The controversial right-turn ban at Grace/Halsted/Broadway in Lakeview East may have created a new Chicago record for the number of community meetings held over a pair of traffic signs. Fortunately, it appears that a compromise has been reached which should satisfy the drivers who groused about the turn ban, as well as folks who are concerned about improving pedestrian safety.
Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation recently put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. Slip lanes, also called channelized right turns or “porkchop islands,” are problematic because they allow motorists to whip around corners at high speeds into the path of people on foot, and they create longer pedestrian crossing distances.
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 was deemed a success, the slip lane would be replaced by a curb extension during the road project.
But some residents, merchants, and the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce weren’t happy about the turn ban, and the chamber launched an online petition asking CDOT to take down the signs. They argued that the new rule made it harder to drive in the neighborhood, and caused motorist to take circuitous routes on residential streets to access Broadway south of Grace.
However, northbound drivers on Halsted who needed to access the the 3700 block of North Broadway could do so by turning east on Waveland, a block south of Grace. Moreover, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day last October found that, even during the busiest hour, 8 to 9 a.m., only 14 northbound drivers made the hard right turn onto Broadway. Overall, only 4.5 percent of all northbound motorists used the slip lane during the a.m. rush, and a mere 3.9 percent used it during the p.m. rush.
Nevertheless, CDOT recently took down the turn-ban signs and replaced them with a “No U-Turn for Trucks” sign. When I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about the change, he referred me to local alderman James Cappleman’s latest newsletter.