Actually, the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont Remix Will Be a Major Improvement

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Before and after views of the intersection. Planned features include bumpouts, new crosswalks, bike lanes, and far-side bus stops.

Last week a ward staffer provided me with a preview of plans for the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont reconstruction project. From what I gathered from that conversation, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning a relatively conservative redesign of one of the North Side’s most dangerous intersections.

But at a public meeting about the initiative last week, I learned that it’s actually going to be somewhat bolder than I thought, with significant improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The project also includes streetscaping work on Belmont between Ashland and Southport, and Lincoln from Melrose to Wellington, which will further improve conditions for walking.

During the hearing at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, CDOT’s complete streets manager Janet Attarian outlined the planned changes. She noted that Lincoln/Ashland Belmont was the 5th most dangerous intersection in the city in 2010, with 35 crashes.

New sidewalk bumpouts will be added on Lincoln and Ashland, which will narrow these streets at the intersection and shorten the turning radius for drivers, preventing high-speed turns. They will also improve sightlines and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. In addition, the bumpouts will help straighten out a kink in Lincoln which occurs at the six-way junction.

Left turns off of Lincoln will be banned. This will affect relatively few drivers, since these moves make up only 2-4% of traffic at the intersection, according to CDOT counts. During rush hours, left turns currently account for 8-16% of traffic on Lincoln.

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Currently, biking across the vast intersection is a risky proposition. Photo: John Greenfield

Eliminating these left turns removes the need for left turn bays on Lincoln. Not only does that provide right-of-way for the new bumpouts, it makes room for adding green bike lanes and bike boxes at the intersection. The bike lanes will be striped through the long intersection as dashed lines which will help bicyclists feel more confident about crossing, and also help guide motorists.

Attarian said that it wasn’t feasible to add dedicated bike signals that would let cyclists get a head start before the light turns green for drivers. However, she noted that the bike boxes allow cyclists to wait for the light in front of the line of cars, which has a similar benefit.

The intersection’s current configuration requires pedestrians to make as many as three street crossings to get where they need to go. I’m pleased to see that, contrary to what the ward staffer told me, new crosswalks will be added along Belmont, allowing people on foot to make a direct east-west crossing – a real timesaver.

Some of the CTA bus stops will be relocated to the far side of the intersection, which Attarian said makes it less likely that buses will get stuck at reds. However, since the far-side stops require the removal of more car-parking spaces than the near-side ones, not all of the stops will get this treatment.

The Lincoln/Greenview/Barry intersection will also get new bumpouts to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and shorten turning radii.

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New bumpouts will be added at the other two six-way junctions in the project area. The green lines on the map on the right show the current parameters of the Lincoln Hub curb extensions.

At Lincoln/Southport/Wellington, the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which eliminated dangerous slip lanes and created seating plazas through the use of paint dots and plastic poles, will be transformed into permanent concrete infrastructure.

To appease motorists, who have been grumbling ever since the street redesign debuted in spring 2015, the curb extensions will be somewhat smaller, making it easier for through traffic to get around drivers waiting to make turns. Hopfully there will still be enough room for seating in the bumpouts.

I asked Attarian whether CDOT considered doing a pedestrian scramble phase at Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont. She replied that this treatment generally works better in locations where there are more pedestrians than drivers, which isn’t the case here. “A pedesetrian scramble takes a lot of green time, which is perfectly fine if you have the numbers to justify it,” she said. Attarian added that, with all the upcoming improvements, hopefully foot traffic will increase.

There will be another public meeting to review Phase I designs for the project this fall. CDOT hopes to begin construction of the federally funded project by spring 2018.

  • I was at the meeting. I was very impressed with the presentation that Janet Attarian gave. I was also impressed with the design. CDOT had clearly put pedestrian concerns at the forefront. Between the bumpouts, sidewalk expansions, extra crosswalks, bike boxes with dashed lanes through the intersection, left turn eliminations, and other touches, this will very seriously transform the intersection.

    Just the added Belmont red crosswalks and the bike lane markings will significantly fill up the vast void of the center area of the intersection. It will appear a lot less empty.

    I was glad too that the design does nothing to preclude BRT.

    I say kudos to CDOT for an excellent and well thought out design.

  • Anne A

    I think the curb bumpouts will be a huge improvement for ped safety at these intersections.

  • David P.

    Looks like everybody gets appeased!

  • Jimbo

    3 years to complete seems…normal for the city (Elson and Fullerton) but stupid to me.

  • simple

    You should start a contracting or project management business to do these projects as quickly and inexpensively as you imagine is possible. Clearly you’re on to something that no other contractors or project managers have figured out.

  • I wonder if they’re doing something serious underground, related to it (or needing to be coordinated around it). If it were just new curbs and painting/embossing crosswalks, I’ve seen things more extensive than this get done in a single summer.

  • Johnny Bench Called

    DNA Info did a story on this and posted it to Facebook. I think my favorite completely unironic comment among the inarticulate hoards of angry drivers was that the changes here were catering to transplants.

  • what_eva

    It’s not 3 years to complete, it’s not starting until 2018 due to the long process required for federal funds. Actual construction time is about 1 year in total.

  • what_eva

    I’m very happy about the direct crossing for Belmont. It’ll make getting to Scooter’s that much easier.

  • what_eva

    I was amused at how the Q&A devolved into a complain-about-whole-foods for a while.

  • We were just at North/Milw today, and I’m wondering why there aren’t similar at North on the south side — the geometry is very similar, with the two corners quite close together and a cut-across walk path being feasible (in fact, shorter than crossing North!).

  • Whole Foods should provide a free shuttle to and from the Brown Line el Station at Paulina.

    It looks like it is to be a massive store. I peeked in over the construction fence. I do not enjoy shopping at any of these over-sized stores.

    I suppose that it is a sign of support for the CDOT design that folks couldn’t find enough stuff to complain about so used the time to complain about Whole Foods. So yes amusing.

  • Jeff H

    I hope this whole foods has at least 3 bars in it like the kingsbury location. Nothing better than 3 beers and then grocery shopping.

  • Another reason for a designated shuttle.

  • what_eva

    Or to live within walking distance!

  • what_eva

    Agreed. I’d add the west side of Damen as well (from the Starbucks/Flash Taco corner to Walgreens).

    I think John has suggested a scramble at that intersection in the past as well. CDOT cited lack of ped traffic at Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland as a reason not to do a scramble there, that’s not the case at Milwaukee/North/Damen.

  • JacobEPeters

    So did the 1st Ward Transportation Advisory Committee a few years ago. Biggest issue is the barrier at the southwest corner, it is needed due to narrow sidewalk width, blind spots created by the tightness of the corner, and a long ADA ramp needed due to the high curb level at this corner. For now, a painted crosswalk from that corner to the Walgreen’s corner could be installed without changing road geometries, but not a full scramble. Damen/North/Milwaukee needs a safety redesign, and as part of that project it might be possible to get a full pedestrian scramble, but West Town needs an active TAC to advocate for these things again. GO West Town!