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Lakeview News: Right Turns Are Back at Grace/Halsted, Curbside Cafes Debut

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El Nuevo Mexicano owner Maria Rodriguez cuts the ribbon on the restaurant's Curbside Cafe. Photo: Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.

The controversial right-turn ban at Grace/Halsted/Broadway in Lakeview East may have created a new Chicago record for the number of community meetings held over a pair of traffic signs. Fortunately, it appears that a compromise has been reached which should satisfy the drivers who groused about the turn ban, as well as folks who are concerned about improving pedestrian safety.

Last December the Chicago Department of Transportation put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. Slip lanes, also called channelized right turns or “porkchop islands,” are problematic because they allow motorists to whip around corners at high speeds into the path of people on foot, and they create longer pedestrian crossing distances.

CDOT decided to try banning the right turn as a test, in advance of a street repaving project on Broadway between Belmont and Irving Park, slated for late 2016 or early 2017. If the test was deemed a success, the slip lane would be replaced by a curb extension during the road project.

Banning right turns onto Broadway kept pedestrians from being endangered by quick-turning drivers. Photo: John Greenfield

But some residents, merchants, and the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce weren’t happy about the turn ban, and the chamber launched an online petition asking CDOT to take down the signs. They argued that the new rule made it harder to drive in the neighborhood, and caused motorist to take circuitous routes on residential streets to access Broadway south of Grace.

However, northbound drivers on Halsted who needed to access the the 3700 block of North Broadway could do so by turning east on Waveland, a block south of Grace. Moreover, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day last October found that, even during the busiest hour, 8 to 9 a.m., only 14 northbound drivers made the hard right turn onto Broadway. Overall, only 4.5 percent of all northbound motorists used the slip lane during the a.m. rush, and a mere 3.9 percent used it during the p.m. rush.

Nevertheless, CDOT recently took down the turn-ban signs and replaced them with a “No U-Turn for Trucks” sign. When I asked CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey about the change, he referred me to local alderman James Cappleman’s latest newsletter.

Although the slip lane is currently open, it will soon be closed with signs and flexible posts, and later concrete, but right turns around the pedestrian island will be permitted: Photo: John Greenfield

Cappleman noted that he’d convened stakeholder meetings with CDOT, the chamber, the Northalsted Business Alliance, East Lakeview Neighbors in February and March. After the transportation department did additional traffic studies, they decided to temporarily reopen the slip lane. However, they will soon close the slip lane for the short term with signs and flexible posts while allowing drivers to turn right onto southbound Broadway around the tip of the existing pedestrian island / future sidewalk extension. The closure of the slip lane will be made permanent in conjunction with the repaving project.

Allowing right turns but permanently eliminating the slip lane seems like a good solution. The sharper angle of the turn will reduce the temptation for drivers to whip around the corner, and pedestrians will have less exposure to traffic.

“This is a great compromise,” said Lakeview East Chamber director Maureen Martino. “There’s still a lot of people who have cars in the neighborhood.”

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The new Curbside Cafe by the Duke of Perth. Does anyone know if there are penguins in Scotland? Photo: Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce

In other Lakeview East news, the city’s first “Curbside Cafes,” private on-street seating areas for eating and drinking establishments, recently debuted at El Nuevo Mexicano restaurant, 2914 North Clark, and the Duke of Perth tavern, 2913 North Clark. 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney sponsored the ordinance for this new kind of placemaking strategy, which passed earlier this year. However, due to strict rules about location and sidewalk width – sidewalks can be no wider than eight feet – these two private parklets are probably the only ones we’ll see this year.

Public “People Spot” parklets were also installed nearby at Gabby’s Barbershop, 2860 North Clark, and the former site of Osteria Pizza Metro, 2863 North Clark – the restaurant closed last year but the chamber expects the space will be rented soon.

Martino says the owners of the eatery and the tavern love having the new seating space for customers, and neighbors appreciate how the colorful parklets help make an underperforming stretch of Clark Street more vibrant. In the future the chamber hopes to do a full makeover of the corridor, including wider sidewalks. “But right now there’s no money, so this is something we can do in the short term,” she said.

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