Another Example of IDOT Blocking Efforts for Safer Chicago Streets

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Pedestrians cross a Kennedy off ramp by the Addison Blue Line stop. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the streets on Wednesday evenings.]

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values.

Now IDOT is pushing to build the Illiana Tollway, a $2.75 billion expressway running south of the urbanized Chicago region, which would serve relatively few drivers in the foreseeable future but would compete with transit projects for scarce transportation money. Representatives from Metra and Pace recently voted yes in a referendum on moving the project forward. That seems absurd, until you realize that IDOT has the power to block or delay federal funds to these agencies, so they can’t afford to ruffle the state’s feathers.

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Customers queue up to board the Addison bus. Photo: John Greenfield

While CDOT is trying to break from the auto-centric status past and prioritize walking, biking and transit, the state often has a negative influence on Chicago’s transportation network. Perhaps it’s telling that IDOT’s regional headquarters is at 201 Center Court in Schaumburg, a location the website WalkScore.com rates as an 18 out of 100 for walkability, labeling it “car-dependent.”

It might be unfair to stereotype the typical IDOT staffer as a suburbanite or downstater who’s indifferent to quality of life issues here in Chicago. However, the state does generally seem to prioritize moving cars in and out of the city quickly, which largely benefits people who don’t live here, over creating livable streets for the folks who do.

I heard about yet another example of this phenomenon last week at an Active Trans workshop on improving pedestrian access to the Blue Line’s Addison station, located in the median of the Kennedy in Avondale. The El stop averages 2,867 boardings a day, but the surrounding area is a nightmare for pedestrians, with narrow sidewalks crisscrossed by four expressway ramps.

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Looking north at the unsignalized crosswalk on the west leg of Addison, Avondale, and Lawndale. Photo: John Greenfield

Approaching from the southwest is particularly difficult. For the entire half mile of Addison west of the station, there are no marked north-south crosswalks where traffic signals or signs tell motorists to stop for people crossing the street. Good luck getting the speeding drivers to obey the state law requiring them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

About fifteen people showed up for the workshop, including a staffer from freshman State Senator Jaime Andrade’s office, plus aldermen Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward) and Rey Colón (35th Ward), nattily dressed in a fedora. Reboyras said a new stoplight is needed at the convoluted intersection of Addison, Avondale and Lawndale, just west of the expressway, so that people on foot can safely make the north-south crossing.

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Active Trans' Max Muller talks with Alderman Ariel Reboyras. Photo: John Greenfield

Active Trans’ Riders for Better Transit campaign manager Brenna Conway took us on a tour of the surrounding intersections, bus stops, and the station itself, asking for input on what people like and dislike. When we got to Addison/Avondale/Lawndale, everyone agreed that a stoplight is sorely needed here. “There’s a videogame where you try to go out in the street, like Donkey Kong,” said an older guy. “Frogger?” a woman responded. “Yeah, that’s what this feels like,” he said.

Afterward, Rodger Cooley, who teaches urban agriculture at IIT and lives southwest of the station, gave me the real dirt on the traffic signal situation. In 2003, CDOT told Reboyras they’d approved his request for the stoplight at Addison/Avondale/Lawndale and had found funding to install it in 2005. In 2004, after a driver killed Luis Cruz, 14, on his bicycle, two blocks west at Springfield Avenue, there was new interest from residents in creating a safe Addison crossing. But the signal never materialized, and the alderman and the community never got an explanation why.

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Addison, Avondale and Lawndale. Blue line shows location of existing crosswalk, where a stoplight is proposed; orange line shows locations of existing traffic light with no crosswalk.

A FOIA request filed by another community member last March revealed that the culprit was—wait for it—IDOT. The FOIA documents included a 2005 letter from IDOT Deputy Director of Highways Diane O’Keefe explaining to CDOT why the state was putting the kibosh on the stoplight. “The proximity of the Avondale Avenue intersection to [another stoplight with no crosswalk at] the Kennedy Expressway exit ramp is too close to prevent backups between the two signals and onto the exit ramp.” In other words, the safety of pedestrians was considered less important than the convenience of drivers.

Last January, State Senator Iris Martinez’s office checked in with IDOT on this issue again. Deni Wilson from the department’s Office of Legislative Affairs responded via email, also included in the FOIA. “Before a new traffic signal can be approved along a state highway… it must be determined that the new signal installation will not adversely affect the safety and efficiency of the roadway for all users,” Wilson wrote. The problem is, when it comes to the safety and efficiency of the roadway, IDOT seems to believe that motorists are more important than everyone else.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I’m around this area quite often, the intersection is quite hellish. During rush hours when all kinds of people try to get though this intersection, car traffic is currently favored. The often reckless operation of cars in this problem area can lead to a dangerous daily game of frogger between drivers and access-lacking pedestrians. The lack of a crosswalk is something that affects me personally because there is no safe way to cross Addison at a signaled intersection.

    Funny thing, the streetview looks like there used to be a crosswalk at the lights, also the single ped. crossing sign is laughable.

  • Chicagio

    If Chicago can wrestle away its schools from the state shouldn’t we also be able to get control of our roadways?

  • Anonymous

    If you look really carefully with street view at the offramp intersection, it appears a crosswalk may have been removed from the NE to SE corner of that intersection. I may be seeing things, but it sure looks like there are faint lines there about crosswalk width. Not paint, but perhaps the remnants of paint sandblasted off.

    Also dumb, there is a really long merge/exit lane from the Pulaski onramp to the Addison offramp, so even if Addison backed up a little bit it’s not like it would suddenly make a dangerous situation on the Kennedy (and when is Addison backed up and the Kennedy isn’t?)

  • Brian

    Kudos to IDOT! Thank god gabe Klein can’t get his grubby hands on every street!

  • Jakub Muszynski

    Do you live in the city of Chicago? I’m trying to see things from your point of view here.

    I think it is fairly safe to say CDOT should have the stronger weight over its own streets and the planning decisions they want to explore. Seeing that this is the location of so many highway ramps and a CTA train station, good collaboration should be the proper mindset both CDOT and IDOT to create a smooth experience for all kinds of users by working together. It seems from the past that IDOT has not really been willing to examine all kind of transportation modes in play here. In these kinds of situations It may be best for the city to take lead and control and work to implement a small changes here and there (legally, this already sounds like a nightmare for the city).

    I would love to see some further accommodations made by IDOT for pedestrians, but really I doubt that. One option to explore is to update the station to have two entrances on other the north or south side of Addison (think Montrose blue line station) . This would also be the perfect time to add an elevator and make the station accessible.

    Oh I’m day-dreaming here, but it is a lovely thought.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I wonder if there is any possibility of turning the north tip of Avondale (near the gas station) into a one way street (going north) or even closing it to traffic. I’m not saying I’m a traffic planning expert but would this help remove some of the congestion and therefore make it better for both vehicle and pedestrian traffic here?

    I also feel extremely unsafe crossing Avondale on the North side of Addison because it is pretty long and cars are flying by with many drivers still driving with a highway mindset. Anyone else share this feeling?

  • Anonymous

    “The proximity of the Avondale Avenue intersection to [another stoplight with no crosswalk at] the Kennedy Expressway exit ramp is too close to prevent backups between the two signals and onto the exit ramp.”

    It’s like we’re stuck in 1945. The cycles of the two signals can be tied together in such a way that backups are no worse than now. I swear that the DOTs of the city and the state have some fear of modern signal controls.

  • Anonymous

    I lived just east of this Blue Line stop for a couple of years. Crossing the onramp just east of the Blue Line station was a harrowing experience. You have cars making a right turn to access a highway on a wide curb cut, encouraging them to speed through the turn, at a crossing with hundreds of pedestrians.

    Its not an easy problem to solve, and one of the issues with putting trains in the middle of highways, but the current situation is dangerous and unpleasant for everyone (peds and drivers alike, due to the frequent backups to access the onramps because of all the pedestrians).

  • Scott Sanderson

    Great article, John. I guess this is what happens when you put a subway stop under a highway?

  • Peter

    interesting write up… thanks

  • Mishellie

    You are why we can’t have nice things.

  • Anonymous

    Crossing this east-of-the-station, south-side-of-Addison almost seem to be a contradiction.

    When Addison has the green light the “walk” light it lit – at the very time when cars are making the turn to enter the northbound expressway.

    When Addison has the red light, the “don’t walk” light is lit – at the very time when the cars are stopped or must stop to make the right turn.

    It’s logical to have the “walk” light coincide with the green light, but this may be one of those times when the opposite would be better.

    At the least, a “No Turn On Red” anytime sign should be installed, and enforced, on westbound Addison at the entrance ramp to the northbound expressway.

  • Anonymous

    All the Blue Line stations along the Kennedy there need serious help in this department. The Irving Station is a complete nightmare with hidden ramps, multiple lights, etc.

  • David P.

    I live just west of this intersection and have to traipse through it every time I take the blue line, and ride through it any time I need to get west and north. It’s a terrible intersection for anybody not in a car, and if I’d known about that meeeting (my bad) I would have attended. As usual, “…will not adversely affect the safety and efficiency of the roadway for all users” in practice means “…will not adversely affect the flow of car traffic.” The current arrangement has a very adverse affect on non-car road users.

  • ocschwar

    Time for some tactical urbanism at that intersection. Some orange barrels to sharpen the right turns. Some visuals on the sidewalks to deter speed. Et cetera.

  • Anna Schibrowsky

    I’ve seen it from the passenger seat, and it’s terrible for sensible people in cars, too. Hurried westbound motorists barge through the pedestrians only to pile up when the lanes merge at Avondale. Turning onto the southbound entrance “ramp” at Avondale, motorists need to be prepared to stop for people and dogs on the residential stretch and then suddenly pick up speed to merge. The Circle Interchange money should’ve gone here.

  • Jakub Muszynski

    I was getting on the train there today, and I saw the faint marks. I think we both are right about our theory on the removed crosswalk.

  • Right. Even though there’s a walk signal here, you basically need to make eye contact with every right-turning driver to make sure they see you. Here’s a photo of this extremely sketchy crossing.

  • Thanks Scott. Good question. Can anyone thing of any CTA stops that have similar locations as Addison but much better ped access?

  • Sure thing, thanks for reading.

  • Erik Swedlund

    I wouldn’t call it “much” better, but the stop light directly in front of the entrance to the Garfield Red Line stop (I believe push-button actuated) makes north-south pedestrian crossing for bus stop access somewhat convenient. If only the red light was long enough for a pedestrian to cross both the east AND west bound traffic lanes–as it is, you can get halfway across and then wait on the pedestrian bridge for another red light to cross the other half (unless you run).

  • You guys are correct, there was a crosswalk at that location that was removed.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with a walk during the red cycle is that it is possible (though uncommon) for an vehicle on the offramp to proceed across Addison and get right back on. ie, the cross traffic has a green there.

    What is your logic on putting a No Turn On Red there? There is no reason why the cars shouldn’t be turning on red, it theoretically means there are less cars to turn when the light is green.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Anna. I drive through this plenty getting to the burbs and it’s a mess in a car too.

  • Anonymous

    Naturally because IDOT demanded it, I’m sure. The problem with the crosswalk is that it would prevent a full green cycle for left turning traffic off the Kennedy, slowing cars down. Of course, the stupidity there is that the left turning traffic has a red light on the other side of the bridge, so during rush hour it doesn’t matter, all the cars on the ramp can’t make it through anyway.

  • David P.

    I wonder how practical it would be to turn the curbside WB lane of Addison into a right-turn-only lane (ideally with a right turn arrow and right-on-signal-only to allow people to cross on foot at lower risk) approaching the freeway onramp to the north. Not that that’s ever going to happen….

  • Turns on red encourage cars to ignore pedestrians, who have a walk light, and plow around the corner at speed regardless.

  • Anonymous

    As a driver through there, I’ve often thought that making it a right turn only lane would be good, but not quite for the reasons you’re stating. Right now, most of the people in the right lane are entering the expressway, but not all. That means most people can right turn on red (when peds have the don’t walk). But that movement comes to a quick halt when a single car going straight gets to the front.

    Here’s a somewhat counter-intuitive thought. Channelize the right turn *more*, adding a pedestrian island. Widen the onramp a bit at the top. That would split the WB right-turning traffic from the EB left-turning traffic and the small amount of through traffic, leaving room on the ramp for those streams to merge.

    Then, (as you suggested), make the curbside WB lane be right turn only and on signal only. When WB/EB Addison have green, right turn is red, pedestrians walk without conflict. When EB Addison has the left turn signal, right turn can be green (peds already have don’t walk). When offramp has the green right turn can be green (again, peds already have don’t walk).

    So, not a big change to existing signaling, lots more cars can get through from WB Addison to the onramp (IDOT would like) and the ped crossing is much safer (the rest of us like).

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a bad idea. In many places it is illegal to go straight at these types of off-ramps. You could have signage prohibiting the straight manoevre, prevent right turns on red from addison, and then prohibit ped crossings during the green light phase on Addison.

    John’s right, crossing that street requires eye contact with every driver and being ready to move quickly if one of the right turning drivers decides to barrel through.

  • David P.

    This would be good in some ways, but it would make it even harder for cycling. Unfortunately I have to go all the way to Wrightwood or Sacramento for a good freeway crossing, and those are both very out of the way and I make do with Addison or Belmont. If I want to go somewhere NE, like Andersonville, from Addison I take Drake north and Central Park south. I am pretty fast, and confident in traffic, but I really dislike making a left turn onto Drake with car traffic unless traffic is heavy enough to slow things down, or really light. Instead I usually make a pedestrian-style crossing and get to and from CP from the ped exit at the turnaround; coming back home, I arrive at Addison from the sidewalk, and unless traffic is very light or there is a big gap in traffic I can turn into, I wait until WB Addison is red, make prolonged eye contact with the leading car’s driver, wait for them to stop, then pull out and stop at the head of the line at the left edge of the curbside lane, which puts me in a good position to cross and then merge on the other side of the viaduct when the light for NB Central Park goes green (WB Addison still red, off-ramp red), and leaves room for right-turn traffic to proceed. This would be even more difficult with your suggestion, but this is all a good exercise to come up with more human-friendly solutions for the intersection!

  • Anonymous

    Having crossed that intersection many times, I agree that it makes pedestrian crossing convenient. I never had any problem fully crossing in the time allotted (circa ’09-’11).

  • Anonymous

    “What is your logic on putting a No Turn On Red there?”

    Right-turn-on-red should be eliminated everywhere. It was only passed when the gas price rose to over $1/gallon. No cars come to a full stop, and only rush to get ahead of pedestrians. Right turn on red serves no useful purpose except to save cars about 30-seconds of travel time.

  • Anonymous

    What’s wrong with slowing cars down? Slowing cars down would help everybody: kids, handicapped, senior citizens, pedestrians, bike riders. Fewer people killed and the only price is a very short extension of the drive time.

  • Shlabotnik

    having to wait on a platform surrounded by 4-5 lanes of highway traffic on either side, including semi trucks whizzing by at 60 miles per hour, sucks. Makes me never want to go to that station again unless I absolutely have to. I recently experienced this at the Irving Park stop on the way to O’Hare.

  • Fred

    That corner looks explicitly designed to be a wide radius circle that encourages cars to fly around it. I would think something as simple as squaring off that curve, making it more of a hard turn, would slow down traffic quite a bit.

  • Hmmm…?

    I think that IDOT/CDOT should treat the Lawndale/Avondale/Addison intersection AND the SE-bound I-94 exit ramp as ONE intersection. I.e. have west-bound traffic stop at a red light at the xpressway ramp and, at the same time, have east-bound traffic stop at a red light at the Lawndale/Avondale/Addison intersection. Have marked crosswalks over Addison on the west leg of he Lawndale/Avondale/Addison intersection, and on the east leg of the Addison/SW-bound I-94 exit ramp. Curb extensions on the west leg of he Lawndale/Avondale/Addison intersection would also be possible (on-street parking is there). NRTOR signs should be installed too. Why does the sidewalk on-structure over I-94 (on the northside of the bridge, east of the CTA station entrance taper down as it does — bus stop? Ideally, the whole structure/station entrance would be rebuilt to prioritize ped-bike movements, slow MV traffic, but maintain MV access to expressway. As is, relatively minor tweaks to the entrance/exit ramp radii may help slow turns and prevent encroachment of MV on ped ways. What do you guys think?

  • George

    the city’s always crying for money can you imagine the tickets they can give up for those drivers that are getting off the expressway going west they do not stop they make a right hand turn on a red light I think they need a bigger sign telling drivers that there’s no turn on red

  • Anonymous

    Ignoring the no-turn-on-red sign is endemic all over the city. The only “fix” is to eliminate the law that permits this and require every driver everywhere to STOP at a red light.

  • Claire

    I think moving the east bound light back to the Avondale/Addison/Lawndale intersection makes a ton of sense. We don’t need two lights there in a row as the IDOT is cautioning against. This would provide a way for pedestrians to cross, and for cars to safely get onto Addison from Lawndale and Avondale. And it really seems like just a minor tweak.

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