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Take a Virtual Spin on the Argyle Shared Street, Now Fully Open to Traffic

The Argyle Shared Street, a project to create a safer and more pleasant environment on Chicago’s Southeast Asian shopping and dining strip by blurring the lines between pedestrian and vehicle space, reopened to two-way traffic last week.

The $3 million project involved raising the level of the street, eliminating curbs, and adding decorative pavers with a design that encourages shopper to freely travel across the street. Sidewalks have been widened to accommodate more foot traffic and sidewalk cafes, and the roadway has also become fully wheelchair accessible.

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A new ordinance makes it legal to cross the street outside of a crosswalk on the Argyle Shared Street. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s still a bit of paving left to be completed, as well as some finishing touches such as adding landscaping to the infiltration planters and adding decorative covers to the steel-and-concrete bollards that help keep cars off the sidewalks. But last Thursday 48th Ward alderman Harry Osterman held a short parade and ribbon on the street as part of the final Argyle Night Market event.

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Unfortunately, Parking Issues Dictate How Robust 45th Ward Bikeways Will Be

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North of Irving Park, much higher retail density and metered spaces make stripping parking for bike lanes a heavier lift. Note the lack of parked cars at the time this photo was taken. Photo: Google Street View

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Milwaukee Avenue is Chicago’s busiest biking street, with as many as 5,000 bike trips a day during the high season, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, with most of that cycling taking place between Logan Square and the Loop. But the Blue Line corridor is becoming an increasingly popular place to live, and we’re seeing transit-oriented development proposals in neighborhoods like Avondale, Portage Park, Old Irving Park, and Jefferson Park. As more car-free and car-lite residents settle further northwest along Milwaukee, bike traffic is going to increase on stretches of the road that are farther from the Loop.

So it’s great that the 45th Ward Alderman John Arena recently announced the ward is teaming up with CDOT to install bikeways along Milwaukee between Addison Street and Lawrence Avenue – a two-mile stretch. On the shorter section between Addison and Irving Park Road, Arena and CDOT aren’t letting narrow right-of-way stop them from improving safety. Ninety-two little-used parking spaces will be stripped from the east side of Milwaukee on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes, which help provide extra breathing room for people biking.

Unfortunately, however, there will be no major improvements to the longer segment of Milwaukee between Irving and Lawrence. The city won’t be moving any parking from this segment, so there will only be room for “sharrows,” the bike-and-chevron road markings that have been shown to have relatively little effect on improving bike safety.

45th Ward residents voted for the bike lanes project as the top priority in the ward’s May 2015 participatory budgeting election, so the facilities will be bankrolled with $100,000 from the district’s $1.3 million discretionary budget for that year. Work on the bikeways should start later this year, DNAinfo reported.

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Most of the housing on Milwaukee between Addison and Irving has off-street parking, so there’s relatively little demand for street parking. Photo: Google Street View

Since Milwaukee between Addison and Irving doesn’t have enough right-of-way for parking on both sides, travel lanes and buffered bike lanes, CDOT recently did eight parking studies on this stretch to see how many spaces were actually being used. The department found that, since this segment has little retail, and much of the housing has off-street parking, curbside spaces were seeing little use. In addition, the absence of metered parking makes it relatively easy to strip parking.

The project also with involve the removal or relocation of several stops for the #56 Milwaukee bus between Addison and Irving, DNA reported. The city says this will shorten travel times and enhance safety.

The higher density of retail between Irving and Lawrence combine with less off-street parking for residences, and the resulting higher parking demand, made removing dozens of parking spaces on that stretch a non-starter, Arena said.

Notably, this stretch is just south of a four-lane stretch of Milwaukee north of Lawrence where CDOT previously proposed converting two of the lanes to protected bike lanes, which would have required the removal of a few parking spots for sight lines. After a major backlash from residents, the road diet idea was scrapped and the department installed buffered lanes instead – a much more modest safety improvement.

Another issue with removing parking between Irving and Lawrence is the city’s despised parking meter deal. The presence of metered spaces on this stretch would make parking removal much more complex because the city would either have to replace these spots with new metered spaces elsewhere in the area, or compensate the parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

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A Wish List for Better Walking and Biking in the Black Metropolis

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Ronnie Harris outside the locked gate that blocks pedestrian and bike access on 29th east of Michigan. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

As we stood astride bicycles in the shadow of Alison Saar’s Monument to the Great Northern Migration last week, Bronzeville-based transportation advocate Ronnie Matthew Harris, 47, told me that community organizing is in his blood.

“Both sides of my family immigrated from the Deep South as part of the Great Migration, and landed here in the great mecca of Bronzeville,” Harris said, gazing at the 15-foot-tall bronze sculpture. “And as long as there has been a historic Bronzeville, you could find an organizer by the name of Harris.” His paternal grandfather and father were labor leaders, he explained, and his mother’s job at a local church involved many aspects of community development. “So it’s the family business.”

Harris is also passionate about improving conditions in the neighborhood—sometimes referred to as the Black Metropolis—where he was born and raised. As the leader of Go Bronzeville, a group that promotes sustainable transportation options in the community, he’d offered to take me on a neighborhood tour highlighting pedestrian and bike access issues he wants to fix.

“Data shows that a community that walks, bikes, and uses public transportation is a community that is healthier, safer, and more economically viable,” he said. “Go Bronzeville wants to respond to some of the inequity in public policy and urban planning that sometimes contributes to disparities in health and wealth.”

Go Bronzeville started as an initiative of the Chicago Department of Transportation, along with similar programs in Pilsen, Garfield Park, Albany Park, and Edgewater. The programs educate residents on how sustainable transportation can help them save time and money and improve their health. After the program ended, Harris got CDOT’s blessing to continue running Go Bronzeville on a mostly volunteer basis. Nowadays the group hosts neighborhood bike rides, mans tables at community events, and, via a city contract, promotes the Divvy for Everyone program, which offers $5 bike-share memberships to low-income Chicagoans.

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Take a Virtual Spin on the (Partly Finished) Elston Curb-Protected Bike Lanes

As I’ve written, it’s a shame that the valuable riverfront land at the southeast corner of Fullerton and Damen will likely be redeveloped as big box retail with tons of parking in the aftermath of a project to reroute Elston Avenue so it bypasses that intersection. The silver lining of the project is that this new, curving five-lane stretch of Elston, which opened to motorized traffic last week, will have curb-protected bike lanes.

Prior to construction, the six-way Fullerton/Damen/Elston intersection saw about 70,000 motor vehicles per day, and consistently ranked among the city’s top-five intersections for crashes, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, which is doing the $36.3 million street relocation. In an effort to unclog the intersection, they’ve moved through traffic on Elston about a block east on land occupied by WhirlyBall, which relocated to a nearby, larger space at 1823 West Webster, and the Vienna Beef factory, which will soon be moving to 1800 West Pershing in Bridgeport.

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Elston, which formerly intersected with Fullerton and Damen, has been relocated one block east. Image: CDOT

The entire bypass project was supposed wrap up this spring, but according to CDOT spokeswoman Sue Hofer, it’s currently not slated for completion until this December. But starting last week northeast- and southeast-bound motorized vehicles began using one lane in each direction on the new section of Elston, which crosses Damen a block north of Fullerton/Damen intersection.

The old, two-block stretch of Elston just southeast of Fullerton/Damen remains open for local traffic under the new name Elston Court. Under the new traffic pattern, vehicles are allowed to turn right from eastbound Fullerton onto Elston Court, but vehicles from northbound Elston Court south of Fullerton are only permitted to turn right, eastbound, on Fullerton.

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Artist Takes a Crack at Improving Crosswalk Safety With Piñata Bump-Outs

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Krueger-Barber used pinatas on construction bollards to create temporary curb bump-outs at Milwaukee/Drake. Photo: Corner gallery

You might not think that someone from Provo, Utah (population 116,288), would have much to tell Chicagoans about pedestrian safety issues, but artist Susan Krueger-Barber is bringing a fresh approach to tactical urbanism to our city to highlight the dangers to people on foot.

As an MFA student at the Art Institute of Chicago, this month Krueger-Barber is doing residency at Avondale’s Corner gallery, 2912 North Milwaukee, focusing on crosswalk dynamics in cities with a project called “Stripes Aren’t Enough.” She’s studying driver behaviors that endanger pedestrians at the adjacent Milwaukee/Drake intersection, and testing out fun strategies for safety interventions, while dressed in the costume of her comedic alter ego Art Grrrl. At the end of her residency, she’ll present a formal proposal for changes to the intersection to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

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Kreuger-Barber pushes responsible shoveling during an intervention in Provo, Utah. Photo: Susan Krueger-Barber.

Lynn Basa, the owner of Corner gallery, said the residency is a perfect fit. “We’re this friendly neighborhood gallery, but you look out the window and see all this, mean egregious behavior,” referring to drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians in the zebra-striped crosswalk at the southeast leg of the T-shaped Milwaukee/Drake junction. “It’s surprising that people in cars would do that to their fellow citizens in crosswalks.”

According to the Chicago Crash Browser, created by Streetsblog Chicago’s Steven Vance, there were four pedestrian crashes and one bike crash near the intersection between 2009 and 2014. In 2013 Ronald Lee Hubert, 51, was fatally struck by a hit-and-run driver at Milwaukee and Ridgeway, a few blocks northwest of the gallery. Basa is excited to see if Krueger-Barber’s outside-the-box ideas can help improve safety on the corridor.

The artist first became interested in using art to raise awareness of the dangers posed to vulnerable road users after one of one of her Provo neighbors was fatally struck by a driver. Rosa Merino, 42, was crossing a street in the crosswalk with the right of way at 6:30 a.m. when she was run over by a pick-up truck driver who disregarded a red light. Authorities initially blamed the victim for causing the crash because she was wearing dark clothing.

Since then, Krueger-Barber has done several pedestrian- and bike-safety interventions and stunts in Provo. These range from serving as a crossing guard with a gigantic orange flag to creating a PSA against speeding featuring herself in a Sasquatch costume being struck by a driver, in a frighteningly realistic manner. One project, temporarily installing sharrows and traffic diverters on a roadway, proved so successful that city officials plan to create a permanent bike boulevard on the street.

So far in Chicago, Krueger-Barber has created a memorial wall within corner gallery with tributes to the 22 pedestrians and cyclists who have lost their lives to traffic violence in Chicago this year (by CDOT’s count), with info on the incidents and the victims partly based on Streetsblog Chicago’s Fatality Tracker posts. But she’s also created a “Wall of Solutions” to improve safety, including literally wallpapering the gallery with pages from the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.

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Obama Library’s Jackson Park Location Will Be Easy to Visit Without Driving

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The Obama library site, located between 60st, 63rd, Stony Island, and Cornell, will be easy to access by Metra, bus, and bike. Image: Google Maps.

Today a spokesman for the Obama Foundation officially confirmed that the Obama Presidential Center will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side, and he lauded the project as the nation’s first urban presidential library. “For the first time, a presidential center will be in the heart of an urban community,” foundation chairman Martin Nesbitt, said in a statement.

It was previously announced that Washington Park, to the west of Hyde Park, where the president previously worked as a University of Chicago law professor, and Jackson Park, to the southeast, were under consideration. As opposed to a more glamorous downtown location, siting the museum in either park would have had the benefit spurring investment in struggling nearby communities, in keeping with Obama’s former role as a community organizer. Each park is also well served by transit.

While there are two Green Line stops just west of Washington Park, the Jackson Park location has an edge when it comes to sustainable transportation access. The library will be located on a narrow, 20-acre parcel between 60th and 63rd streets, Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, land currently occupied by a running track, football field, and baseball diamonds.

Just west are the Metra Electric District line’s 59th Street and 63rd Street stations. Four CTA bus lines run past the parcel on Stony Island: the #2 Hyde Park Express, the #6 Jackson Park Express, the #15 Jeffery Local, and the #28 Stony Island. The location is also accessible from the lakefront via an underpass and multiuse trails through the park, so it will be possible to bicycle there from downtown without having to share the road with cars.

The Green Line offers more frequent and consistent service to Washington Park than Metra’s train service to Jackson Park. However, it’s likely that decision makers assumed out-of-town visitors would be less comfortable taking the ‘L’ through the heart of the South Side than riding commuter rail towards the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. Some local leaders hope that the addition of the library will spark the creation of a new South Side museum campus.

The Coalition for a Modern Metra Electric has been lobbying for the line to be converted to more frequent rapid transit-style service as well as fare integration with CTA and Pace, in order to increase job access for South Siders. Mayor Emanuel has shown interest in the proposal and the Obama library makes it even more likely that upgrade will happen. Moreover, it’s almost certain that the minimalist Metra stations near the library site will be overhauled in order to better accommodate crowds of visitors.

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Eyes on the Street: The Randolph Protected Bike Lane Starts to Take Shape

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Looking south at the Dutch-inspired intersection at Randolph and Canal. Photo: CDOT

The Loop Link bus rapid transit corridor on Washington Street includes a concrete-protected bike lane between the island bus stations and the curb. But the construction of the raised, curbside bus platforms and dedicated bus lanes on Madison Street involved the removal an existing bike lane.

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to replace the Madison bike lane with a new protected lane on Randolph Street. But long after the Madison lane – the Loop’s only westbound bikeway – was removed, the Randolph lane still isn’t open. As a result, westbound cyclists are riding in the red bus-only lane on Madison. While that’s not an ideal situation, it doesn’t seem to be significantly slowing down CTA buses.

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A panoramic photo (hence the curving effect) of the Randolph/Canal treatment shot from the south by M.P. Hurley.

The good news is that the protected infrastructure on Randolph is finally starting to materialize, although the bike lane probably won’t be open for a few months. CDOT recently completed a Dutch-inspired intersection treatment at the northeast corner of Randolph and Canal Street, with concrete refuge islands to help protect cyclists and pedestrians from motorized traffic.

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What’s Up With Evanston’s Unusual Divvy Station Location Pattern?

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A Divvy station at Church and Dodge in Evanston, at the intersection of two protected bikeways. Photo: Steven Vance

As I pointed out back in early June when the new Divvy expansion map was released, which included the system’s first suburban docking stations in Evanston and Oak Park, the locations of the ten Evanston stations seemed a little odd.

When Chicago originally launched the bike-share system in 2013, a high number of stations were concentrated downtown and in dense, relatively affluent Near-North Lakefront areas, with roughly quarter-mile spacing between stations, in an effort to make the system financially sustainable. The rest of the coverage area generally got less convenient half-mile spacing, using a fairly consistent grid pattern. This half-mile grid pattern was also used for Chicago’s 2015 and 2016 expansions.

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The 2016 Divvy expansion areas are show in red on this service area map. Click for a larger image.

One notable exception in Chicago this year is Rogers Park, where there’s a dense cluster of new stations near Howard Street, the Evanston border. “There are a number of logistical and practical factors which have to be balanced when siting stations and it’s really more of an art than a science,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Claffey stated when I asked for an explanation of the Rogers Park layout. “These include availability of off-street right of way, parking restrictions and aldermanic support, among other issues.”

Oak Park has distributed its 13 stations using a fairly consistent half-mile grid pattern, similar to what’s been done in much of Chicago.

However, the Evanston locations seem scattershot by comparison. There’s no grid pattern, most of the stations are located in the northeast portion of the suburb, and there are almost none in the southwest quadrant, which is relatively close to Chicago.

Divvy’s Evanston webpage notes that eight of the ten Evanston stations were purchased via a state grant, with matching funds from the suburb. These station locations were chosen based on data from a survey conducted during Evanston’s bike plan update, a Northwestern University industrial engineering research project, a community meeting, an online survey with over a thousand participants, and paper surveys distributed at a senior center and the suburb’s main libraries. This data was used to identify trip generators and destination points.

The other two stations were paid for by Northwestern, so their locations were chosen to provide access between the other eight stations and the campus, according to the Divvy website.

Evanston’s transportation and mobility coordinator Katherine Knapp provided some additional info on the thought processes behind the location choices. “It’s important to note that we not only have to take into account the street grid, which [isn’t as consistent] in Evanston, but also land use, the distribution of employment centers, and where community resources are located.”

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The Evanston Divvy locations, plus trip generators like transit stations, schools, and workplaces. Click for a larger image. Map: City of Evanston

Knapp noted that Oak Park had 13 stations to spread over a suburb with an area of 4.7 square miles and a population of about 52,000. Meanwhile, Evanston’s ten stations had to serve a city of 7.8 square miles and about 75,000 people, which made it especially important to be strategic about locations. Why did Evanston buy fewer stations? “We were trying to strike a balance of community needs with the size of the grant,” she said.

There’s a strong correlation between the Evanston station locations and transit, Knapp said. She also noted that stations were placed along Dodge Avenue (the same longitude as Chicago’s California Avenue), where a protected bike lane was recently installed.

Weight was also given to the parts of town with the lowest rates of car ownership, based on U.S. Census data. This includes northeast Evanston, which features plenty of high-rise housing and “a surprising mix of students and young professionals,” according to Knapp. She noted that the area around the Davis CTA and Metra stops is especially dense with residents and retail.

“When you step back and look at the [Evanston Divvy location] map, it’s been called ‘zany,’” Knapp said. “But when you drill down and look at the demand and what the travel patterns tell us, it makes sense.” The city of Evanston’s Divvy webpage includes detailed information about the destinations served by each of the ten stations.

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Parks Group Endorses Plan to Replace Two Acres of Green Space With Asphalt

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An aerial view of 31st Street Beach. Friends of the Parks has endorsed the park district’s plan to more than double the size of the west lot, center. Image: Google Maps

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership allows Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We syndicate a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

It’s another case of parks versus parking lots.

The Chicago Park District plans to put more than 250 new parking spots near the recently revamped 31st Street Beach and Harbor, in addition to the more than 650 existing garage and surface lot spaces already available within a roughly five-minute walk of the beach. That would make for a whopping grand total of more than 900 stalls at the lakeside facility.

On top of that, to make room for the additional parking, the project would involve the elimination of 85,000 square feet of existing green space south of a current car park.

The Park District says the additional parking is meant to accommodate future demand for access to the 900-slip harbor—although a spokesperson admits the department hasn’t conducted a parking demand study.

But here’s what really gets me: the parking lot expansion has been endorsed by none other than Friends of the Parks, the same group that helped tank George Lucas’s proposal to replace Soldier Field’s 1,500-space south lot with his Museum of Narrative Arts.

“Friends of the Parks has been hearing from stakeholders as well as the Chicago Park District about the great demand for parking for both beachgoers and boaters at the 31st Street Beach,” executive director Juaniza Irizarry said via e-mail this week.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Friends of the Parks’ previous advocacy work. I respect the group’s role as a guardian of our city’s recreational spaces—working, for example, to stop private music festivals from destroying public parks. It’s also taken progressive stances on parking at other parks. Still, I saw its stance in rejecting the Lucas Museum as a case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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An Epidemic of Bike Crashes; Bad Trail Design May Have Caused One of Them

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One of several Lakefront Trail intersections in Uptown that are hazardous “mixing bowl” junctions with east-west streets and Lake Shore Drive access ramps. Moreover, confusing signage tells drivers to “Stop” while path users are ordered to “Yield.” A 61-year-old cyclist was critically injured at the Wilson intersection last Tuesday. Photo: Hui Hwa Nam.

It’s been an awful two weeks for bike collisions in northeast Illinois. On Tuesday of last week, a 29-year-old woman was struck and injured on her bicycle at Jackson and Homan, by a police officer who witnesses say ran a red light without using lights or sirens. That Wednesday bike courier Blaine Klingenberg was fatally struck by a tour bus driver at Oak and Michigan, the first Chicago bike fatality of 2016

Last Monday a pedicab operator reportedly had his vehicle struck by a hit-and-run minivan driver at South Water and Michigan, but escaped without injury. Last Tuesday schoolteacher Janice Wendling and her husband Mark were fatally struck while cycling in Morris, Illinois, by one of Janice’s former students.

Also last Tuesday, an SUV driver critically injured a 61-year-old man on a bike at Wilson and the Lakefront Trail. And we’re told that on Thursday a CTA driver struck a bicyclist on Milwaukee just north of the Bloomingdale Trail, causing minor injuries.

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Fallen cyclist Janice Wendling.

There was one piece of good news about local bike crashes on Thursday. We learned that Scott Jacobson, who suffered a broken pelvis and horrific road rash after he was struck by a driver and dragged hundreds of feet on May 2 in Bridgeport, was finally sent home from the hospital.

A route has been proposed for Friday’s Chicago Critical Mass ride that would visit the Klingenberg crash site, as well as the white “ghost bike” memorials for several other fallen cyclists. The map includes a stop at Jacobson’s home in McKinley Park to wish him a fast and full recovery – I’ve been told his family is looking forward to welcoming the riders.

Last Tuesday’s crash in Uptown, which took place at a spot where Wilson and access ramps for Lake Shore Drive converge with the shoreline path, highlights an intersection design and signage problem with the trail. At around 7:20 p.m., the bike rider was heading north on the path and was struck by the eastbound driver as he crossed Wilson, according to police.

The victim was transported to Illinois Masonic Hospital in critical condition, police said. DNAinfo reported that one of the man’s wheels was left in the grass near the crash location.

The SUV driver, Liliana Flores, 32, a Park Forest resident, received three traffic citations and was scheduled for a hearing in traffic court on Monday, August 8, according to police.

As I’ve pointed out before, the unorthodox configuration and signage of this Lakefront Trail intersection, and similar junctions at Montrose, Lawrence, and Foster, create a confusing and hazardous situation. Not only do the east-west street, the LSD ramps, and the trail converge in one location, creating a chaotic “mixing bowl” effect, the signs at the intersections are seemingly paradoxical.

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