge island at the intersection, just four lanes of whizzing car traffic.

The hands-on approach continued during the second part of the workshop. In teams of seven, residents, business owners, and other stakeholders focused on one intersection each. They filled out a questionnaire to provide more info about road users’ behavior with questions like “Do cars stop at red lights?” and “Do cars, including turning cars, yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk?” The survey also included questions about the street design, such as “How would you describe the corners of the intersection?” with multiple-choice answers: “Wide corners that allow fast turns,” “Medium corners with some fast turns,” and “Narrow corners for mostly cautious turning.”

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Participants record motorists’ speeds with a speed gun. Photo: Kristen Maddox

Many participants voiced concerns about lack of pedestrian accommodations on Clark, such as the dearth of crosswalks and refuge islands. One community member mentioned that the difficulty of crossing Clark at Menomonee is particularly a problem during the popular Green City Market outdoor farmers market in Lincoln Park. Despite the heavy foot traffic on market days, pedestrians must traverse a space where driving is prioritized.

Buzzwords such as “citizen involvement” or “participatory planning” are sometimes tossed around in transportation planning and advocacy circles to describe all kinds of public meetings, regardless of their usefulness. This was not so at the Streetside Workshop, which featured blurred lines between leaders and participants. The attendees’ own observations served as the main talking points when the meeting continued indoors at the nearby Hotel Lincoln.

Despite the presence of unique conditions at each intersection along this stretch of Clark, the group concluded similar changes need to be made at the different locations. Throughout the corridor, vehicle speeds are too high and pedestrians have low comfort levels. The streetscape is confusing, and pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and drivers must jockey for the same space, which leads to low rule compliance. One group counted four illegal U-turns by cars and five cyclists on the sidewalk within a half hour.

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Participants’ comments on a map of the Clark Street stretch. Photo: Kristen Maddox

No matter with which intersection they had observed, all participants seemed to feel that that the current street design benefited no one, even motorists, since they face traffic bottlenecks and unpredictable movements by other road users. Pedestrian crossings feel unsafe and lack consistency since some are merely two parallel lines while others have upgraded to high-visibility, zebra-striped “international” crosswalks. Implementing a road diet that would remove and/or narrow travel lanes on Clark, striping international crosswalks at all intersections, and adding LED lights in the crosswalks were suggested as remedies.

After each group presented its top three concerns about the assigned intersection, Brenna Conway and fellow Active Trans Campaign Manager Jim Merrell moved to discussing so-called “yes ideas,” proposals for what Clark Street could look like in the future. Here are some more of the “yes ideas” brainstormed at the meeting:

Pedestrians

  • Build pedestrian refuge islands at the intersections with Menomenee and Wisconsin
  • Hire crossing guards for high-foot-traffic days like farmers’ markets and the Air and Water Show
  • Add runner-friendly crushed limestone surfaces to the paths that parallel Clark in Lincoln Park

Transit Users

  • Convert two of the travel lanes to dedicated bus lanes for bus rapid transit
  • Implement bus-priority traffic signals
  • Add concrete bus stop islands to facilitate boarding

Bicyclists

  • Convert travel lanes to bike lanes, possibly a Dearborn-style two-way protected lanes with bike-specific traffic signals
  • Widen Stockton Drive, which runs parallel to Clark through Lincoln Park, to make room for bike lanes
  • Divide the sidewalk on the east side of Clark, next to the park, into three lanes: two for cyclists and one for joggers

Other ideas

  • Increase traffic law enforcement
  • Add planters and landscaping

At the end of the meeting, representatives from the 43rd Ward, Bike Walk Lincoln Park, the Chicago History Museum, the Moody Church, and a local business provided some final thoughts, largely centered around improving conditions for pedestrians. The rep from the museum said that visitors and the elderly routinely experience “derailment” at the convoluted LaSalle Street intersection. The speakers mentioned the need to create a safer, more functional, more pleasant Clark Street, one where removing excess travel lanes and calming traffic will simplify access to local destinations so that businesses can thrive.

The Streetside Workshop provided a snapshot of residents’ desires for the future of Clark Street. If Alderman Smith and the Chicago Department of Transportation heed their constituents’ advice, Clark Street will indeed become a more efficient and vibrant neighborhood route.

Guest contributor Kristen Maddox recently spent a year in Copenhagen as a Fulbright fellow and worked with Copenhagenize Design Company. Now back in the US, she is actively looking for work in bicycle planning and advocacy.

  • Anne A

    Great set of suggestions! It sounds like this workshop provided a valuable set of observations about real-life conditions on this too-fast car-centric stretch of Clark.

    About the confusing Clark-LaSalle intersection, my husband is a CPD officer who works in the 18th district. He has responded to many crashes (especially after midnight) that were caused by a driver who failed to navigate the intersection. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the driver is unfamiliar with the intersection (not from neighborhood, suburbanite, tourist), elderly, or impaired (drunk, tired, stoned, or a combination) – all are at a disadvantage when an intersection isn’t clear. Some of those vehicles ended up in bizarre positions because the driver was confused about where to go. Many of those crashes could have been prevented by better intersection design and signage.

  • There’s no markings on the whole intersection. The lane markings just end. I don’t drive often but I have used this intersection and it is confusing. Tons of drivers go past their turn, too, especially with turn arrows (although this is a problem everywhere).

  • Pat

    How about removing or reducing the parking on Stockton and making it a bus only corridor along with biking/walking trails? In Central Park, it is a pleasure to walk/bike on the converted roadways and while there are no buses there, Stockton is admittedly an important bus route.

    Think about it:

    The cars parked in the park make that street far too narrow for bus, bike and car traffic. While some should argue that cyclist could use the park paths, those are too heavily used by pedestrians and using them would cause many conflicts. The lakefront path is close by for bikes to use, but we all know how congested it gets between North and Fullerton. Stockton can be a traffic nightmare due to cars looking or waiting for spots. Not only are other cars being held up, but many buses are too.

    Parked cars also obscure pedestrians crossing to and from the zoo. In 2006, a girl was killed on that stretch, due to various factors including but not limited to parked cars. (Other factors were too short of a stop sign, deteriorated crosswalks, and signs that allowed those cars to park too close to that too short stop sign.) We all know how poor the city does re-striping crosswalks and bike lanes, and I don’t think we can count on fading crosswalks to calm traffic.
    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-07-23/news/chi-city-to-pay-325-million-in-traffic-death-of-maya-hirsch-age-4-near-lincoln-park-zoo-20120723_1_pedestrian-safety-million-in-traffic-death-danit-steinbach-hirsch

    Finally, all those cars sitting there for long periods of time make the park look, well, like a parking lot. I realize that taking out this parking would cause an uproar, but is beautiful Lincoln Park really where people should be storing their cars for very little cost?

    These are just some of my observations of Stockton, and the suggestion of widening it above prompted me to write this comment. I realize I may be missing some points and counterpoints of this argument. The bottom line is that Stockton has a large volume of pedestrian, bike, bus, and car traffic. Something has got to give in the equation and because it is a park, and not a boulevard, I think the car has to go. Hell, I’d just settle for them taking out the parking and allowing for car traffic. At least that’s a step in the right direction.

  • Anonymous

    This is the very best suggestion I have heard:

    “How about removing or reducing the parking on Stockton and making it a
    bus only corridor along with biking/walking trails? In Central Park, it
    is a pleasure to walk/bike on the converted roadways and while there are
    no buses there, Stockton is admittedly an important bus route.”

  • Kevin M

    Is that parking on Stockton paid or permit? If it is paid, then your wonderful idea is likely DOA thanks to the city council’s deal with Chicago Parking Meters, LLC.

    If it is permit, then you’ll have to build an army to overcome the auto-owning army who will fight for their right to park their private property on public streets.

  • Anonymous

    Parking on Stockton is neither paid nor permit. You will still get fights from people who live nearby and park there, but no issues with meters.

  • Anonymous

    I just don’t get why this stretch of Clark was ever built so wide. South of North it’s 2 lanes with parking (down to Newberry where it goes to a one way pair with Dearborn), north of Armitage it’s 2 lanes with parking (all the way up to Andersonville until it merges with Ashland). So why this incongruous 1/2 mile section that’s so wide?

    I’d say narrow the whole thing down to match what’s north and south, use the west side of the r-o-w for it. Then use what’s leftover on the east side of the street for either a 2-way bike lane or just bust it up and make the park bigger.

  • I agree with this. So much of Lincoln park is those roadways with free parking. The streets could be for people jogging, biking, etc. It may even reduce some of the heavy loads on the LFT at certain times if people had more than one place for an uninterrupted, beautiful place to exercise and/or relax.

  • Just guessing here… to distribute traffic from the ultra-wide “LaSalle Boulevard”/Lake Shore Drive interchange to points further north, via Wells/Lincoln, Clark Street, and Lincoln Park West.

  • Anonymous

    This same situation exists for Foster Avenue.

    From the Edens Expressway to Western Avenue it’s a narrow street with rush hour parking only restricted on the westbound north side of the street. It’s too narrow for a four-lane road yet drivers are always speeding and passing on the right.

    It should be reduced to one lane in each direction and have pedestrian accommodations installed in the middle. It’s a street in serious need of a road diet. Foster Avenue would be a good choice for an east-west route all the way from the lakefront for bicycles. It goes past many large parks: River Park, Eugene Field Park, and Gompers Park.

    Fortunately it’s gotten one of the first speed cameras installed.

  • Malena

    yEAH! i AGREE WITH YOU ONE THIS BUT I THINK ONE SHOULD HAVE Gatwick Airport Parking

  • R

    Came across a photo from Steven Vance’s photoset just came across from some Lincoln Park bike brainstorm waaay back from 2010. Still nothing done to Clark. The pace of change is so slow its comforting, I still see

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/5074616332/in/set-72157624899543805/

  • jennacatlin4

    drivers should never speed up their cars and park where they are not allowed to.Cheap car parking Birmingham

  • Perry Cole

    It is good to know that the problems and suggestions of the Clark street residents have been listened and their possible solutions have been discussed in the seminar. Those who were having problems on the roadsides, other than the car drivers, will now use the roads easily. I wish only if they could work on the ideas about those improvements/solutions and most of all making it practical on other areas of the city too.

    Easy
    parking deals

  • carla grace

    suggestions for the the pedestrians, bicyclists and transit user are quite beneficial. it will some how resolve the issue of car accidents and other than that pedestrians could be able to use the roads easily . either car or bicycle parking shun togatwick meet and greet

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