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.

  • BlueFairlane

    I have two takaways …

    1. I don’t see anybody lounging on the dots or acting like this spot’s any more place-like than it was before. Everybody’s just passing through the way they always did.

    2. There’s a funny sequence of stupidity in the middle video, starting around 0:30 when you can clearly hear a fire truck. Southport has the light, which the bicyclist coming west on Wellington tries to run. He backs off in the middle of the intersection after almost getting creamed by what I think is a Mercury SUV that has the light, but which itself has ignored the fire truck approaching the intersection moving south on Lincoln.

  • Granted, conditions were not particularly hospitable for hanging out that time of day, and I saw no one else using the seats. I was fairly comfortable sitting at one of the cafe tables, eating a snack from Pockets, but some shade definitely would have made it nicer. Unfortunately, sightline rules prevent them from putting in umbrellas or shade trees, but perhaps some kind of canopies could be added.

    Yep, there’s definitely some bad behavior by various road users in these videos.

  • You know, I must say the dots look a lot better in the sunshine, especially with the plants there.

  • Matt

    Seems like a good intersection to move to a roundabout. Would increase the throughput of the intersection for everyone.

  • Looks like mayhem to me.

  • Roundabouts have been spectacularly unsuccessful in Chicago so far, because most of the current drivers have never heard of them, and so they either ignore them or actively destroy them when found.

    To have an actual, working roundabout would require a massive public outreach and education effort, probably extending multiple years and across the entire city, to teach people what this new piece of traffic control infrastructure is, how it works, and why it’s important not to cheat on it.

  • Lets put a big round-about at Ridge and Clark. One with no traffic lights. Now that would be fun.

  • “Roundabout”? Yes! (R.I.P. Chris Squire.)

  • The thing is, most Chicago drivers look at a roundabout and see a broken intersection — a huge unregulated badly-signed monstrosity.

    This is like looking at a game of baseball and remarking upon what poor chess players they all seem to be.

  • Edgewater Bicycle Commuter

    I ride (on a bike) a route that takes me through this intersection nearly every (work) day, twice a day — in the morning around 8:30 and in the evening around 6:30. I’ve ridden this route every (work) day, twice a day, for about 3-4 years. The intersection functions MUCH BETTER now than before the painted sidewalk extensions / plastic wands, etc. It is also MUCH SAFER for everyone — pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers. I do not hear any more honking or signs of frustration / road rage than at any/all City of Chicago northside three-way intersections. Yes, congestion/back-ups at such intersections can be substantial and, no doubt, frustrating for drivers. The congestion/back-ups are not caused or made worse by the new design here. It is caused by too many sing-occupant private vehicles. Drivers should understand this, get used to it, and, if possible and intelligent enough, make plans for it — it will get worse unless many more people walk, bicycle, and take transit.

  • what_eva

    None of your videos show SB Southport, which is where the traffic regularly backs up. Today at 5:30, it was backed up to Fletcher. So many people were diverting to Barry that it was backed up from Greenview to Southport and there were drivers getting frustrated and driving in the NB lane to get to Nelson. I saw two do it past me while I waited SB, then on return NB around 6:30, had one moron almost hit me because s/he couldn’t wait until they got closer to Nelson to turn.

    At both 5:30 and 6:30, none of the other directions were bad, only SB Southport. I’ve said it before, SB Southport is the problem due to many vehicles turning left to SEB Lincoln. The removed right lane stops SB traffic from being able to pass left turners and causes the backup to be much worse than it ever was before the dots. I’ve lived here for over 6 years. I never saw a backup past Barry save for a stoppage of some sort (like when Southport is closed south of Lincoln for Oktoberfest). Now it’s a regular occurrence to see traffic backed up past Fletcher almost to Belmont.

    Instead of denying that there is a problem, let’s find a solution to it so that we don’t end up having the whole project dismantled when there are fixes possible.

  • The middle video does show SB Southport — it’s to the left of the frame. There didn’t seem to be any major issues while I was at this intersection during rush hour, but, as I said, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist at all. I’ll be publishing some feedback from the alderman’s office about this issue soon, as well an idea for for a possible fix for the left-turn issue on Southport.

  • what_eva

    last night I went through at 6:30, SB was fine, pretty much clear, but NB was a mess, backed up past George, close to Wolfram. Lincoln and Wellington weren’t a problem.