Et tu Blair?
It wasn’t surprising when some disgruntled Lakeview residents launched a petition against the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which reclaimed asphalt at the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection for pedestrians. After all, one purpose of the street remix was to increase safety by slowing down car traffic, and not all drivers are going to appreciate that. And, sure, the bright green-and-blue polka dots are not everyone’s cup of tea.
But it was distressing to read a recent column by Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin – who’s usually on the right page about urban planning issues – in which he picks apart several aspects of the design and laments that the new layout inconveniences motorists. “The aim of such projects is to ‘calm’ traffic, slowing vehicles and making conditions safer for cyclists and people on foot,” he writes. “It also aims to boost business by creating more inviting outdoor spaces. Yet this mission is far from accomplished.”
Kamin doesn’t have a problem with the colorful spots, and he notes that people on foot like the fact that they’ve been given more space through the use of paint, flexible posts, and planters, which shortens the crossing distance. He also concedes that, by slowing down drivers, the Lincoln Hub has enhanced traffic safety at the intersection, and may be helping turn the location into a place to spend time, rather than just pass through.
However, Kamin doesn’t like the fact that most of the seating in the new plazas is provided by round concrete stools rather than benches, which he thinks would be more comfortable. He laments the lack of shade at the intersection. And he argues that the on-street seating is located too close to traffic lanes, and there isn’t enough physical protection to make people feel safe using it.
There’s some validity to these criticisms, but it was disappointing to read this passage from a guy who’s supposed to be a well-informed urbanist:
By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs [to create pedestrian space], the project forces drivers to make looping turns through the center of the intersection. Frustrated motorists honk their horns, an ironic outcome for a project devoted to “traffic calming.”
Kamin is referring to the elimination of the intersection’s slip lanes, aka channelized right turns, which have been incorporated into the curb extensions. That’s actually one of the best things about the Lincoln Hub. Slip lanes create longer crossing distances and additional conflict points between pedestrians and drivers, and they allow motorists to whip around corners at dangerous speeds.
Because of this, the Chicago Department of Transportation is generally no longer building slip lanes, and most six-way intersections in the city aren’t channelized. Rather than creating an aggravation for drivers, removing the slip lanes simply brought Lincoln/Wellington/Southport up to current standards for pedestrian safety.