Before-and-After GIFs of Projects That Made Chicago Streets More Livable

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Last year, Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt demonstrated how a new feature of Google Street View can be used to highlight street remix projects that have made cities more livable. Google now lets you look at archived Street View images, so it’s easy to compare what streets looked like before and after they were reconfigured.

I tried my hand at animating images of a few forward-thinking Chicago projects that have helped make streets safer and more pleasant places to travel and spend time. Above is the Lawrence Avenue road diet in Ravenswood, a four-to-three conversion which added wider sidewalks, curb bump-outs, pedestrian islands, and bike lanes.

Below is the Lincoln Hub placemaking project in Lakeview, which uses flexible posts and paint dots to shorten crossing distances, eliminate dangerous slip lanes, and create curb extensions that double as seating areas.

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The Roosevelt Road raised bike lane project in the South Loop repurposed road lanes to make room for much wider sidewalks, plus the bikeway, parking racks, new trees, and benches. The bike lanes will get green paint and bike symbols soon.

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This spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation built the city’s first curb-protected bike lanes on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park. Eliminating the excess travel lanes has helped calm traffic.

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By eliminating a small stretch of Woodard Street, the city attached a large traffic island to the sidewalk, creating Woodard Plaza, with new green space and a small amphitheater.

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Other local street remixes I considered creating GIFs for included the Dearborn two-way protected bike lanes, the Clybourn curb-protected bike lanes, and the the Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor. Did I forget any other key reconfigurations? Let us know in the comments section, and we may feature these in a future post.

  • High_n_Dry

    Well I’ll be. Rode on Roosevelt the other day and had no idea that was a bike path/ lane. Peds were all over it. I rode with traffic.

  • It’ll be a lot more obvious after they add green paint.

  • ohsweetnothing

    This is fantastic John. More please!!

  • So why is it such a brief stretch & only on the N side of the street? Towards the bridge at Roosevelt E of Michigan they made the situation even worse: It was already fairly narrow right at the track crossing, now they planted trees that make it even narrower. The bike racks are placed in the most illogical places, and if someone actually puts a bike there, it sticks out into the path. The whole thing truly looks botched & designed by clueless desk clerks. Both as a pedestrian (I have to cross there multiple times a day in between classes) and as a cyclist I feel more unsafe than ever at the crossing of Michigan and Roosevelt.

  • Roland Solinski

    I think the jury’s still out on Woodard Plaza too. It doesn’t seem to be very well-used. That weird little amphitheater thing is over-designed and really limits what you can do in the space. It would not be easy to set up a farmers market there, for example. It was basically just a dumping ground for litter until Crown Liquors started picking up the trash.

  • Mcass777

    One thing is not right with the design currently being implemented in Chicago. Not sure of the name but it is a sidewalk bump out at the corners with curbs. Cars turning right drift into the bike lane leaving no room for bikes to proceed. I thought the ideal set up placed a turn lane for cars on the far right with a bike lane between that lane and thru car lane on the left. If there is no room for all three why crimp the lane right In front of the bikers path? Call it a bike lane but with no barrier, cars turning right leave the biker no where to go. I have had close calls with trucks at Pulaski and Elston since the redesign. Can you tell the city to reconsider curbs when rebuilding interactions? The Lincoln set up is much better because there is no curbe so bikers can use the green area as a safety zone,

  • It is currently tourist pedestrian milling space, because the way it is designed, it looks like pedestrian space. The actual sidewalk is much narrower and tucked against the buildings and pedestrians avoid it.

  • Drivers should stay in their lane if there’s no specific right-turn lane.

    Unfortunately, Chicago drivers have been trained lifelong that they should move right out to not block ‘traffic’ (meaning car traffic) when they want to turn, which means they then cork the bike lane.

    But that’s drivers committing moving violations because nobody’s pointed out to them that the bike lane is NOT FOR THEM emphatically enough, not a design problem. And the bits you prefer, where turning drivers are encouraged to cut across the bike lane, only reinforce the bad habit of treating bike lanes as weirdly painted car space.

    Curb bumpouts calm traffic precisely BECAUSE they keep turning cars in the main lanes and keep them from whipping around corners at high speed, that’s their purpose.

  • Here’s an explanation of how the lanes will work — there’s also a segment on the south side of the street: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/09/27/cdot-reveals-plans-for-chicagos-first-raised-bike-lane-on-roosevelt-road/

    I suggest that we withhold judgment until the project is finished — the green paint and bike symbols should make a big difference.

  • Education only works so far. At the end where education falls short it has become a design problem. I suspect that our problem here in Chicago is how to get there from here. I suspect that the thinking is to make incremental changes. The incremental changes in themselves are not good solutions but often merely place holders for later better solutions.

    Here the problems are bad drivers and unprotected bikers. And we have to protect the pedestrians as well. The bumpout has claimed the space for the later bumpout with integrated bike laneage would be my hope.

    My guess is that CDOT still is struggling to create a complete style handbook for a future Chicago designed for pedestrians, bikers, and motor vehicles. Such a book would include intermediate designs for places that are not yet ready for full treatment.

  • I miss the newspaper shack, or whatever, from the last example.

  • One way the plaza is very well used is that it made possible Crow Liquors sidewalk cafe, which is always packed on nice nights.

  • Anne A

    I remember encountering a similar problem when they added curb bumpouts on Clark St. through Andersonville about 10 or 11 years ago. They did an experiment with flexible bollards before the hard installation to determine how far the curbs should extend.

  • Malamuke

    Despite usage it creates more people space and slows down cars. That alone is a victory.

  • Mcass777

    I took a photo at Elston and Pulaski this morning and the problem really exists because there is no left turn lane. I understand why the bumpouts are supposed to be traffic calming devices but you can see no one can get around the left turning car without moving to the right – right into the bike lane. Now, I know this sounds crazy but an actual parked car would extend out a little farther into the street than the bumpout and keep cars from taking the entire bike lane and give bikers some room. Maybe the design rule should be that if the street is under “x” feet wide, bumpouts should not be installed.
    I ride this route everyday.Traffic is always backed up here – bikes or no bikes. Driver are not going to sit and wait for one car to turn when there is empty asphalt next to them. Before the bumpout, there was a smoother/safer bike and car transition at this location. I know the city will never remove this but I dread more of these installations with out any consideration on the impact.

  • I believe the current state of the art, Holland and Denmark I think, pushes the bumpout into the bike lane and then carves a bike lane round-about into the expanded bumpouts. This has a further advantage in allowing a car to enter into the turn, allowing cars behind to proceed, before stopping for riders and pedestrians.

    But yeah, your concerns are very real.

  • Fair enough—let’s keep praise in the same category. Yet—adding to my previous comments— it’s disappointing to see so much effort on such a small stretch, when the rest of Roosevelt is as bike-hostile as ever. Getting from Wabash to e.g. Whole Foods or Staples is awful during rush for bicycles. The shiny stainless bike racks placed in illogical places could have at least been turned 45 to 90 degrees.

  • rohmen

    Your point is one of my gripes with the increased bicycle infrastructure that has been built recently in Chicago—if you build bike lanes with the idea that it is intended to be a traffic calming measure first, and usable bicycle infrastructure second, you end up with these type of issues where cars just disrespect the infrastructure put in place.

  • One serious advantage, even with bad education and usage by drivers, is that it keeps them from using the entire parking lane as a continuous driving lane, which happens EVERYWHERE up here on the NW side.

  • Mcass777

    The problem with drivers staying in their lane until the corner when turning right is the bike gets the dreaded left hook!

  • Not if they stop and look before making a turn.

    You know, as they are required to do by the Rules of the Road.

    Almost all the bicycle-unsafety things are the result of cars driving based on habitual “we always do it this way” illegal behaviors, like wanting to be going a constant 40mph on any street, thinking every inch of pavement is “of course” for cars, declining to wait behind a car making a turn, declining to YIELD to cars trying to make turns, and turning suddenly and at high speed.

    The streets should not be designed to make these illegal behaviors easier or more attractive.

  • I cross here multiple times daily as well, and while I agree with you that the green paint and symbols will be great, it is pretty inexcusable that CDOT didn’t time this better. The neighborhood has now established 12 months of habits that are going to be harder to change than if the striping had gone in properly over the spring.

    This seems to be a larger issue of coordination mishaps, btw. We have a speed hump by our house that is still unstriped, even though CDOT installed additional ones on streets close by months later, striping those.

    To Sebastian – the story we heard is that CDOT (giving them plenty of credit in the numerous places they are due) wanted those additional widened sidewalks and bike lanes to go to Columbus, but IDOT put their foot down. The reason to put the lanes on the north side of Roosevelt is that far too many tourists (and probably locals) get confused by the sudden conversion of Roosevelt from a regular street into a feeder to LSD. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people continue to walk east on Roosevelt (or worse, south on Columbus) after the sidewalks end.

    The Museum Campus is *fantastic,* and an immense upgrade over the prior situation, where LSD split and went around the Field Museum on the east and west sides. So some kinks are to be expected – I do think signage could be vastly improved, a lot of very smart people are working on it, it’ll get there.

  • I rode from the Skate Park to Halsted yesterday on Roosevelt at about 5 pm in the heat of rush hour, and I agree 100%. There is something extremely wrong with how CDOT is just allowing the Roosevelt bike lane striping to disintegrate, not to mention the complete absence of any traffic enforcement as cars use the faded-lanes marked for buses and bikes only.

    I remember when those lanes first went in, they were a joy to ride on. Then when Congress was shut down for the expressway work, commuters figured out that Roosevelt could get you to 290 and 90/94. Congress reopened, but the traffic patterns have been permanently altered, and as you mention, Roosevelt is now like a real life Mad Max adventure for cyclists.

  • Chicago’s citywide budget needs to have a line-item for CDOT to maintain striping and on-road communication.

    Leaving it entirely up to menu funds is ridiculous. These are predictable expenses.

  • It definitely added some character, but nobody had been selling newspapers there for decades. I’ve been a Gap Outlet customer since the early 90s and have lived a 5m walk from this intersection for 13 years, this is a fantastic and long overdue treatment. And as promised by the City, the street flooding on Kimball and the alley has indeed diminished exponentially (standing water was deep enough to drown a small dog after heavy rains).

  • It would be great if more of these sorts of locations had pre-built permanent small vendor kiosks in them to activate the space, though. And bring in rental income to the city.

  • I see your point, a few further thoughts: These stands functioned as virtual drive thrus, as a cyclist the last thing I want is to deal with cars unpredictably pulling in front of me because of an impulse purchase.

    Specific to this location, this is a landmarked intersection and Milwaukee has p-street designation and plentiful commercial activity in both directions. I think a respite from the commercial activity is warranted & a vending kiosk here would simply be robbing Peter of public space to pay Paul in the form of a privatized activity – which far too often seems to be determined by personal connections than actual value or bang for the taxpayer buck (see Millennium Park’s ongoing fiasco). IMO the activation of the space is going to follow organically as the Hairpin and Elastic Arts communities continue to grow, and just wait until the Dill Pickle Coop relocates down the street a hair.

    In the bigger picture, one of my eternal annoyances with Chicago space management is how these vending kiosks mutate over time, and relatively minor revenue aspect often trumps Commons usage. The lakefront is a perfect example – I cannot fathom what possesses CPD to install kiosks adjacent to the lakefront trail. It guarantees conflict, the food kiosks at Fullerton and just north of Grand (I think that’s technically Jane Addams park) specifically are just ludicrous. Those car-sized bicycles are another example. Yes, they bring in a little revenue, but it’s far from a good deal in terms of how they gum up the works for the majority of the LFT users.

  • Yeah, I wasn’t sure if it was a construction shack by the looks of it. Of course it looks pretty barren, and bleak and lacking of human activity at this moment of newly constructed. Hopefully it will fill with people hanging out and enlivening it. I’m glad it’s appreciated as a positive change.

  • There was a good sized crowd in the Crown outdoor area watching the supermoon on Sunday, it’s coming along pretty nicely IMO. That said, I do have a soft spot for/miss the crazy characters we don’t see as much these days, such as the fella who years ago used to sell unlabeled porn VHS tapes out of a huge box for $5. Or so he said. Missed my chance!

  • Mcass777

    Maybe I am the only one here who bikes this way, but I always assume that any car ped or other bike is going to hit me. I don’t think paint, bollards, or PBLs will protect me better than simply being aware. Riding into a situation and thinking that cars or people will stop and look for me is a risk I wont take.

  • neroden

    I’m going to say immediately that the new designs make me feel safer IN A CAR as well. Having a clear curb boundary discourages speeding and weaving and other erratic behavior by other motorists.

  • Wheat

    Hello from 2 months in the future. Avondale Neighborhood Association and Hairpin Arts hosted a few performances in the Plaza. Both actors and bands performed. The actors performed in the circle’s center and the band played on the raised surface adjacent to Crown Liquors outdoor seating (where the outlets are). Honestly, it felt very comfortable. The platformed seating and abundant space made it very friendly for concert goers and bystanders to take a look at the activity.

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