Let’s Measure What Happens With the Western Ave Shutdown This Weekend

The future Bloomingdale Trail bridge over Western Avenue. Image: The 606 project.

Crews will be demolishing a viaduct over Western Avenue this weekend as part of Bloomingdale Trail construction, necessitating the closure of Western and diverting automobile traffic and CTA buses to Damen and California, each a half mile away. People walking or biking will be rerouted to the underpasses a block away on either side.

The street will be closed for two blocks — except to local traffic — between Wabansia and Cortland from 8 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Monday.

This closure presents a great opportunity for the city to track how people adjust to a short-term change in the street grid. The Chicago Department of Transportation could use weekend traffic count data for Western and the detour routes to see just how many car trips are diverted or avoided. However, CDOT spokesperson Pete Scales said he wasn’t aware of a study taking place.

That’s too bad, because experience has shown that people are incredibly adaptable when the street network gets disrupted and they have time to plan in advance. While this short construction project is very different than the permanent redesign envisioned for Ashland BRT, measuring the traffic outcomes this weekend could help demonstrate the basic concept that when you reduce driving capacity, people take different routes, switch to another mode of travel, or consolidate trips.

This bridge over Western will be demolished this weekend.
This bridge over Western will be demolished this weekend.

Similar closures will take place soon at Milwaukee Avenue and Ashland Avenue. (The Ashland bridge will be transported to be installed over Western.)

Western Avenue detour map. Image: CDOT
Western Avenue detour map. Image: CDOT
  • Mishellie

    “When you reduce driving capacity, people take different routes, switch to another mode of travel, or consolidate trips.”

    I feel like this is the same argument on both sides, only one side is saying “And that would be a collective GOOD THING,” and the other is saying “And I would possibly be slightly inconvenienced and I’m not creative enough to come up with a solution so I’ll just whine.”

  • cjlane

    Yes, of course, the side you agree with is community-minded and the side you disagree with are petulant children. Good way of changing minds.

    It is too bad they aren’t doing a traffic study, but a cold and snowy February stinks for that.

    The important thing to remember is that–for almost everyone–any given weekend, plans can be changed from “going places where Road X is part of the route” to “staying home” or “going to the place that doesn’t use Road X”, in addition to ‘different routes’ or ‘trip consolidation’ (you won’t convince me that any meaningful number of people who would have driven on Western *this* weekend would instead take a bus–the opposite is far more likely, that would-be bus riders will find a private vehicle to use, altho ‘staying home’ is the most likely alternate there). It’s just not really representative of what happens over the course of a month or a year–even tho what may happen over the course of the year may be a good thing.

  • what_eva

    Any study of a single weekend closure would have no value in regards to Ashland BRT. There is a very simple option that people have that they don’t with a permanent change, they can reschedule. Say I lived around Division/Western and wanted to go to Riverview (ToysRUs or something). With the closure, I can simply choose to reschedule, I can go tomorrow or Friday or wait until Monday or next weekend or whatever.

    That’s what happened with the 405/”Carmageddon” weekend in LA. A lot of people just stayed home and did other things that weekend.

    A better comparison to this weekend’s closure are the street festivals in the summer. Many are on side streets, but some are on arterials.

    It’s just not valid to compare that to a permanent change like Ashland BRT.

  • My bigger point is that we should measure what we’re not measuring so that we can develop the *process* (methodology) of measuring these impacts and serve them as examples in the future when the issue repeats itself (because it always does).

  • Vic

    Does the city realize that anybody who lives in the city knows they will not detour to California or Damen Avenue? There are plenty of sidestreets that cut right through the viaduct people can use those instead. So traffic will increase on sidestreets.

  • oooBooo

    A time chosen specifically to minimize a temporary traffic disruption will show minimal traffic disruption for a temporary period of time.

    In other words, it’s a controlled question with a predictable result that will support the desired policy.

  • CL

    I don’t know how people find out about this stuff in advance. I almost never know when a road will be closed or have major construction before I leave — then I get stuck in a long line of people who also didn’t know, as we inch toward the construction with no idea why traffic is so horrible.

    Sometimes I check Waze (a traffic app) before I leave, because it usually tells you the situation on Lake Shore Drive and other major roads. But plenty of things don’t show up on there.

    I guess in theory I could check websites for alerts every time I leave the apartment, but in reality it just never happens. I never would have found out about Western if I didn’t read this blog.

  • what_eva

    No argument there. Measuring things is almost never a bad thing. What I was disagreeing with was:

    “measuring the traffic outcomes this weekend could help demonstrate the
    basic concept that when you reduce driving capacity, people take
    different routes, switch to another mode of travel, or consolidate
    trips.”

    Closing something for only two days gives people the additional alternative of rescheduling that a permanent change does not.

  • Mishellie

    I’m really not into changing minds or being nice. Conservatism is, by it’s very definition, not progressive. This means that at any given point, conservatives will be arguing for things to remain the status quo or (as of late) going back to the way they were “before” “in the good old days” “back then” in some rosy-colored past. I’m so over pretending to think that either maintaining the status quo or regressing in politics, economics, human rights, transportation issues, and so on and so on will do anyone any good. Let’s learn from our mistakes how to improve the future, not how to repeat them.

  • cjlane

    Ah, yes, viva la revolucion!

    You *must* change minds to be an effective progressive. Otherwise, you’re just throwing bombs, which can be fun, but isn’t really community minded or likely to result in positive change.

  • cjlane

    It’s basically 2 days. Were there not a F.Ton of snow on the streets, it would be no-big-deal. People who know a particular part of the city use side streets as work arounds all the time, anyway, so it’s not a major change, tho there will no doubt be a few really irritatingly backed up intersections mid-afternoon Saturday and Sunday. I suggest everyone in the area either stay home or walk wherever they’re going this weekend. And watch out for cabs if they are walking.

  • You can follow the CDOT website, and there’s also a road closures permit website. But neither have methods to “follow”. The “Notify Chicago” system may have these alerts.

    Only IDOT provides a somewhat useful road closures “feed” (I think the companies that serve cars’ in-dash GPS devices get info from IDOT’s road closures “feed”). Here’s the info that IDOT provides.

  • cjlane

    “with a predictable result that will support the desired policy”

    Well, Steven is suggesting that, if the predictable result were actually to come to pass (not actually a certainty; as CL noted, this is not exactly a well-publicized closure), AND if it were effectively measured, then it could be a data point that could be (slightly misused) to support an entirely different sort of capacity reduction.

    As he clarified was his real point (and I agree wholly with) it’s too bad there isn’t data being collected, bc even if 100% properly used (ie, to assist in planning other temporary closures, and the suggested alternate routes therefor), there is meaningful value in having more data. Now, perhaps the value is far less than the cost, especially on a crap weather weekend, but there is no doubt that the data could be useful.

  • *I think* it’s a predictable result, but we only have examples like Carmageddon on the 405 in Los Angeles (and other well-publicized, even nationally, examples). I think this is one of many missed opportunities to collect data in Chicago.

    I agree with the sentiment in the comments here that this is “two days” “a weekend” “snowy” and thus may not provide meaningful baseline data on which to analyze the effects of a permanent capacity reduction.

    But we have to start somewhere and I’m disappointed that we have such lax street transportation data collection (excluding CTA buses, which record copious data made available to the public).

  • CL

    I think the main reason I never check for road closures is that 99% of the time there isn’t one on my route — so I’m just used to assuming everything will be open.

    The bigger problem is unexpected construction or utility work. Even a small project that blocks one lane for a few yards can cause a major backup during rush hour, since it’s a bottleneck plus everyone slowing down. . . those situations where you’re crawling for 15 minute, and then you finally reach the construction and it’s like one guy with a drill. I wish I knew about those in advance.

    Waze is probably the best option — we just need more people to use it. (although I’m conflicted about it because you know most people are using the app while driving)

  • cjlane

    “we have such lax street transportation data collection”

    CDOT was averse to it for a long time. Big failures in grant applications under ISTEA and ISTEA II (yeah, I keep harping on it, and it was kida a long tme ago now, but there was a *ton* of money available for all sorts of innovative (and not-so-innovative, but still modernizing–like upgraded signals) projects, and Chicago acted like the $$ had cooties).

  • I’d love to use Waze, but my mobile app-running device is wi-fi only (plus GPS always-on), so Waze doesn’t like me. It expects a data plan, and an unlimited one — I don’t make enough money to get that.

  • Katja

    Might want to put up an update. This was postponed due to the weather. http://oururbantimes.com/transportation/postponed-western-ave-closure-bloomingdale-trail-bridge-improvements

  • Katja

    See also, perhaps more officially: http://the606.org/category/newsforneighbors/

    That said, I had not noticed previously that the new bridge allows for passage through for peds who just want to walk north on Western only on the east side of the street. I wonder, if you are on the west side of the street, do you have to go up and over? Can you go up and over, or do you have to just go up, then rappel down?

    Putting the barrier between traffic and peds on the east side of the street is pretty great. Right now, crossing to the north or south of the Trail indicates a death wish on the part of the crosser since the current bridge severely limits sight lines. The new bridge and wider road should help to alleviate that, but it might be a bit of a pain if it means you can only cross without going up and over on the east side of the street.

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