What’s Waguespack’s Perspective on the Lincoln Hub Placemaking Project?

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The northern seating plaza of the Lincoln Hub. Photo: John Greenfield

Plenty of pedestrians have told me they think the Lincoln Hub street redesign makes the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection safer and more pleasant for walking, and doesn’t cause major hassles for motorists. I recently staked out the intersection for 45 minutes during the evening rush and shot footage that shows traffic was flowing smoothly, with practically zero horn honking. As you can see in this video at around 3:00, even when an ambulance appeared, it was able to get through a red light easily.


However, it’s obvious that not everyone is a fan of this placemaking project, which uses plastic posts and colorful paint dots to create curb extensions that double as seating plazas, eliminating several dangerous “slip lanes” for right-turning cars. There’s been plenty of criticism of the Lincoln Hub in the media, and a neighbor launched a petition against the project, which has garnered over 590 signatures to-date. Some people don’t care for the aesthetics of the dots, but many have also complained that the street remix is unfairly causing headaches for motorists by making it difficult for them to make turns, and to pass turning drivers.

While part of the purpose of the redesign was to calm motorized traffic, if it truly is creating a carmageddon that didn’t previously exist, that’s not a good thing. And, as I’ve stated before, just because I’ve hung out at the intersection on many occasions and have never witnessed traffic jams, that doesn’t mean they never happen. If the curb extensions are really and truly causing congestion problems, then it makes sense to tweak the design.

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A digram of the Lincoln Hub. St. Alphonsus Church is on left side of rendering.

I recently checked in with the 32nd Ward to get the perspective of the local resident who has the most say on whether the Lincoln Hub gets redesigned, or taken out completely: Alderman Scott Waguespack. “Scott is inclined to support anything that makes intersections more inviting for pedestrians and eases crossing,” said 45th Ward chief of staff Paul Sajovec. “But this [project] certainly has room for improvement.”

Sajovec said the vast majority of people who have contacted the ward office about the Lincoln Hub have complained about it. “In general, we don’t get a lot of calls from people saying they’re happy about things, so that goes with the territory,” he acknowledged. “But the level of negative reaction on this distinguishes it from the pack. Some people have applauded the concept but criticized the execution. Scott also has concerns that the way the project is implemented is causing problems at peak times.”

Again, I didn’t see any issues when I filmed traffic at the hub between 5:00 and 5:45 p.m., but Sajovec said he’s gone out to observe the intersection many times and has observed traffic jams around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. “The number-one complaint is that if two or three drivers are turning left, no one can get past those cars.” He said roughly a quarter of people who have complained were calling from their vehicles after encountering this situation. “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they pulled over.”

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The northern plaza has already been modified to make it easier to pass left-turning cars. Photo: John Greenfield

The seating plaza at the north side of the intersection, by a Pockets restaurant, was recently modified to make it easier for southbound drivers on Southport to pass left-turning cars. Sajovec said that has helped somewhat, but some motorists still don’t realize that there’s space to get around the turning vehicles, especially if there are multiple drivers waiting to turn, or the first driver doesn’t pull far enough into the intersection. He added that this dynamic is a problem at other parts of the intersection, and it seems to be worst for northbound drivers on Southport.

“We understand that if you’re going to change an intersection, it’s not realistic to assume that there would be no effect on traffic flow,” Sajovec said. “But it’s clear that there are a lot of concerns from residents, so we certainly don’t want to turn a deaf ear. We’re committed to working with [the Chicago Department of Transportation] to come up with a solution that maintains or even improves pedestrian access while making sure that traffic isn’t blocked when cars are turning.”

Last month, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey told DNAinfo that the Lincoln Hub has improved conditions for walking by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, adding that traffic “seems to be moving smoothly through the intersection.” If the department isn’t already doing so, it certainly makes sense for them to monitor traffic patterns at the Lincoln Hub and make changes if necessary, such as adjusting signal times or modifying the seating plazas. For example, it might make sense to further trim the Pockets plaza, removing the entire section east of the sidewalk and pedestrian island (see above photo) to make it even easier to pass turning cars.

While the intersection may be less convenient for drivers right now, it’s important to keep in mind that it was previously much less safe for pedestrians, who were endangered by right-turning cars in the slip lanes. Although Chicago has made gains towards a more balanced transportation system, we still tend to prioritize motorized traffic flow at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. The Lincoln Hub should be further modified if necessary, but not to the extent that the wins for walking are reversed.

  • Eat it

    Scott is just trying to figure out how to levy a usage tax on people who walk in the area. Guy has never met a tax he didn’t like, and he certainly hates top down planning.

  • Hopefully there were few if any pre-concessions to drivers. Hopefully there was walker fat built in for trimming. The alderman allowed the project to be built so now has to give it chances to succeed. As always taking back that which was stolen from walkers elicits tantrum squeals from the driver thieves. They don’t get that suburban-type roads and speeds degrade city life. When they choose to live or visit the city they must change their expectations of how long it takes to drag their car along with them.

  • Pat

    I just know that are plenty of intersections in Chicago that if three cars are queued to turn left that you cannot pass them on the right because of parking. Because many intersections in Chicago have no turn signal and short left turn lanes, this is the rule rather than the exception.

  • skyrefuge

    Google Traffic has gotten freakishly accurate in recent times, and seems like it has the potential to be an excellent, no-cost tool for studying things like this.

    I plotted a route along Southport, from George north to Barry (a quarter-mile segment with the Hub being the only traffic control) and used the “Depart At” feature to look at the historical/predicted changes in travel times through the day. While the time only varies from 1 minute to 3 minutes throughout the day, there are more gradations within that range indicated by color changes.

    I picked Wednesday to get a “normal” day, and it shows the evening peak ranging from 4:40 to 6:40, with the 5 o’clock hour being the worst. There does seem to be a slight dip at 5:20, but there is no indication of jams at 3:30 or 4 as suggested by Sajovec.

    Of course I have no idea what kind of hysteresis Google uses for this history/prediction. Does it give predictions based on what the traffic was like in the previous week? Or averaged across the previous year of Wednesdays? So I don’t know if the current predictions reflect the current road configuration, or the previous configuration.

    Still, it seems like the next time something like this is planned, it would be a good idea to go to Google Traffic to capture a baseline before the change, and then check back after the change to see how it has changed.

    Click the link to try for yourself: https://www.google.com/maps/dir/41.9343696,-87.6636074/41.9378666,-87.6637532/@41.9361181,-87.6648363,18z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m6!4m5!2m3!6e0!7e2!8j1438189200!3e0

  • J in Edgewater

    I ride (on a bike) a route that takes me through this intersection nearly every (work) day, twice a day — in the morning around 8:30 and in the evening around 6:30. I’ve ridden this route every (work) day, twice a day, for about 3-4 years. The intersection functions MUCH BETTER now than before the painted sidewalk extensions / plastic wands, etc. It is also MUCH SAFER for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers. I do not hear any more honking or signs of frustration / road rage than at any/all City of Chicago northside three-way intersections. Yes, congestion/back-ups at such intersections can be substantial and, no doubt, frustrating for drivers. The congestion/back-ups are not caused or made worse by the new design here. It is caused by too many sing-occupant private vehicles. Drivers should understand this, get used to it, and, if possible and intelligent enough, make plans for it — it will get worse unless many more people walk, bicycle, and take transit.

  • Taking a step back here; great city places are made by making them pedestrian oriented first. We are trying to correct 50 years of bad civil engineering here, so there’s likely to be some details to resolve. I hope the alderman and his urban planner CoS can play the role of expert here, and dismiss petty driver grousing.

  • what_eva

    Huh? None of the streets through this intersection would have been classified as “suburban-type roads” prior to this project. They were pretty standard 2 lane roads with parking on both sides. Southport has a traditional bike lane, Lincoln has sharrows.

  • what_eva

    That was also the case here, more than ~3 cars = no passing left turners. The problem is that the extensions dropped that 3 down to 1 initially and now 2 on SB Southport. You might not think that’d make that big a difference, but it has.

  • Drivers think every street in the city that slows them down needs to be bigger like in the suburbs. It’s expectations i m addressing not reality.

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