What’s Waguespack’s Perspective on the Lincoln Hub Placemaking Project?
Plenty of pedestrians have told me they think the Lincoln Hub street redesign makes the Lincoln/Wellington/Southport intersection safer and more pleasant for walking, and doesn’t cause major hassles for motorists. I recently staked out the intersection for 45 minutes during the evening rush and shot footage that shows traffic was flowing smoothly, with practically zero horn honking. As you can see in this video at around 3:00, even when an ambulance appeared, it was able to get through a red light easily.
However, it’s obvious that not everyone is a fan of this placemaking project, which uses plastic posts and colorful paint dots to create curb extensions that double as seating plazas, eliminating several dangerous “slip lanes” for right-turning cars. There’s been plenty of criticism of the Lincoln Hub in the media, and a neighbor launched a petition against the project, which has garnered over 590 signatures to-date. Some people don’t care for the aesthetics of the dots, but many have also complained that the street remix is unfairly causing headaches for motorists by making it difficult for them to make turns, and to pass turning drivers.
While part of the purpose of the redesign was to calm motorized traffic, if it truly is creating a carmageddon that didn’t previously exist, that’s not a good thing. And, as I’ve stated before, just because I’ve hung out at the intersection on many occasions and have never witnessed traffic jams, that doesn’t mean they never happen. If the curb extensions are really and truly causing congestion problems, then it makes sense to tweak the design.
I recently checked in with the 32nd Ward to get the perspective of the local resident who has the most say on whether the Lincoln Hub gets redesigned, or taken out completely: Alderman Scott Waguespack. “Scott is inclined to support anything that makes intersections more inviting for pedestrians and eases crossing,” said 45th Ward chief of staff Paul Sajovec. “But this [project] certainly has room for improvement.”
Sajovec said the vast majority of people who have contacted the ward office about the Lincoln Hub have complained about it. “In general, we don’t get a lot of calls from people saying they’re happy about things, so that goes with the territory,” he acknowledged. “But the level of negative reaction on this distinguishes it from the pack. Some people have applauded the concept but criticized the execution. Scott also has concerns that the way the project is implemented is causing problems at peak times.”
Again, I didn’t see any issues when I filmed traffic at the hub between 5:00 and 5:45 p.m., but Sajovec said he’s gone out to observe the intersection many times and has observed traffic jams around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. “The number-one complaint is that if two or three drivers are turning left, no one can get past those cars.” He said roughly a quarter of people who have complained were calling from their vehicles after encountering this situation. “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they pulled over.”
The seating plaza at the north side of the intersection, by a Pockets restaurant, was recently modified to make it easier for southbound drivers on Southport to pass left-turning cars. Sajovec said that has helped somewhat, but some motorists still don’t realize that there’s space to get around the turning vehicles, especially if there are multiple drivers waiting to turn, or the first driver doesn’t pull far enough into the intersection. He added that this dynamic is a problem at other parts of the intersection, and it seems to be worst for northbound drivers on Southport.
“We understand that if you’re going to change an intersection, it’s not realistic to assume that there would be no effect on traffic flow,” Sajovec said. “But it’s clear that there are a lot of concerns from residents, so we certainly don’t want to turn a deaf ear. We’re committed to working with [the Chicago Department of Transportation] to come up with a solution that maintains or even improves pedestrian access while making sure that traffic isn’t blocked when cars are turning.”
Last month, CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey told DNAinfo that the Lincoln Hub has improved conditions for walking by shortening crossing distances by 34 percent, adding that traffic “seems to be moving smoothly through the intersection.” If the department isn’t already doing so, it certainly makes sense for them to monitor traffic patterns at the Lincoln Hub and make changes if necessary, such as adjusting signal times or modifying the seating plazas. For example, it might make sense to further trim the Pockets plaza, removing the entire section east of the sidewalk and pedestrian island (see above photo) to make it even easier to pass turning cars.
While the intersection may be less convenient for drivers right now, it’s important to keep in mind that it was previously much less safe for pedestrians, who were endangered by right-turning cars in the slip lanes. Although Chicago has made gains towards a more balanced transportation system, we still tend to prioritize motorized traffic flow at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. The Lincoln Hub should be further modified if necessary, but not to the extent that the wins for walking are reversed.