Burke: Don’t Bend Over Backwards to Facilitate Driving at the Lincoln Hub

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Aerial photo of the Lincoln Hub by traffic reporter Sarah Jindra. Compare this with the original plan for the hub below and you’ll see that the plazas at the lower-right side of the photo have been modified to make driving easier.

The Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which created curb extensions and seating plazas at Lakeview’s Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection with posts, planters, and colorful paint dots, has been highly controversial. Pedestrians have said they like how the initiative makes walking safer and more pleasant, and every time I’ve visited, traffic was flowing smoothly. However, the chief of staff for local alderman Scott Waguespack told me the ward has received many complaints from drivers who claim the street redesign is causing traffic jams.

The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the project, has already worked with the Chicago Department of Transportation to narrow some of the plazas to make it easier for motorists to pass left-turning vehicles. Yesterday, after chamber director Lee Crandell gave a presentation on the Lincoln Hub at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting, I asked him if any more changes are planned. In response, Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke made a good argument for why we shouldn’t go overboard with modifying the hub to appease drivers. Here’s a transcript of the discussion.

John Greenfield: I talked to Alderman Waguespack’s chief of staff recently and he said they’ve been getting overwhelmingly negative feedback about the project from residents. It seems like there might be some pressure to further modify the Lincoln Hub to accommodate drivers. Is anything in the works with that?

Lee Crandell: I don’t have anything in the works to share right now. We’ll continue working with CDOT and Alderman Waguespack’s office to review the project and determine if we do have any changes we need to make. We’ve made some tweaks already. If we need to make any additional tweaks, that’s something that we’re very much open to. We want to ensure that it’s a successful project that works for everybody. [Crandell went on to discuss the fact that this is a temporary street redesign, but the chamber hopes it will eventually become a permanent streetscape.]

the lincoln crossing
The original plan. Compare this to the above photo and you’ll see the two plazas at the top of this rendering have been modified.

Ron Burke: These six-corner intersections are so tricky. We’re big fans of this project. The public space around this intersection is so overwhelmingly prioritized around cars. My hope, Lee, is that, as you tweak it, we keep in mind that some of the concessions can be made by motorists as well. It’s not just about, “This is the way it’s always been, therefore pedestrians and cyclists should make the concession.” I don’t think we should look at it that way. It’s public space, and it’s everybody’s public right-of-way.

One day, I would love to see some of these six-way intersections where we close off one of the streets, we make it into parks, and it becomes a four-way intersection that’s much more navigable for people who aren’t in cars, who are a lot of the people in places like this. There are different treatments that we could be looking at to make these six-way intersections less dangerous. We know that this is where we have some of the highest crash rates in the city.

Allan Mellis (a Lakeview Resident): They’re doing Damen, Elston, and Fullerton right now.

Ron Burke: And that’s an example. It’s expensive, but it’s important for these to happen. So anyway, there’s a lot of things we should be looking at. But [the Lincoln Hub] is awesome. It’s temporary, try this, try that, see what works, what doesn’t. Love the color scheme.

  • Jeff

    Chicago is a pedestrian/transit-oriented city. If people don’t like the traffic, they’re welcome to move out to the suburbs. In fact, I wish they would.

  • duppie

    Interesting aerial shot. Whenever I ride by there, It seems somewhat disjointed, but from a distance it looks very coordinated, and logical.

    Something about the forest and the trees…

  • Eat it

    It doesn’t make sense to vilify drivers, since they significantly outnumber pedestrians.

  • Who’s vilifying drivers?

  • Eat it

    Did you read your own article? It talks about making it more difficult to drive im these interactions. Again, drivers use the intersection at astronomically significantly higher rates than pedestrians in a 24 hour period. It makes no sense to punish the masses in favor of a few.

  • No one is arguing that drivers are villains, or even suggesting that drivers should make all of the concessions at these intersections. Car traffic is probably higher than bike and pedestrian traffic at the Lincoln Hub, but it doesn’t seem to be “astronomically” higher. It would be interesting to see some traffic counts. Moreover, on of the goals of the project is to increase pedestrian traffic by making it safer and more enjoyable to walk here.

  • Drew

    I live nearby and I certainly understand why folks have been frustrated. There’s no question that tweaks might need to continue to be made at the intersection and I appreciate that the Alderman, CDOT and the Lakeview Chamber are all willing to do so.

    With that said, the traffic backups at the intersection have gotten much better over the past few weeks. There are still some periods of frustrating bottlenecks because of turns, but here’s the funny thing: drivers have adapted. Many of them are taking different routes as a result. That’s why it’s important not to overreact right away. More changes may be needed, but in another 6 months or a year, we may not think twice about the intersection, and if that’s the case, hopefully, the community will feel the project has been successful overall. Let’s see…

  • Adaptation is exactly why “carmageddons” rarely occur.

  • There are far more drivers because of how American infrastructure, even in cities like Chicago, favor driving.

    This is why manipulating infrastructure is key to improve safety and comfort to decrease driving and increase walking or biking.

  • Akif A

    Why not just make it a roundabout? From the aerial shot, it looks like the roads naturally lead to one as they intersect, it’s just missing an actual circle.

  • johnmassengale

    Roundabouts work better for cars than pedestrians.

  • johnmassengale

    Without vilifying… the easier you make it to drive, the more people will drive. And on the whole they’re people going through the neighborhood, not to the neighborhood. Then there are all the issues like climate change, air quality, road deaths…

  • For roundabouts to be functional in Chicago would involve a massive public education program, because right now Chicago drivers treat roundabouts as uncontrolled (and very broken) intersections. They drive through them as quickly as they can, often ACROSS the central island, in whatever direction seems good to them, and with incredibly pissed-off road-ragey behavior.

    Roundabouts are not something that the vast majority of Chicago drivers have ever encountered as a functional, useful piece of street infrastructure, and there is no simple way to just add a couple of signs to the intersection itself to handle the vast gap in norms expected by drivers versus needed to make a roundabout work.

  • BlueFairlane

    There’s way too much traffic here for a roundabout. The circle would be constantly filled, and driver would be so busy trying to stare each other down and shove their way in that nobody would be watching for pedestrians.

    I’ll never get the fixation the supposedly forward-thinking urban planner types have with roundabouts. They’re like Communism … they work really good on paper as long as nobody ponders the way humans actually behave.

  • I think you’re confusing the traffic circle installations that are commonly used for traffic calming in Chicago (http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/trafficcircles.htm) with roundabouts, aka rotary intersections (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundabout).

    Unless Akif is talking about the hit single “Roundabout” by the rock band Yes, in which case I am completely in favor of that treatment.

  • The tiny ones are meant to be treated the same as the big ones, and are greeted with road rage and destruction. When I’ve seen the larger ones actually implemented in suburbs (like the one in South Holland at Cottage Grove and … is it 166th? Something like that), drivers treat them exactly the same as the little ones, attempting to turn left to “just” make a simple turn against the roundabout flow, and cutting across the central truck-turning apron to cut in front of other drivers.

  • In cultures that raise their baby drivers to expect and understand roundabouts, where all the adult experienced drivers ALSO know how to treat them, they have a better flow-through than a stop sign for the same safety bump.

  • BlueFairlane

    You mean like this?

  • I don’t think anyone thinks more-than-two-lane roundabouts are a good idea, for precisely these reasons.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I haven’t seen the intersection in person (I don’t get around much any more), but I had the same impressions comparing the aerial shot to the ground-level photos in earlier posts.

  • cjlane

    “increase pedestrian traffic by making it safer and more enjoyable to walk”

    which is chicken/egg with there being things on that stretch of Lincoln that people want to walk to.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Did you know roundabouts are round? Not oblong. And there is enough truck traffic in the area that would make it nearly impossible for trucks to make a turn. And with the one way streets, you would basically make a “you can’t get here from there” situation with a roundabout.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Adaptation certainly does work. I am more likely not to use that route. However for the struggling businesses on Lincoln, missing traffic may affect their livelihoods.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    And the businesses on Lincoln are struggling.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    To make it a functional roundabout, they would have to lose the areas with the dots.

  • JasonMath

    “And there is enough truck traffic in the area that would make it nearly impossible for trucks to make a turn.”

    One of the features of many roundabouts is a truck apron. This is a raised, colored (typically red) area between the road and the central landscaping that allows large vehicles to navigate the roundabout without striking fixed objects or other road users. Here is an example of a one-lane roundabout featuring a truck apron (near the north suburb of Lake Forest). https://goo.gl/maps/td1ih

  • This appears to the be the official declaration:

    http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/traffic_calming.html

    Barring actual signage illustrating otherwise (the directional arrows) nobody is ever going to treat traffic circles in residential neighborhoods like roundabouts, nor should they.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    This is a fabulous roundabout. I’ve used it myself. Can’t compare the to intersection on Lincoln Ave as you would have to take out a lot of buildings to make a roundabout like this work.

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