Road Diet Curbs Lawrence Avenue’s Dangerous Mile

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Refuge islands allow pedestrians to cross the street one lane at a time. Bump-outs, in the background, shorten the distance across the street and reduce the chance that motorists will park in the crosswalk. Photo: John Greenfield

The one mile of Lawrence Avenue between Ashland and Western avenues, through the Ravenswood neighborhood, went on a road diet this year. The diet slimmed Lawrence from four to two travel lanes, and used the extra space to create room for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and extensive landscaping. The streetscape project right-sized this stretch of Lawrence, bringing it in line with the two-lane segments both west of Western and east of Ashland.

Crashes at Damen and Lawrence
11 people were injured in pedestrian crashes at Lawrence and Damen avenues, near McPherson elementary school and the Levy senior center. Source: IDOT, via ChicagoCrashes.org

“Road diets” are a widely accepted method to make streets safer, and (as on Lawrence) are often combined with other safety-enhancing streetscape improvements like bump-outs and median pedestrian refuges. Just the road diet, though, can be enough to reduce speeding by drivers and cut the number of crashes and injuries, while also opening up space for uses like bike lanes, street trees, and sidewalk cafés.

The road diet on Lawrence will improve the safety of a notoriously dangerous street. Traffic crash data from the Illinois Department of Transportation tells us that from 2005 to 2012, 72 people were injured in pedestrian-car crashes within the nine blocks (just over one mile) of Lawrence between Clark and Western avenues.

That means that there have been many more pedestrian-car crashes along this stretch of Lawrence than on comparable streets: This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago.

Lawrence even has many more injuries than comparable busy arterial streets. 60 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes occurred on this previously four-lane stretch of Lawrence than on the one-mile stretch to its west through Albany Park. There were even 54 percent more injuries from pedestrian crashes on the dangerous mile of Lawrence than on a comparable one-mile stretch of Halsted, between Grand and Van Buren through Greektown. That part of Halsted carries a similar number of cars on its two lanes, but probably sees more pedestrians due to its thriving shops and nightlife.

Besides Lawrence, the Chicago Department of Transportation has recently put other streets on road diets, like Harrison Street through the South Loop and Vincennes Avenue through Auburn Gresham and Washington Heights. Some Jefferson Park residents have protested CDOT’s proposed road diet for Milwaukee Avenue on the far northwest side. There, the opponents want to keep the five-lane speedway, which would mix dangerously fast cars with brighter crosswalks and buffered bike lanes.

Here’s a breakdown of where pedestrian crashes occurred on Lawrence:

Lawrence intersection People injured in pedestrian crashes
Clark 6
Ashland 8
Paulina 3
Ravenswood 5
Wolcott 8
Winchester 1
Damen 10
Seeley 2
Hamilton 4
Leavitt 1
Oakley 6
Lincoln/Western 18
  • duppie

    I especially like the pedestrian refuge island in the first picture, at Lawrence and Wolcott. Close to the Metra and close to McPherson, it sees an incredible amount of pedestrians during morning and afternoon rush hour. That is reflected by the intersection being in the top 4 of pedestrian crash locations.

    Too bad that the other intersections in the top 4 of crashes (Damen, Lincoln/Western, and Ashland) do not get the same treatment. That means that in 50% of the pedestrian crash locations, there will be no improvement other than slowing down traffic due to the road diet.

  • Aaron Berlin

    They’ve put down the really terrific crosswalk striping at Damen you can see in the image above. I would think that the crosswalks, combined with just narrowing the number of lanes you have to cross, really helps reduce the number of pedestrians struck – it’s just easier to see where everyone is supposed to be, while reducing the number of things you have to track in order to stay safe. Hopefully Lawrence and Western gets the same treatment.

  • cjlane

    “This stretch of Lawrence has 11 times more injuries from crashes than the average mile of street in Chicago”

    Steven: Even with your following paragraph, that’s a bogus comparison. The “average mile” of Chicago street gets maybe 10% of the traffic (both vehicle and pedestrian) that Lawrence did/does.

    What’s shocking (assuming I counted about right) is that’s it’s 3 times more than the ped injuries on Foster in the same stretch, over 1.5 times Montrose, and the same as Irving Park (even with Clark to Western being 1.25+ miles on IPR).

  • Mike

    It’s that type of hyperbole that takes all credibility from Steve and John. They like to exaggerate and make things up.

    This whole project was a complete waste of time and money. Thankfully there usually aren’t many cars parked in the morning so one can usually speed through and get around the slow moving cars.

  • Alex_H

    This is an intentionally inflammatory comment intended to cause someone to respond less than civilly to the implication that you speed through the parking spaces, potentially putting cyclists at risk. I just want to call it out as such in the hope that no one takes the bait.

  • tooter turtle

    I live in the area, and frequently walk, cycle and drive this section of Lawrence. It feels much safer, and is much more pleasant to walk and bike. Driving there always sucked, and it still does. But driving is soul destroying anywhere.

  • EmpireST

    I live on Lawrence and can sincerely say that the road diet and other improvements have made this street so much safer. It used to be impossible to cross the street and now I can do so without fearing for my life.

  • Mike

    It’s the truth- Alex H, if you can’t handle FACTS then you shouldn’t be here.
    Oh, and who made you Streetsblog sherriff? Don’t take the bait. So funny!
    And yes, I will continue to drive in the parking lane, when necessary. If there is a long queue of cars, and space on the right, I’m not going to wait. I’ll punch it at the next light to get ahead of everyone. Guess you better watch out!

  • Floyd Thursby

    It is routine to not recognize the fact that the great majority streets in just about any urban or suburban area are quiet residential streets
    with little and slow traffic.

  • FGFM

    It’s very walkable!

  • jeff wegerson

    Around here many of us take responsibility to be sheriff so the burden does not have to fall narrowly.

    But what I love about your comment is how you so well represent or typify the reason that a road diet is needed. How there are actually people who are proud of and brag about their ability to drive aggressively in urban environments where cars are an anathema.

    Even if you are purposely adopting a pose (as Alex_H suggests) in order to inflame the discussion here, you serve the urban street calming purposes of both this post and this blog.

  • kastigar

    This demonstrates why the same road-diet needs to be done on Milwaukee Avenue, from Lawrence north to Elston Avenue.

    Slow down traffic, give pedestrians a way to cross a very wide, high speed street that needs traffic calming.

  • Please keep the tone civil, and don’t call people names if you would like to maintain your “credibility.” Also, you might want to read up on 625 ILCS 5/11-703(a). Passing on the right at high speed is illegal and dangerous not just to you but to others, and is not behavior that I would brag about. (Yes, law enforcement does take notice of comments here.)

    As for your original complaint, note that three different comparisons were offered, including 2400-3200 W Lawrence, Halsted, and “the average Chicago street.”

  • Big Buck Hunter

    Cross at a traffic light and you won’t need to waste millions on a diet.

  • Harrylee773

    So then all we need to do is put a traffic light at every intersection that has a crosswalk on Milwaukee and we’re good- great idea.

  • Mike

    The people here think it’s too inconvenient to do that. I say, you take your life into your own hands if you step out into the middle of the street.

    And stop deleting my comments!

  • **

    The stretch of Lawrence from Clark east to the Lakefront trail has high crash counts too.

  • Obesa Adipose

    The most crashes between pedestrians and cars occur at intersections with the ped having the light and the car bashing into them while making a right. That’s why at some intersections you’re seeing the ‘walk’ single come on a few seconds before the cars get the green – to give the ped time to get in the intersection so a driver too lazy to look beyond is blind spot can see them.

  • Paul

    Bring the road diet to Ridge between Clark and Broadway. Its currently a drag strip 24 hours a day. Most drivers are going 40+ mph through a neighborhood and 90% of those cars are coming from the suburbs on their way to Lake Shore Dr. If not a road diet then put speed cameras and red light cameras on every block of Ridge.

  • Carter O’Brien

    What baffles me to no end is the fundamental disconnect Chicago drivers seem to have regarding that most basic and unavoidable principle, the bottleneck. It does nobody any good to have an extra lane for a block or two, due to the disruption to everyone as cars are forced to merge back into one lane when that “extra” lane either disappears or changes into a right-turn-only lane.

    If anyone needs any evidence of this, just spend 5 minutes on any artery that crosses the Chicago River where a 2 lane street opens into a 4 lane one but then 1/4 mile or less later constricts back to a 2 lane one.

    So instead of wasting that space and setting unrealistic expectations for drivers, we should repurpose that real estate clearly as shared bike/bus lanes. That works – see Roosevelt Rd -until the striping is allowed to disintegrate or there is no traffic law enforcement (also see Roosevelt Rd).

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