Actually, the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont Remix Will Be a Major Improvement
Last week a ward staffer provided me with a preview of plans for the Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont reconstruction project. From what I gathered from that conversation, the Chicago Department of Transportation was planning a relatively conservative redesign of one of the North Side’s most dangerous intersections.
But at a public meeting about the initiative last week, I learned that it’s actually going to be somewhat bolder than I thought, with significant improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. The project also includes streetscaping work on Belmont between Ashland and Southport, and Lincoln from Melrose to Wellington, which will further improve conditions for walking.
During the hearing at St. Luke’s Church, 1500 West Belmont, CDOT’s complete streets manager Janet Attarian outlined the planned changes. She noted that Lincoln/Ashland Belmont was the 5th most dangerous intersection in the city in 2010, with 35 crashes.
New sidewalk bumpouts will be added on Lincoln and Ashland, which will narrow these streets at the intersection and shorten the turning radius for drivers, preventing high-speed turns. They will also improve sightlines and shorten pedestrian crossing distance. In addition, the bumpouts will help straighten out a kink in Lincoln which occurs at the six-way junction.
Left turns off of Lincoln will be banned. This will affect relatively few drivers, since these moves make up only 2-4% of traffic at the intersection, according to CDOT counts. During rush hours, left turns currently account for 8-16% of traffic on Lincoln.
Eliminating these left turns removes the need for left turn bays on Lincoln. Not only does that provide right-of-way for the new bumpouts, it makes room for adding green bike lanes and bike boxes at the intersection. The bike lanes will be striped through the long intersection as dashed lines which will help bicyclists feel more confident about crossing, and also help guide motorists.
Attarian said that it wasn’t feasible to add dedicated bike signals that would let cyclists get a head start before the light turns green for drivers. However, she noted that the bike boxes allow cyclists to wait for the light in front of the line of cars, which has a similar benefit.
The intersection’s current configuration requires pedestrians to make as many as three street crossings to get where they need to go. I’m pleased to see that, contrary to what the ward staffer told me, new crosswalks will be added along Belmont, allowing people on foot to make a direct east-west crossing – a real timesaver.
Some of the CTA bus stops will be relocated to the far side of the intersection, which Attarian said makes it less likely that buses will get stuck at reds. However, since the far-side stops require the removal of more car-parking spaces than the near-side ones, not all of the stops will get this treatment.
The Lincoln/Greenview/Barry intersection will also get new bumpouts to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians and shorten turning radii.
At Lincoln/Southport/Wellington, the Lincoln Hub placemaking project, which eliminated dangerous slip lanes and created seating plazas through the use of paint dots and plastic poles, will be transformed into permanent concrete infrastructure.
To appease motorists, who have been grumbling ever since the street redesign debuted in spring 2015, the curb extensions will be somewhat smaller, making it easier for through traffic to get around drivers waiting to make turns. Hopfully there will still be enough room for seating in the bumpouts.
I asked Attarian whether CDOT considered doing a pedestrian scramble phase at Lincoln/Ashland/Belmont. She replied that this treatment generally works better in locations where there are more pedestrians than drivers, which isn’t the case here. “A pedesetrian scramble takes a lot of green time, which is perfectly fine if you have the numbers to justify it,” she said. Attarian added that, with all the upcoming improvements, hopefully foot traffic will increase.
There will be another public meeting to review Phase I designs for the project this fall. CDOT hopes to begin construction of the federally funded project by spring 2018.