The River of Traffic On Ridge/Hollywood Hurts Edgewater’s Livability

Ridge Avenue speed and traffic study
Walking across Ridge at Wayne can be dicey.

The Edgewater neighborhood along the north lakefront should be a pleasant place to walk. It’s the second-densest community area in the city, with 56,521 residents in an area just 1.5 miles across, and boasts lively commercial areas like Andersonville. Yet local residents say that their neighborhood is effectively cleaved into two by a roiling river of car traffic. The north end of Lake Shore Drive pumps tens of thousands of cars through the neighborhood, first onto Hollywood and then to Broadway or Ridge and onto Clark and Peterson.

To welcome this invading army of cars, over a dozen houses were leveled in the mid-1950s (animation below) to transform these local streets into four-lane traffic sewers — roads meant to move many cars, quickly. This turned Hollywood and Ridge into impassable barriers, according to local residents like Claire Micklin. She says it’s practically impossible to use marked crosswalks, because drivers simply refuse to stop. Even when traffic backups make it possible to get halfway across, fast-moving traffic thunders past in the other direction. Micklin says she dreads trying to cross, or even to walking alongside the streets — since parking is banned, the never-ending traffic runs right next to the sidewalk:

Drivers drive as if they are on an extension of Lake Shore Drive, grinding to a halt at the lights that break up the thoroughfare. The cars just keep on coming, and even two of the four lanes are clear, there are usually cars speeding by on the other two lanes. I have seen people push baby carriages into the crosswalk, hoping that the other two lanes of traffic will stop. Even with a baby carriage in the middle of the road, people do not stop, and the person usually has to do a quick reverse back to where they started to cross.

Micklin lives just north of the tangled intersection where Hollywood, Ridge, Broadway, and Bryn Mawr all meet within one block of one another. The most convenient retail to her is clustered around the Bryn Mawr “L” stop, just south of Hollywood, or in Andersonville, a few blocks southwest, and none of the nearest crosswalks to her have traffic signals. Even where there are signals, as at Ridge and Hollywood, the streets are obviously engineered for cars: The signal timing favors the Ridge-Hollywood through traffic, and requires pedestrians to press a “beg button” that’s inaccessible to children or people in wheelchairs. The intersection even features a highway-style, concrete Jersey barrier to keep skidding drivers from rolling right into someone’s home.

Kevin Zolkiewicz lives a block south of the speedway. Like Micklin, he has to cross Hollywood or Ridge to get to services like the restaurants or the library on Broadway. He calls the walk “miserable… [I] have to go out of my way to cross at a light,” Zolkiewicz said, adding that Ridge “acts as a barrier between Andersonville and the rest of Edgewater.”

The never-ending stream of cars at Ridge and Hollywood. 

Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens and I observed traffic at two problematic intersections that Micklin identified — Ridge/Wayne just west of the Ridge-Hollywood intersection, and Hollywood/Magnolia just to the east. These intersections are between traffic signals, so motorists are used to speeding up rather than stopping at these locations.

The two intersections both feature all four marked crosswalks, but the legs across the wider streets have faded nearly to black, neither have pedestrian refuge medians, and neither has a “stop for pedestrians” sign. (CDOT says that they will not install these on four-lane roads, due to the low probability that drivers in all four lanes will actually obey the sign.)

Micklin said that, due to the angled junction in between these two intersections, “there’s no visibility to see oncoming cars, and [thus] know that you can cross safely. I’ve been stuck in the middle of the road before, and people still don’t stop.” We noticed half a dozen people during our study doing just that: Wiggling between stopped cars headed in one direction, then waiting in the middle of the road before running across the other lanes.

Using a radar gun, we found that the tight spacing of traffic signals largely prevented drivers from speeding during rush hour on Hollywood. The longer distances between signals on Ridge give more drivers a chance to gun it: 18 percent of drivers in the curbside lane exceeded the 30 mph speed limit during a 15 minute period on a weekday rush hour.

What makes Ridge and Hollywood impossible to cross is less the speed of the cars than their sheer numbers. An average of 33,100 cars every day (including weekends) pass the speed camera on Ridge, just south of Clark Street. That’s as busy as the better-known crosstown traffic sewers of Western and Ashland avenues, each of which carry between 24,000 and 37,000 cars each day. Yet even those two streets can be easier to cross on foot, since they have parallel parking lanes and often feature medians.

In 2009, former 48th Ward Alderman Mary Ann Smith commissioned a livable streets study [PDF] from the Chicago Department of Transportation. Its “traffic gaps” analysis agrees with Micklin, saying it was “difficult to cross at unsignalized intersections for most of the day (9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays).” The study proposed a number of solutions: adding some car parking to Ridge (although not in the speed-plagued stretch), curb extensions on side streets to slow turns, redesigned bus stop areas, and new, usable beg buttons. Of the various fixes, only countdown signals have been implemented.

Zolkiewicz points out that when Alderman Harry Osterman, a life-long resident of the neighborhood, was elected to replace Smith, he promised to install a traffic signal at Ridge and Wayne.

Osterman’s chief of staff Dan Luna confirmed this, saying it’s under review by the Chicago Department of Transportation. Luna said “the bigger question is funding,” since a new traffic signal would cost $300,000 to $350,000, and thus “would take a good quarter of our [annual] allocation” of ward-specific menu funds. Luna hadn’t seen the livable streets study, but said he would “like to see one with newer data.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Micklin said, “to have a speedway running through a residential area. Having a four-lane highway coming off of Lake Shore Drive — an actual highway/ speedway — just encourages drivers to speed, without consideration for pedestrians.” She offered her own suggestions to make this area feel like a neighborhood again. Putting Ridge on a road diet, she said, and converting two of the four lanes to protected bike lanes “could force drivers to drive as if they are in a residential area, not a highway.” The traffic could be redistributed onto other roads in the area, like Broadway and Foster.

As an interim step while neighbors wait for an updated traffic study, Micklin proposed to close off Ridge for a Sunday Parkways event. Such an event could “show how shutting down a superhighway can increase the feeling of community and the livability of a residential area.”

An animation showing the before and after of leveling homes for cars.
  • John

    I thought you said in a different article that the speed cameras had helped on this stretch of Ridge Ave.

  • Claire Micklin

    No, the speed cameras helped on the section of Ridge by Senn High School, which is further northwest…

  • We measured speeds at Wayne, which is just before the entrance of the SAFETY ZONE (where the speed camera *can* monitor) but the speed camera is monitoring vehicles much closer to Clark than to Wayne.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Closing Ridge for a Sunday is a lovely idea. But what will it prove? Traffic still has to go somewhere. And its a one off thing that then goes away. Broadway was closed from Ardmore to Lyndale for a street fair. Traffic just went somewhere else and was back when it was over. Ho hum. Ridge has hurt Andersonville??? Explain how???

    No Ridge is not optimal. Better crosswalks and signals are needed. But its a major thoroughfare that’s not going away. And adding parking and sqeezing it down to two lanes will just push the traffic elsewhere.

  • NorthSure

    My building in that picture and this intersection is the worst. You can’t wait for the lights, you have to wait for a break in traffic and run across. I’d hate to have kids here. Plus, sidewalk bikers. It does keep the rent down…

  • Uptownneighbor

    Converting Ridge to a two lane road is unrealistic. Put in a traffic light and and be done with it. Lights are timed on this road for a reason : to move traffic. You suggested this as a solution for other streets but not this one–not sure why this is different. Diverting traffic to other roads like Broadway and Foster is not an option since Foster is already a two lane street and Broadway will be soon when bike lanes are added

  • NorthSure

    Yeah, I didn’t get the whole Andersonville connection either. “Andersonville” might be creeping as far north as Edgewater Avenue, but historic Andersonville and most of the businesses are south of Bryn Mawr. People who want to be in Andersonville all the time aren’t going to live in Magnolia Glen (west of Broadway but on the other side of Ridge) of Ridge) or vice versa regardless of what happens to Ridge.

    Edit: It does hurt the neighborhood to the north, which is sometimes called Rosehill and which I’d really like to see develop, by making Red Line access a pain, but they’re getting a Metra station now.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Additionally, making Ridge a two lane will impede fire and ambulance. Didyou know anytime a fire call is made to a location east of Broadway its automatically a two alarm because of the density? Fire trucks seldom use Bryn Mawr east of Broadway because its hard to take the Equipment down narrow two lane Bryn Mawr, they go south then east then north or south on Sheridan. Making traffic worse everywhere else could make fire and rescue worse.

    Steven you also fail to mention that Ridge is US Route 14. That in itself also means you have to have a local, state and federal studies to support reducing lanes, but on the good side maybe there’s Federal money to fix some problems.

  • jeff wegerson

    Traffic in Edgewater must be considered as a whole community. Treating traffic only on Ridge will raise the hackles of community members along the other routes. It means dealing with traffic on Sheridan, Broadway, Ridge, Hollywood, Peterson and north bound Ridge.

    There are only two grand solutions to traffic in Edgewater and the second forces the issue on the first.

    The best solution likely is extending LSD north to Evanston. My preferred solution is the Proppe & Green version. http://www.gpdchicago.com/urb_lakefront1.htm . The standard cynical reply is that the lakefront owners will not approve. First I don’t believe that and second it is not their decision to make. The lakefront is a City/State/National/Planetary treasure. Many more people have a stake in its use than a few people that live there along Sheridan Road.

    The second solution is to just do it. All of the roads mentioned above, except possibly northbound Ridge are candidates for road diets. And here’s the little know reality about all the non-Edgewater traffic that uses those roads. The corner of Sheridan and Hollyoood, the entry/exit of LSD, is a bottleneck. That is the limiting factor for the amount of traffic that can pass through Edgewater. Making roads wider will not increase the flow. And likewise, a lot of roads can be made narrower without decreasing the flow through Edgewater either. That is the nature of a bottle-neck.

    The extra road space that exists now serves as the bottle that holds the traffic waiting to get through the neighborhood. It is merely temporary parking for folks waiting for the bottle neck to clear for their turn to get through. Why not have them wait in another neighborhood, like their own? You know the lights on ramps onto expressways that make you wait your turn during high traffic? Well in essence narrowing the Edgewater roads would serve the same function.

    But even squeezing out the excess cars during rush hour still will not reduce traffic enough for returning the neighborhood to a reasonably pedestrian friendly one. For that we need to just say NO. For that the neighborhood needs to size the streets to appropriate sizes needed for a typical Chicago city neighborhood. If there are screams from the through riding outsiders , especially the north shore sub-urbanites, then they can go find the money to fund the win-win solution for us all, the two-lane each way LSD extension in the lake.

  • Dennis McClendon

    I agree that the Drive should be extended north, as Daniel Burnham intended. Civilize it with below-grade sections, with frequent overpasses and new landfill parkland, by having only four narrow lanes and heavy landscaping—but don’t just say it’s impossible or claim it will induce new trips.

    As for the lakefront condo associations, almost none of them actually own the riparian rights they think they have. The Lincoln Park Commission purchased most of them back in the 1920s.

  • jh

    A 4 to 2 + turn lane will help make the street less of a pedestrian barrier, but I’m not sure it would reduce the feeling of an endless stream of cars. Roosevelt Road in the near western suburbs provides a good example: In Forest Park it is huge and terrible (4 lanes plus turn lane). Just east of there (dividing Oak Park and Berwyn), Roosevelt has been narrowed. It feels much nicer to walk there, but the traffic stretches on continuously and is only interrupted by traffic lights (and a crosswalk with button-activated flashing lights that people actually stop for!).

  • Scott Sanderson

    “will just push the traffic elsewhere”

    I see it differently. By adding more road capacity, we attract more cars. The highways, for example, added large capacity roads to the city, but is traffic better than before they were built? No, it’s actually worse. Cities like Atlanta and Houston have many more road miles per person than Chicago, yet they sit in the same traffic we have.

  • Ken

    Oh the poor people. Cross at a light or move. It’s not that difficult. It’s not your right to have the ability to cross the street wherever you like.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Lovey idea extending LSD. Doubt if it will happen though. Where’s the money going to come from?

    Here’s what else is not being considered and it needs to be worked on right now. And its called the 6 to 8 year rip-up of the Red Line between Lawrence and Hollywood followed by the rip-up of north LSD.

    Start planning now for new traffic patterns, get the Metra station built, get a Red-Line bus replacement plan in place. That may mean no bike lane, but a bus only lane.

    And considering you may need to plan for a bus that will shuttle people up to the new Metra stop from locations in Edgewater, you can’t take Ridge down to two lanes.

    But most of all, get plans set for businesses to survive the one-two punch of both projects, otherwise it may take years to recover. And if you want to talk about “livability” having a string of failed businesses up and down Broadway and the side streets due to years of work on the Red Line and LSD won’t make it particularly livable for anybody.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Who’s talking about adding road capacity?

  • Claire Micklin

    I’m in Andersonville a good amount of time and part of the reason I live in Magnolia Glen is because of the cheaper rent. Andersonville is pretty pricey.

  • David P.

    Ken,

    People are more important than cars, and people do have the right to be able to cross the street at a crosswalk.

  • Claire Micklin

    Yeah, per city of Chicago ordinance pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way.http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/ordinances_pertainingtopedestrians.html

  • hello

    Toll existing LSD (at least at peak times)! Problem solved!

  • Annie F. Adams

    Nice post! I live blocks from here. This Car River (aka The Ridge Car River) depresses housing and business values and serves as a HWY for folks who (I suspect) pay taxes outside of Chicago. It creates a wall between folks in Andersonville and Edgewater walking and biking to local businesses. Something like this would do the trick nicely: Poynton Regenerated (double roundabout) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0

  • jh

    That is awesome. I’d like to believe that Chicagoans could adapt to something like this, but I’ve noticed that Americans still have trouble with single roundabouts, let alone multi-lane roundabouts or something like this. Of course, the areas where I’ve seen Chicago drivers yield most often to pedestrians are on narrow, high-pedestrian-traffic streets like parts of Broadway, Milwaukee, etc.

    On a related note, I’ve often wondered how traffic circles fit in with pedestrian-oriented design. My experience with them in an auto-oriented city like Auckland, NZ wasn’t terribly positive.

  • Road capacity was added when the homes were demolished.

  • hello

    Great piece! I like this:
    “We have to do what’s best for Poynton (the place).”

    In the US, I feel it is often “We have to do what’s best for the motorists (environment/place be damned)”

    I’m definitely not saying a double traffic circle will be the solution – but the approach they took should be applauded.

  • Annie F. Adams

    Agreed. I really like the audio of the cars, then the relative calm. Same amount of traffic. What struck me the most was how with simple infrastructure cars and pedestrians became equal street users. Removing the angst of “If I stop in my car for this pedestrian will the car behind me hit me?” A friend from NYC recently said to me “When in NYC eliminated Right Turn on Red we all freaked out. But now I can’t imagine why it was ever legal. It was horrible. You had to inch forward at every stop light as cars behind honk at you if you didn’t weave thru pedestrians in the crosswalks. Now I just wait for the green. Much better.”

  • Ken, did you read the article? People are not trying to “cross wherever [they] like.” They’re trying to cross at official, marked cross walks.

    This is absolutely a problem. Do you live in the neighborhood? I do, and yes, Ridge drastically serves as a giant barrier between the two areas north and south of it. It’s awful.

  • Hey NorthSure. I live in the neighborhood. People absolutely live in Magnolia Glen and walk to the commercial area of Andersonville (let’s say around Catalpa and Clark). It’s about a 14 minute walk. That is far from being unreasonable.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    If people were really more important, why doesn’t the city paint the large zebra like crosswalks on Ridge. It makes a statement that the crosswalks at many intersections are barely there.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Well you’re not going to push the genie back into the bottle by putting Hollywood and Ridge back to the way it was.

    It’s easy to criticize decisions made in past generations. But the decision-makers usually do the best they can with what they are dealing with in the moment.

    For decisions being made now, 50 years later there may be a group of people who will also scratch their heads and wonder why decisions were made the way they were.

    You referred to Ashland and Western as car sewers. However, will constraining travel on these two major roads with a BRT system backfire? No one really knows. It may take 10 years after to register the total after affects and if it drives business away and people who do drive no longer feel welcome in the city and move elsewhere… and the tax base shrinks because of it…

    And by the way, referring to streets as car sewers is really beneath you. If want your views to be taken seriously by the powers that be, don’t stray into the land of cranky.

  • jeff wegerson

    Very very interesting. Argyle between Sheridan and Broadway is supposed to get a similar treatment, everyone gets to share the street / no curbs etc. Osterman might already be hip to this sort of thing.

    It reminds me of the old days next to Soldier Field where the Southbound Drive drive went from five lanes to four. All they did for a bout a quarter mile or so was eliminate all the lane lines that told you which lane you were in. The folks that knew the drill naturally gravitated to where their next lane was going to be while the new comers would tend to follow. It all got sorted out pretty smoothly.

  • J.B.

    I could talk for way too long about this issue. When I first moved to the neighborhood I immediately noticed how unfriendly this street is to pedestrians. I don’t walk down it unless I absolutely have to now. It’s dangerous and difficult to cross Ridge at any intersection up until about Ravenswood.

    I think the biggest shame is the lost business potential along Ridge. A couple places manage to stay open along there, but with that old firehouse, the movie studio, and a couple of nearly-empty office/strip centers, it really just feels like it could be so much more. It needs to be more walkable/parkable/bikable.

    But this gets to Jeff Wegerson’s point below, which is that you almost have to make a choice between making this a place for it’s own sake, or accommodating the through traffic that would never have any intention of stopping.

    My bright idea for fixing it was to make Ridge two lanes, one-way to the west from Broadway through to Clark/Ashland, with a set of bike lanes and added parking. Then make Bryn Mawr two lanes one-way east between Ashland and Broadway, possibly losing some parking. I’m no longer convinced this would have the desired calming effects, but maybe there is some other “third way” to get the best of both worlds? I don’t think one extra traffic signal would do much, especially if it’s a long to change as the others along there.

  • Annie F. Adams

    Very interesting! I keep thinking about something similar on the Lakefront Path. Do the bold Yellow and White lines help or hurt? Do they make me bike faster? Would 1 bold Red Line down the middle work better for a “danger passing zone only!”? Would 1 super thin solid Yellow line, like the path next to N Stockton Dr in Lincoln Park around North Pond denote/create more of a shared bike/ped space? If there was nothing, it would appear to be a ped path only path… But that is for my fantasy post — If had $1 Million for the LFP :)

  • hello

    Perhaps because of the density they should add a fire station.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Great idea for Bryn Mawr. Take half of the 30,000 a day traffic on Ridge, 15,000/day, put it on the residential street with Pierce elementary school, dump all that traffic in Andersonville on Clark Street and whooola, we have instant walkability.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The firestation on Clark and Granville is the new fire station for Edgewater. All the little fire stations like the one on Ridge were closed.

  • jeff wegerson

    One improvement for the Lakefront Path, imho, would be to move the walkers/joggers to the other side facing oncoming bikers. Walkers would see oncoming bikers and bikers would be less worried about a walker stepping in front of them. This could be done with easily with signage and becomes self reinforcing.

  • jeff wegerson

    For years I have had an exercise walking route that crossed Ridge at Magnolia where there is a crosswalk but no light. Being fit I have felt comfortable wading out into traffic with my hand up as if stiff arming the oncoming traffic and forcing them to stop or hit me. Well not that bad, I have always given them enough time to stop and me enough to avoid being hit. It has been my small contribution to calming Ridge traffic. The thing is that one needs to walk forcefully, not timidly, and look at each approaching driver to confirm that they see you and know that your intention is to make them slow down and even stop if necessary. And that goes for the second lane of each direction. Sometimes I have had a car stopped in front of me and I have had to make eye contact with another driver approaching in the next lane and threatening them with my presence as well.

    It’s a lot of work and stress but it can be done. Very few drivers yell or honk at me but a lot would probably like to. But then the other thing is that I am often able to move quickly across the street and really do not delay the drivers at all because they quickly regain the lost time as they respeedup. I know as a driver I don’t mind pedestrians that can match the traffic flow with their movements. Or course that is not the goal, just saying.

  • jeff wegerson

    Actually it is our right to cross where ever we like unless specifically forbidden by law. It is cars that do not have a right to use the street unless specifically registered and the driver licensed to do so.

    As a pedestrian my feet do not be registered to use the street nor does my walking need to be licensed by the state.

  • Annie F. Adams

    The paths need to be separate but close/in view with each other. Otherwise peds will keep using the bike path as they do now. Peds currently have a myriad of other paths/sidewalks/lakefront available but use the bike path because people like to be where other people are/safety. I trained for a 1/2 marathon on the LFP very instructive! Lot’s of room for running. Much less space for people using wheels.

  • Alex

    I’m glad to hear that Argyle is getting something done to it. After almost being hit at Argyle/Broadway twice I now yield to the cars out of fear. Correct me if I’m wrong but pedestrians have the right of way yes? Cars turning north onto Broadway off Argyle just do NOT stop for people trying to cross, if you step into the crosswalk once the white ‘walk’ guy comes up you will instantly get honked at and be forced to step back up onto the sidewalk. The only option is to wait for all the cars to turn which leaves you with about 5 seconds to run across the whole of Broadway. On the bright side I now obsessively check the turning lane behind me no matter what street I’m crossing which I guess improves my odds of not being hit. Also yay for the new bike lanes on Broadway!

  • J.B.

    Right, that’s the core of the issue. As of now the residents and businesses on Ridge are suffering through all that traffic, including a high school there as well. My definite preference is to reduce the number of lanes and let people find other routes along Foster or Sheridan to get where they’re going, but I’m just trying to think of other alternative solutions.

  • Erin

    Seriously, I also live in this neighborhood a few blocks form the intersection. There are times when I’ve waited up to 5 to 10 minutes to cross. When I do cross its like playing the old archade game frogger. Take your chances that you won’t get hit, and stare down oncoming traffic to show them that you are going one way or another. Its dangerous.

  • Erin

    They have painted lines. No one obeys them.

  • grouch

    Meh. I hate to play the “old guy” card but traffic along this area used to be a lot more, when LSD, Hollywood, Sheridan, and Ridge all had reversible lanes to handle all the rush hour traffic in the am and pm.

  • duppie

    The part that is missing from this conversation is the complete lack of safe, legal bike routes going southbound crossing Ridge. On the east there is Winthrop, and on the west there is Ravenswood (even though I think that is OK at best.) Other roads (Broadway, Clark/Ashland) are not safe for the casual rider, and Glenwood and Ardmore are not legal going southbound (or westbound, in the case of Ardmore)

    That is almost a mile without a safe and legal southbound crossing of Ridge

    While I am not a big fan of lawless bicyclists, I do understand the salmoning bicycle traffic going south on Glenwood

  • There were crosswalks at one point (you can see how faded they are). That they haven’t been repainted can be blamed on the lack of a city maintenance budget or the alderman choosing to spend menu funds on other stuff.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    They are pretty faint and nearly invisible in the rain.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    If it’s a lack of budget, why not any discussion at the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Meetings. Here’s what drives me nuts. The mantra “the streets are for people” doesn’t hold much water if the city can’t restripe the crosswalks, especially near parks and schools and non-signalized intersections. If they city said they were spending fine money from the speed cams on this I think people would be a lot happier as they would see a tangible benefit derived from the cameras.

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