Eyes on the Street: Tactical Urbanism Blooms on Broadway

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Looking east from Halsted at Broadway. Who can we thank for these cute planters that prevent illegal right turns? Photo: Justin Haugens

Last month when the city put up signs banning right turns from northbound Halsted onto southbound Broadway at Grace, eliminating a slip lane, the intersection became little safer. Thanks to what appears to be a guerrilla intervention by an unknown party, the site also became a little prettier.

Streetsblog reader Justin Haugens recently spotted some attractive planter boxes places next to the crosswalk. I have witnessed drivers disobeying the “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs the Chicago Department of Transportation installed, so the planters serve to discourage such lawbreaking, as well as beautify the corner.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey did not immediately know who was responsible for placing the flowering plants.

The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition asking CDOT to reverse the turn ban, arguing that it disrupts traffic in the area. When I called chamber director Maureen Martino to ask about the planters, she laughed out loud and said she had know idea where they came from. She said she would look check in with CDOT about the matter.

Martino said the chamber is still fighting to reinstate right turns from Halsted onto Broadway. “The whole area was a hot mess during last week’s Cubs games,” she said. “Normally that right turn serves as a relief valve for traffic when Halsted gets jammed up.” Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that this location three blocks northeast of the stadium is ever not a hot mess during ballgames.

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Sadly, by 4:15 p.m. today the flower boxes had been removed from the street. Photo: John Greenfield

On the other hand, CDOT traffic counts conducted last fall, prior to the turn ban, found that, even during rush hours, no more than 14 drivers made the turn per hour. That was less than five percent of all northbound motorists.

CDOT decided to try banning the right turn as a test, in advance of a street repaving project on Broadway between Belmont and Irving Park, slated for late 2016 or early 2017. If the test is deemed a success, the slip lane will be replaced by a curb extension during the road project. They plan to meet with 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman, the chamber, and other local stakeholders in April or May to present their findings.

In other Lakeview East news, Martino said the chamber is currently working with merchants and 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney to iron out some technicalities in the city’s new Curbside Café ordinance. The legislation allows business to serve food and drinks in private parklets installed in the parking lane.

If all goes well, the chamber hopes to install two Curbside Cafes and two public People Spots on the 2800 and 2900 blocks of North Clark by the second week of May.

Update: By 4:15 p.m. today the flower boxes had been removed from the street and were sitting on the sidewalk.

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  • And they’ve been moved to the sidewalk sometime after noon.

  • Bernard Finucane

    I wonder what would make anyone think they are better blocking the sidewalk than blocking a closed street.

  • Probably people who feel that the street should not be closed…or that the “closed” rules are silly and shouldn’t apply to them.

  • The sidewalk isn’t blocked, they were placed in an orderly fashion adjacent to street light poles.

  • Lets see if an actual guerilla war develops there. I, myself, don’t see how CDOT can conduct a test if they don’t physically prevent cars from turning. Maybe it is a test to see if the reduction of incidents caused by the law-abiders will be enough to bring down incidents enough. Of course, it is likely that the incidents are caused almost entirely by the law-breakers so that test is likely to fail.

    But as a guerilla action, the planters, I rate it right up there with “Dibs”.

  • Kelly Pierce

    This reminds me of gun control. Passing a law or putting up a sign banning guns doesn’t mean the lawbreakers won’t have them. Putting up a do not enter sign will not stop the lawbreakers from doing the turn. Only a physical barrier prevents the turn. If the city is committed to keeping pedestrians safe from these wild U-turns, then put back the planter boxes for a real test of the policy. Let’s see how this idea really works in practice.

  • Bernard Finucane

    But why?

  • Objects obstructing the roadway are not permitted. So CDOT is basically required to remove anything they didn’t put in themselves.

  • It’s not a roadway anymore! It’s essentially been removed from the road network. It’s still part of being a street (roads and streets are different).

  • “how CDOT can conduct a test if they don’t physically prevent cars from turning[?]”

    Good question, Jeff!

  • Jeff Gio

    consider an emergency vehicle hauling ass down the street and not noticing the newly placed planters – it’s not easy to defend the planters but I wish to see them replaced!

    someone start pouring concrete, true tactical urbanism means creating the curbs ourselves

  • Bernard Finucane

    It is not obstructing a roadway that can be legally used, as far as I can tell. I suppose you can play lawyer on this, but it still wouldn’t answer the question why they did it.

  • David P.

    I wonder about creating a raised crosswalk, along the lines of what was put in on Palmer in Logan Square, or what you see in a lot of European cities. You fill in the turn lane with a brick-paver (or whatever) sidewalk with gently ramped curbs. Turns are still technically permitted, but the physical design says “this space is not primarily for cars”

  • The same could be said about a broken down vehicle temporarily blocking the turn? Similar situation as the young man unconscious in the street, run over by a cab driver.

    Operators must pay attention to the road and its environment. Assume nothing except the situation is constantly changing and evolving. I may time lights on my bike waiting at interactions, but I’m always observing the environment for changes.

  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Agreed. Raised crosswalks slow cars so this would mitigate the safety issue (if it exists) for pedestrians.

  • neroden

    It isn’t obstructing the roadway.

  • There are a couple of these in Saint Louis. They’re not great, because they’re so unusual people don’t understand them: both cars and peds sometimes interpret them as meaning the street is entirely closed, which leads to problems, and some cars use them as a ramp onto the sidewalk. It would probably need some very explicit signage to make it workable.

  • It’s not causing a problem on Palmer here in Chicago.

    If the street is black and the sidewalk white, no issue.

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