Raised Crosswalks Have Dramatically Reduced Speeding by Palmer Square

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The easternmost raised crosswalk on Palmer Boulevard. Photo: John Greenfield

Yesterday evening Steven Vance and I conducted speed counts that quantify what we already suspected to be true. The new raised crosswalks on the north side of Palmer Square park are calming traffic and making it safer for residents to access the green space. While, prior to installation, about 75 percent of motorists on the street were observed exceeding the 25 mph speed limit, yesterday less than 38 percent of them were.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation converted the two marked, mid-block crosswalks on the north side of the park to raised crosswalks, also known as speed tables. 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack funded the $115,000 project, which also included additional curb-and-gutter work, with ward menu money.

The change came about after years of advocacy by neighbors who said the quarter-mile stretch of Palmer Boulevard north of the green space was plagued by speeding. The street has three westbound travel lanes, with light traffic volumes and no stoplights or stop signs, which encourages high speeds.

In July 2014, Steven and Streetsblog contributor Justin Haugens used a speed gun to measure motor vehicle speeds on the north side of the park during the evening rush. During three 15-minute observations between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., they clocked 168 drivers — 75 percent of all observed motorists — exceeding the posted 25 mph speed limit. About a third of all observed drivers were going faster than 30 mph, the default citywide speed limit. Five drivers exceeded 40 mph.

Soon after the safety infrastructure went in, I observed that drivers were hitting their brakes as they approached the crosswalks. Last night Steven and I conducted two 15-minute counts between 5:45 and 6:30 p.m. on the westbound roadway. We did one count about a quarter of a block west of the easternmost speed table, and the other at about the same distance west of the westernmost one.

Out of the 93 motorists we clocked, only 35 – less than 38 percent – were exceeding the 25 mph posted speed limit. Only five drivers were going faster than 30 mph – that’s less than 6 percent. And no one was driving faster than 36 mph.

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One of the crosswalks prior to the speed table installation. The park is popular with kids, so doing everything possible to prevent serious crashes is key. Photo: John Greenfield

Studies show that while pedestrians struck at 40 mph almost always die, and those struck at 30 mph have a roughly 50/50 chance of survival, those struck at 20 mph almost always survive. This means that the change in vehicle speeds on Palmer, brought about by the raised crosswalks, could very well mean the difference between life or death in the event that a person on foot is struck while crossing.

And of course, the reduction in speeding, along with the fact that pedestrians using the red, raised crosswalks are more visible to motorists, means it’s less likely a crash will occur in the first place.

Locals seem to appreciate the change. When a 14th District police officer drove up to us, we thought he was going to scold us for using the speed gun, but instead he said he appreciates the fact that the new speed tables are there because so many small children use the park.

Guillermo Meca-Ortega, who lives nearby with his three-year-old daughter, was one of the neighbors who petitioned for the raised crosswalks. After jogging on Palmer Square’s soft-surface track, he stopped by to tell us he feels the infrastructure is working well, although there are sometimes issues with drivers who speed up after going over the speed tables in order to catch a green light at Kedzie Boulevard. We observed this as well.

His neighbor Steve Hier, who’s lived on the block since 1977, also lobbied for the change. He agrees that the raised crosswalks have been a big improvement. “This park is incredibly well used, so it’s great that this is having an effect on drivers,” he told us. “People stop if they even see that you’re about to enter the crosswalk. Before it was more like, ‘Get the hell out of the way.’”

Still, Hier would like to see further improvements to the street. He says that, since the roadway on the north side of the park has three lanes, while the one on the south side has only two, a road diet on the north side would have been a logical solution to the speeding problem, and it still makes sense.

However, nearby churches use the central travel lane of the three-lane street for Sunday parking, which isn’t technically legal but has been tolerated by aldermen for many years. Eliminating that privilege might be politically difficult for Alderman Waguespack.

A possible solution would be to convert the curbside parking along Palmer Boulevard to angled spaces, preferably back-in parking, since that eliminates the need to back out into oncoming traffic. That street reconfiguration would maintain plenty of parking spaces for parishioners, while further improving safety.

  • Lakeview Guy

    My guess is these type of improvements are far more effective than speed cameras. Drivers see them and are forced to slow down, or risk causing damage to their car. Too bad the city won’t install more of them. They only cost money, and don’t make money.

  • Anne A

    But they can *save* money – reduced use of emergency services, less $ spent cleaning up crash debris and/or damaged infrastructure (like light poles), etc.

  • I prefer physical impediments to speeding as well. Pedestrians notice them better and that makes us feel more comfortable in our environment.

    But I am all for speed cameras as well. As you say they are even better for the city as they raise money rather than just costing money. Like taxing cigarettes they become a sin tax.

  • I don’t get why it would be ‘politically difficult’ to stop these churches from parking illegally all over Logan Square. If they actually lived in the neighborhood they wouldn’t be driving in. I think everyone who actually lives in the 32nd ward would greatly appreciate not having random cars illegally parked all over the place. It’s not just on Sundays either.

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    Do both and use one to pay for the other!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s a story about what happened when the city tried to ban parking from the Boulevards for the Sunday Parkways car-free event: http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/where-would-jesus-park/Content?oid=925267

  • tooch

    we could use these on Ashland in the Ravenswood/Andersonville area. my wife crosses Ashland twice a day while walking to/from the Ravenswood metra and is constantly dodging cars that are speeding along.

    out of curiosity, what was the median speed clocked during the two testing periods?

  • undercover epicurean

    “Only 38%” is still way too high. So maybe now some enforcement would be nice?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Keep in mind that the vast majority of speeders were traveling within 5 mph of the 25 mph posted speed limit. Chicago’s default citywide speed limit is 30.

    Sure, it would be great to have a default speed limit of 25, as in NYC. But would probably be more productive to focus enforcement efforts in Chicago on drivers who are exceeding the posted limit by more than 5 mph.

    That said, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with installing a speedcam here that would ticket the handful of drivers who are going more than 5 mph over the limit.

  • Pat

    Would love to see raised crosswalks being the new standard at any 4-way stop. It’s getting real tiring seeing motorist covers the brake and punching the gas as being the norm for stopping on E. Lakeview side streets.

  • what_eva

    It’s very different to put these on a boulevard vs an arterial.

  • What an incredible shame and missed opportunity.

  • John

    Angled parking has been proposed for Palmer Sq in the past. Residents were opposed because they thought it would make then insides of cars less visible, leading to prostitution. You can’t make this stuff up.

  • Aron

    Great to see good results. I want to correct something though, these are ‘just’ speed bumps, not speed tables. Speed table is just different lingo for ‘raised intersection’; the entire intersection then acts as a speed bump.

  • Midnight Alarm

    What is the P-value for statistical significance of your research?

  • jcwconsult

    Engineering is almost always more effective than enforcement, but many cities won’t use it because it is cost factor. Ticket cameras are a revenue item and for many cities revenue takes precedence over safety. Kudos for this area to have used the more effective engineering approach.

    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Speed tables are engineered with MUCH gentler ramps than speed bumps. It is an engineering term and definition, different than speed bumps.
    James C. Walker, Life Member – National Motorists Association

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