What’s Rush Hour Traffic Really Like at the Lincoln Hub?

There have been have been plenty of complaints in the media that the Lincoln Hub placemaking project is causing a traffic nightmare at Lincoln, Wellington, and Southport in Lakeview. The intiative was spearheaded by the local chamber of commerce in order to create safer conditions for all road users and encourage people to linger and spend money at the six-way intersection.

The project uses flexible posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes. The curb extensions double as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provide additional protection from cars.

Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin recently criticized the street redesign, arguing that replacing the slip lanes with pedestrian space has created a headache for drivers:

By gobbling up space once occupied by right-hand turn lanes along the curbs, 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.”

Local resident Luis Monje launched an online petition to “redesign/rethink/rescind” the Lincoln Hub, which has garnered over 580 signatures. He delivered a printout of the signatures to local alderman Scott Waguespack on July 15. “We have noticed a MARKED increase in the amount of traffic congestion on our block as cars/trucks/service vehicles struggle with the sharp turns that have been made much tighter due to this ‘improvement,’” Monje wrote in the petition.

I recently staked out the intersection for an hour on a weekday from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. and asked 16 pedestrians for their opinion of the hub. The vast majority said the street remix makes the area safer and more pleasant for walking, and doesn’t cause major problems for drivers. Pat Galligan, a recruiter for an energy and engineering business, was an exception:

It’s awful. Driving takes forever now. The lights are super-short. I commute to the suburbs and back every day. I can’t stand driving anywhere near here, when I have to go down Lincoln or Southport. You can’t [easily] make these right-hand turns anymore, so now I gotta wait behind people who are making right-hand turns. Only four or five cars get through a light at a time.

While I’d hung out at the intersection on many occasions and had rarely seen significant congestions, I hadn’t spent much time there during rush hours. To get a better feel for what traffic conditions are like during the evening rush, I camped out at the hub yesterday between 5:00 and 5:45 p.m. and shot a few three-minute videos between 5:30 and 5:45.

While they’re not the most fascinating viewing (although I find them oddly hypnotic) they do show that, on that evening at least, car traffic was flowing smoothly. There were almost no issues with drivers getting stuck behind turning cars and, despite what Kamin wrote, there was practically zero horn honking. Another takeaway: there’s a heckuva lot of bicycle traffic on Lincoln.

These videos certainly don’t prove that traffic jams are never a problem at this intersection. But they do suggest that, contrary to what the naysayers have reported, the Lincoln Hub is not creating an unmitigated hell for rush hour commuters.

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