CDOT Plans a (Conservative) Safety Overhaul of Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln

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The vast, crooked intersection is dangerous for all road users. Image: Google Street View

The six-way intersection of Belmont, Ashland, and Lincoln in Lakeview is one of the most confusing and scariest intersections on the North Side, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The north and south legs of Lincoln don’t line up properly. The six-way junction is a massive expanse of asphalt, roughly 150 feet across at its widest point, creating a long exposure time for cyclists on the diagonal street, a recommended bike route. Pedestrians are forced to make as many as three street crossings to get where they need to go, using long, skewed crosswalks.

Not surprisingly, the intersection has a high crash rate. According to Steven Vance’s Chicago Crash Browser, based on state collision statistics, from 2009 to 2013 there were 185 total crashes at the intersection, including 12 in which bicyclists were injured, and five in which pedestrians were injured. The junction is sure to become even more chaotic in early 2017 when a new Whole Foods opens at the northeast corner with a whopping 300-plus car parking spaces.

In an effort to increase safety for all road users, enhance walkability and reduce the “barrier effect” of the intersection, The Chicago Department of Transportation will be making some safety improvements. It’s part of a larger streetscape project that also includes making the Lincoln Hub placemaking pilot, located two blocks southeast at Wellington/Southport/Lincoln, a permanent – though scaled-back – feature of Lakeview.

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

CDOT will be holding a public hearing to discuss their plan next Tuesday, March 29, from 6-7:30 p.m. at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont. Last Tuesday the department held a private meeting to outline the project with local aldermen Scott Waguespack, Tom Tunney, and Ameya Pawar, plus the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and other neighborhood organizations.

Waguespack’s chief of Staff Paul Sajovec filled me in what was discussed at the recent meeting. CDOT considered making some fairly bold changes to Belmont/Ashland/Lincoln, including closing off Lincoln Avenue entirely in one direction or the other, Sajovec said. However, they ultimately decided to go with options that involve the least amount of changes to motor vehicle throughput, according to Sajovec.

It’s tempting to fault CDOT for prioritizing traffic flow over improvements that would maximize safety and walkability here. However, the changes to the intersection will require approval from the more conservative Illinois Department of Transportation. In addition, all three streets are bus routes (or will be, once the CTA’s #11 Lincoln route re-launches this year), so unless the redesign includes dedicated bus lanes, reducing throughput would slow down transit trips.

Moreover, from what Sajovec told me, some positive changes are planned. Curb extensions will be added to some of the six corners, shortening crossing distances for pedestrians. In addition, these will help reduce the kink in Lincoln.

Left turns from that diagonal street will be banned in both directions. That will allow bike lanes to be striped on Lincoln through the intersection, which will make pedaling across the vast expanse a little less nerve-wracking.

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Pedestrians have to make as many as three crossings to traverse the intersection. Image: Google Street View

The left turn ban may drive a few more cars onto Barry, a block south of Belmont, and School, a block north, but Sajovec thinks the impact won’t be significant. “If you can’t turn left off of Lincoln at Belmont, you wouldn’t choose Lincoln as your route in the first place,” he argues.

Northbound drivers also will no longer be able to make a hard right turn southeast onto Lincoln, Sajovec said. In addition, a stop light will be added at Melrose, the next east-west street north of Belmont, to facilitate motorists entering and leaving the Whole Foods.

CDOT and the CTA considered implementing far-side bus stops, which can help buses from getting stuck at red lights, with curb bumpouts to ease boarding. However, only some of the intersection’s bus stops will get this treatment, because it requires the elimination of parking spaces in an area with a high demand, Sajovec says.

CDOT considered implementing a pedestrian scramble signal phase at the intersection, which would have halted all car traffic while allowing pedestrians to cross in all direction, according to Sajovec. That idea was rejected as being too disruptive to car traffic flow.

The department also thought about striping continuous east-west intersections along Belmont that would have reduced the number of crossings for people on foot. That idea was thrown out as well.

On the bright side, the Lincoln Hub project, which eliminated dangerous slip lanes, shortened crossing distances and created new seating areas via colorful paint dots on the street and flexible poles, is slated to be set in concrete. To appease motorists, who have been grumbling ever since the street redesign debuted in spring 2015, the curb extensions will be somewhat smaller, to make it easier for through traffic to get around drivers waiting to make turns.

Sajovec said it hasn’t been determined whether the new, smaller bumpouts at Wellington/Southport/Lincoln will have seating, like the current ones do, but he says that possibility is still on the table.

  • Louis S

    The next east-west street north of Belmont is Melrose, not Montrose.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Good catch, thanks. The Whole Foods will definitely be a Melrose place.

  • Definitely future BRT addition limits optons for current design changes. Perhaps CTA should consider both near and far stops for the southound Ashland bus because of the distance between the two stopping points.

    I would strongly recommend a red bus only lane southbound from School to Belmont along the curb. In the morning rush that six-way corner backs up (well did when I drove it years ago and I can’t imagine it is different now) for several blocks north. To a large extent it is that already.

    When I drove it there was a drivers trick to put yourself in that lane and scoot to the front of the line to wait for the light change. Because the distance from the stop line to actual Belmont was so great you could easily pull ahead of the cars to your left to merge.

    It’s a trick that works at a lot of intersections if you want to be that kind of aggressive driver. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds. The thing that makes it work is that you have to be relaxed and willing to take the second place spot behind the car to your left. If they accelerate at the same fast rate as you then they create a big gap between them and the car behind them. You then slow a bit and pull into the gap.

    Not the kind of advice one should be spreading on Streetsblog I suppose. With the advent of bike lane stripping it is less and less an option. (That’s good I agree.) But my point is that that particular lane, the southbound Ashland curb lane north of Belmont was the best one I ever noticed for that trick.

    Lets reserve it for buses.

  • Pedestrians walking east-west on the north side of Belmont have two terrible choices, go north via a long detour or go south with less detour but extra street crossings.

    Put two islands in the middle of the street and two direct crosswalks from east to west that line up with the Belmont sidewalks on the north and south sides of the street.

    Flow the traffic however. Good solid bollards in the islands, of course.

    https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-J5cMtISfKiQ/VvaSqp-_d2I/AAAAAAAAAUs/fm-uvipYYEQMBiAH_rfMEvIGvvRBo-zAA/s640/LincolnBelmontAshland.jpg

  • kastigar

    “That idea (pedestrian scramble) was rejected as being too disruptive to car traffic flow.”

    Cars win over pedestrians – again.

  • what_eva

    Ignoring Lincoln, I’m not sure there’s enough width on Ashland for islands.

    Not ignoring Lincoln, your north side island is smack in the middle of Lincoln’s NB lane.

  • what_eva

    Interesting that this meeting will be held at St Luke’s, as westbound Belmont is currently closed in front of St Luke’s because apparently the city needs to use a lane of Belmont to store a huge pile of rock for the sewer project on Greenview. Why they didn’t use Greenview south of Belmont, I do not know. Good work blocking the front door of a church on Easter Sunday! I guess I’ll find out on Tuesday how hard it is to get there.

  • What a perfect opportunity to re-share our 2011 plan for the intersection. While not terribly practical now that Whole Foods will occupy a hard edge, it was envisioned as pedestrian-first/as if walkers mattered. http://moss-design.com/why-a-roundabout-at-lincoln-ashland-and-belmont-is-good-for-everyone/ Either way, I still think its cool.

  • Chicane Lincoln thru it with a gentle S curve. Or Southbound between them and northbound to the north of the north one. Shift it slightly north.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Roundabout”? Yes!

  • Jeff Gio

    An embarrassing amount of time and energy has been spent determining if we should paint lines, install plastic bollards, and place planters at this demonstrably dangerous intersection.

    Meanwhile, dozens of intersections all need some sort of basic safety and pedestrian improvement. We are not lacking the expertise or even the comparative data. I just returned from NYC and they’ve installed curb bump-outs across the city in surprising areas such as “low-investment” neighborhoods and industrial, low ped trafficked areas.

    Our city even lacks the authority to make any sweeping changes – let alone to change the most notoriously dangerous and heavily trafficked intersection (here’s to you, Milwaukee-North-Damen). CDOT needs to plead and grovel to IDOT, alderman, neighborhood groups, and (kill me) LAZ parking.

  • Could you imagine attempting to cross this intersection, 150 feet in one spot, in a pedestrian scramble? Imagine getting stuck in the middle. It’s not that I disagree with your sentiment, but damn, much needs to change before a scramble is realistic.

  • Drivers will plow through the island, unfortunately.

  • Anne A

    If it was a roundabout with a mid-intersection island, that could be a very different story.

  • That’s not a trick, it’s just illegal lane usage.

    http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs4.asp?ActID=1815&ChapterID=49&SeqStart=118800000&SeqEnd=120700000

    (c) The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not, in passing
    upon the left of any vehicle proceeding in the same direction, pass upon the right of any vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless there is an unobstructed lane of traffic available to permit such passing maneuver safely.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Yep, i use the intersection almost daily with my three kids. Scramble, indeed.

  • Yeah well, tricks are often illegal. So is speeding and everybody speeds. That’s why we have traffic calming that uses actual physical realities to “calm” drivers. They are the only things that work.

    By the way, I did it with a 4 wheeled vehicle so there must have been a more or less unobstructed lane available. Still I take your meaning.

  • And risk death unfortunately. I have a big bollard in my version of the island. That’s likely why CDOT would be adverse to do it. Drivers plow through everything. Cement retaining walls, buildings, you name it.

  • It’s illegal, trust me. The area you’re describing can’t be used for passing as it doesn’t go through the intersection – cars turning right and buses are exceptions as intended users. This is a problem with CDOT’s current “rush hour parking control” strategy, lanes can’t be defined in the negative (no parking does not de facto create a lane, see loading zone and valet parking restrictions for evidence), Illinois requires actual street striping/markings to demarcate traffic lanes.

    Speaking as someone who grew up in the neighborhood we’re discussing (walking, biking, public trans, driving) and is still there almost every day, there is a world of difference between driving (or biking) illegally and not getting caught and finding ways to make the patchwork of streets and their associated controls work for you as an individual.

    A trick by my definition is getting around gridlock by exploiting what is often a counter-intuitive opportunity created by our very complex system – not breaking the laws. Examples would include creative usage of 90/94 to avoid hot spots ,often in conjunction with extra long left turn arrows such as at Fullerton, Elston and Damen. Knowing how streets changing from one way to two way (and sometimes back) creates dead zones, that kinda thing.

    There’s no shortcut – it takes endless experimentation and a willingness to absorb as much systems data as you can get your head wrapped around.

    Liincoln-Belmont-Ashland is interesting as it was such a thriving intersection and such a long history – there are 550+ members of the Facebook group “I shopped at Lincoln, Belmont and Ashland” for example:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/321876847686/

  • I hope to make the meeting tonight. You can chastise me some more if you are there and we meet up. I’m older and very tall.

  • LOL. You are not likely anywhere near the top of my hit list as far as traffic offenders go, that bar is set *extremely* low, generally for people who actually use their vehicles to intimidate bikes and pedestrians, and those who are dangerous due to their incompetence behind the wheel (glued to a phone while making say, an illegal left turn from Belmont at this very intersection).

    I was hoping to go and bring my 10 year old (she goes to Hamilton/lives at the Lake View YMCA), but between homework and the complete mess that is Belmont and the bus I’m going to pass.

    BRT is fine, but see if you can bring back the streetcars – oh the irony in that Chicago had these everywhere once upon a time.

  • As long as streetcars do not have dedicated lanes then they become buses with some very expensive comfort amenities. My official line about BRT is that when done right it becomes a slippery slope to rail.

    The presentation was excellent. The crowd was polite and respectful. The plan itself is just fine thank you. Lots of emphasis on improving things for pedestrians and some for improving things for bikes. Plus nothing in the designs precludes future BRT development.

    Cars lose some turning capabilities but gain in overall understanding of what is going on at the intersection. No changes for buses. Bikers get a guide way through the intersection along Lincoln as well as a couple of bike boxes. Pedestrians are the big winners with two more crosswalks in the Belmont directions with bumpouts increasing sidewalk sizes and shortening crossing distances. CDOT has this one down pat.

    Oh, and they knew about people like I used to be and they took enough away from the lane and gave it to sidewalks to frustrate the maneuver.

  • Saw the plan. No round about but they are adding two new crosswalks in the Belmont directions. Red ones. Plus bike guide strips through the intersection along Lincoln with two Lincoln bike boxes.

    All that stuff should have a positive effect on cars. Plus more congestion from Whole foods should slow things down as well.

  • Thanks for the report – did you happen to notice if they are keeping the no left turn restrictions on Belmont? I think CDOT has some very talented planners working for them – the problem in Chicago is we’ve cut back on traffic enforcement. I can count on one finger of one hand the number of cars I’ve seen pulled over during the morning rush hour this year. Carrots don’t work without sticks IMO.

  • iirc Yes keeping Belmont No left west to south. East to north??

    Trouble with non-expessway enforcement, imho, is that you can’t teach more than a few and when you see someone pulled over you never know what it was for so you don’t know what specific behavior to change. I guess maybe that could be a feature rather than a bug. On the expressways one assumes speeding and yes there enforcement visibility drives changes.

    Maybe the thing to do is to hire a pair of actors who put on a show of “cop stops driver” and have them spend the day driving around to different places performing the mini-one act play. I think actors can be hired cheaper than actual cops?

    I get the sense that the speed cameras are really changing habits. Drivers consistently really slow down on the Lane Tech stretch of Western for example.

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