Sunday’s LSD Crisis Highlighted Value of Chicago’s Diverse Tranpo Network

Cars are diverted down the LaSalle on-ramp around 4:30 p.m. Photo: Michelle Stenzel, Bike Walk Lincoln Park

Yesterday’s nine-hour standoff between police and an alleged murderer, which shut down North Lake Shore Drive and created Carmageddon on nearby surface streets, highlighted why Chicago is fortunate to have multiple transportation options. Around 12:30 p.m., officers began chasing accused killer Joseph Andrew Felton Jr., 43, in his car from south-suburban Harvey, through the South Side. The fugitive rammed several cars on LSD before his vehicle landed in the grass east of the northbound lanes near the Fullerton offramp.

While the police negotiated with Felton, who falsely claimed to have guns but could not easily be seen through his tinted windows, the highway was closed for 6.4 miles, from Chicago Avenue to Bryn Mawr. Around 9:30 p.m., the authorities succeeded in flushing Felton out of his car using a “flash bang grenade.” After the accused, who had slashed his wrists, was transported to a hospital, the drive was completely reopened at about 4:20 a.m. this morning, police said.

Shortly after the standoff began, the CTA was told to reroute buses off of the highway, according to the Chicago Tribune. However, thousands of motorists initially found themselves marooned on the drive with no information about what was going on. The off-ramps were jammed with vehicles, and traffic on the drive was backed up for miles. It was a scene reminiscent of the 2011 blizzard when hundreds of drivers were stranded on the highway, with some stuck in their cars for 12 hours.

Some drivers took matters into their own hands, improvising potentially dangerous exit routes, the Tribune reported. Motorists left the road by driving the wrong way down on-ramps, while others blazed a trail over tree-filled medians to access Marine Drive, which parallels LSD. Around 2 p.m., an Outer Drive Express bus driver let customers exit to run across the median to Marine, according to the Trib.

Parallel arterials west of the drive, such as Clark, were soon hopelessly jammed with drivers seeking alternative routes. The Trib reported that performers rushing to shows at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Lyric Opera were severely delayed, and spoke with Bob Backis, who tried in vain to drive downtown from the Far North Side to services at Holy Name Cathedral, 735 North State.

After being turned away from several LSD on-ramps, Backis and his wife parked near the Wilson Red Line station and rode the ‘L’ to the church. “We were determined to try to make it down any way we could,” he told the paper. The train probably should have been their first choice, not last resort, for getting there, since the cathedral is virtually next door to the Red Line’s Chicago Avenue stop.

This is Argyle
The Red Line’s Argyle station. Photo: Patrick Goff

I had a similar experience yesterday. Having gotten a lift to Uptown, I had an appointment there in the early afternoon. The other person, coming from the Near North Side, called to say he’d be delayed due to the terrible traffic on Clark, and eventually canceled the meeting. After grabbing a bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup on Argyle, I caught the Red Line at the eponymous ‘L’ station and rode the not-terribly-crowded train to Fullerton, where I picked up a Divvy bike and pedaled back to Logan Square.

As illustrated by the light snowstorm that completely shut down Atlanta earlier this winter, cities that don’t offer a good array of transportation options, as well as a robust street grid, can be paralyzed when things go wrong on a major street. In addition to our wide array of routing options, Chicagoans are lucky to be able to choose from many possible travel modes. As Sunday showed, when a crisis turns the surface streets into a parking lot, rapid transit and bike-share offer handy escape routes.

  • No Ur Fax

    Can’t make it through an article without making a snide remark about people’s decision making without knowing anything about them.

    “The train probably should have been their first choice, not last resort, for getting there, since the cathedral is virtually next door to the Red Line’s Chicago Avenue stop.”

  • I don’t follow you. If it worked just fine for the couple to drive to the Wilson stop and take a train that dropped them off right at their destination, why shouldn’t they have done that (or walked or taken a bus to a station, if convenient) in the first place? I can’t account for every X factor, but it’s probable that the train was a good option for them, crisis or no crisis.

  • CL

    It depends on where they live on the Far North Side. For someone living right next to the Morse red line, they only lose 10 minutes by taking public transit, and they don’t have to worry about parking.

    For someone living a good distance west of the train however, driving can save 40+ minutes each way. Travel times increase quickly as you move west of the red line.

    Driving to a train station, parking, and then getting on a train is also an option — but an undesirable one. I’m not even completely sure why, but that’s the last choice I would make. If I’m going to drive, I want to park near my destination. Combining driving + transit would feel like two trips, even if the total time wasn’t horrible.

  • They could have been reluctant to leave their vehicle in Uptown for a few hours, or to rely on the Sunday/holiday transit schedules.

  • Have you been following the ballad of Gogi Grizzly in the comments?

  • skyrefuge

    I say this discussion of a meaningless anecdote and John’s snidenss (or lack thereof) deserves some unasked-for facts, to allow us to be more resolute in our judginess!

    Thus: the Internet reports that these particular Carmageddon-victims live less than 1000 feet from the Loyola station.

    Though even with that couldn’t-be-more-ideal setup, Google still says the transit trip would take more than 2x the the time of driving trip (32min vs. 15min, under ideal driving conditions)

  • oooBooo

    Trains and buses of course are never delayed or shut down for police actions or weather… lol.

    But unlike when trapped on train or in a bus people in their own automobiles could escape the clutches of a road shut down due to a police action.

    PS: Also notice the police cruisers to guide people off LSD using the on-ramp in the photo.

  • Given that this was not a planned event, but an emergency response to a fleeing suspect, I think the police and CTA and everyone did a good job. I observed the traffic jam on LSD as I was walking, starting at the North Ave pedestrian bridge, all the way down to the Oak Street curve. The only issue I would question would be whether there should be more cut-throughs added so that drivers can be diverted in more places, like a new one near LaSalle Drive as depicted above. The next turnaround spot to the south was near Scott/Division, and even then, I was surprised that there was not a policeman or other traffic authority directing drivers to turn around; instead, each driver had to make their own “decision” whether to turn around or continue onward northbound (perhaps not realizing there was a mega back up just ahead).

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Google doesn’t tell you how long it takes to park in River north (hint: typically 8-15 minutes)

  • alexfrancisburchard

    When a train line shuts down, its a pretty big deal, but busses do move people (much more expensively) from point A to point B.

    When the Northside Mainline shut down due to a fire a year or two ago, people still got where they were going. I got on a clark Street bus myself as I had just walked out of wrigley, and made it downtown just fine. The transit grid, bad as it may be at informing customers, is still loads better than the road grid about informing folks what is happening and when to or not to take alternate modes.

    For some people it may have taken an hour or two to get home, rather than 30 minutes, which sounds about like what happened when LSD shut down. though, LSD carries far fewer people in a day than the NSML, so it shutting down and blowing up the street grid is considerably more ridiculous than the red/purple/brown/UP North shutting down and not messing up traffic, but slowing people down a little.

  • Granted, there is a huge parking lot just west of the church, which is probably used by parishioners.

  • Anne A

    But that doesn’t include the time spent on parking. Just trying to look at a balanced picture here.

  • oooBooo

    People still get where they are going with the roads too… But if you are on a train when whatever happens, you’re going to be sitting for good long time. Limited access highways are at least flexible enough to have an easy way for people to get out of the trap, with or without authorities’ blessings.

  • R.A. Stewart

    “For someone living a good distance west of the train however, driving can save 40+ minutes each way. Travel times increase quickly as you move west of the red line.”

    Too true, as I can attest; as it happens, we live about a mile and a half west of the Morse red line station. The Red Line wouldn’t have even been a practical option that day (and, yes, I was caught in that traffic), because our neighborhood’s east-west bus, which has a minimum 15-minute headway at the best of times, doesn’t even run on weekends.

    Which in my view doesn’t contradict John’s point, by the way, but rather demonstrates why, while we’re lucky for what transportation diversity we have, we really need far more.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    Usually trains will go back to the nearest station and let you off. You don’t often get stuck for nearly as long as you get stuck on a suddenly closed expressway.

  • oooBooo

    After central authority has a few meetings.

    Stuck on an expressway is what happens when for whatever reason a person does not wish to reroute or break the rules.

  • Or risk a head-on collision by going the wrong way down an on-ramp, or risk striking a tree by driving over a median.

  • oooBooo

    Or risk touching the third rail and something else that’s grounded at the same time. Or risk falling from above on to the streets below. Or risk getting bitten by a rat in a subway tunnel. or whatever.

    The point I was making is that in the train you are trapped. You are staying there until authority lets you leave. Which is ultimately as bad as it can get with a car. Being stuck until authority allows you to leave. However, being a distributed, decentralized form, people are more difficult to control with automobiles. As those in Atlanta showed, one can simply get out of their car and walk away. With bicycles and motorcycles it is even more difficult to control people as rerouting becomes more dynamic.