Eliminating Left Turns for Cars at North/Damen Would Create More Space for People

Most of the right-of-way at Milwaukee/North/Damen is used for moving private motor vehicles, so there's relatively little space for pedestrians, and no dedicated lanes for buses or bikes. Photo: Brandon Bartoszek
Most of the right-of-way at Milwaukee/North/Damen is used for moving private motor vehicles, so there's relatively little space for pedestrians, and no dedicated lanes for buses or bikes. Photo: Brandon Bartoszek

One neat trick could go a long way towards solving the traffic problems at Wicker Park’s complicated North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection.

Thousands of people walk, bike, and ride transit through this six-way intersection every day, but the current layout heavily prioritizes motorists. The sidewalks are too narrow, and the crosswalk layout requires people on foot to multiple crossings to get from one side on the junction to the other. Buses get stuck behind long lines of cars, and navigating the junction by bicycle is a little tricky for the many bike commuters on the Milwaukee Avenue “Hipster Highway.”

Heck, it’s not even safe for motorists, as evidenced by the dozens of vehicle crashes each year.

Banning left turns by drivers from Damen and North Avenues could address several of these issues. Eliminating the left-turn lanes would free up about about ten feet of roadway width that could be used for bike lanes in each direction, wider sidewalks, or a combination of the two. Getting rid of the right-turn lanes as well would provide even more room to play with.

People crossing the street with the walk signal wouldn’t have to worry about being struck by inattentive or impatient drivers making turns. And through traffic wouldn’t be delayed by poorly-timed left turns by drivers. Traffic cameras could be installed to automatically enforce the new no-turn rule.

Left turns, and their dedicated lanes, at North/Damen/Milwaukee represent a marginal perk for motorists, but a massive missed opportunity for improving conditions for walking, biking, and transit.

You voice your support for this and other ideas to improve the intersection tonight to decision makers tonight at the first public meeting about reconfiguring the intersection. It takes place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. the A.N. Pritzker School auditorium, 2009 W. Schiller St. The meeting is hosted by the Chicago Department of Transportation, the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area (a business improvement district), and the offices of Joe Moreno (1st Ward), Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), and Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward).

  • Lance Armstrong

    Enforcing the rules of the road for cyclists would also go a long way. They consistently run red lights and have near misses with cars and pedestrians.

  • Anne A

    Eliminating left turns at this intersection would probably reduce the number of crashes quite a bit. Smart safety improvement.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    I want to say they already ban left turns at Milwaukee/Irving Park.

  • That’s a reasonable compromise for the moment. We don’t get what we need but for now I am willing to settle for less than what is needed and once more give in to the unreasonable demands of the shrill whining car congesters.

    Banning dirty private fossil fuel vehicles entirely and only allowing bikes and electric buses on a curbless Argyle-style pedestrianized plaza spacec is what is needed. Private cars can wait for Elon Musk to dig his underground tunnels.

  • Your headline should be “Solve Traffic Problems At North-Damen-Milwaukee With This One Weird Trick”

  • The city could do that, but it would be a marginal change in reducing injuries and making it a pedestrian-friendly and transit rider-friendly place.

    Are you going to the meeting tonight?

  • Left turns are also already banned here from Milwaukee Avenue. Yet everyday I bike home, some motorist is doing it and causing drivers and bicyclists to avoid their turn.

  • or, “traffic engineers don’t want you to find out” via https://twitter.com/mjCornfield/status/862019388303712256

  • PP

    Yes there are some bad cyclists but automobile drivers cause most death & destruction on the roads

  • PP

    The intersections with diagonal streets are hairy for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers. Getting rid of left turn lanes for drivers would probably be the best move short term for the safety of everyone.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The CPD seems to share your viewpoint. In January they did a sting at this intersection, writing lots of tickets for harmless infractions by cyclists, while largely ignoring dangerous lawbreaking by drivers. (Come to think of it, it’s pretty cool that there’s so much biking at this location that the police could do a crackdown on cyclists in the middle of January.) http://chi.streetsblog.org/2017/01/19/todays-crackdown-on-cyclists-in-wicker-park-was-a-waste-of-cpd-resources/

  • Jeremy

    I wouldn’t say every day, but drivers often make illegal left turns at the Broadway/Clark/Diversey intersection. It is too bad the city bungled the rollout of traffic cameras and won’t add more.

  • Anne A

    How was turnout at the meeting?

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • kastigar

    They’re removing the traffic cameras at Peterson & Pulaski. There was an informational meeting (ie, the decisions been made, we’re just meeting to inform you) at North Park Village. Write to Alderman Laurino and ask for the cameras.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Why is there a slip lane and a right turn lane here?

  • Bernard Finucane

    At the risk of repeating my self, here is a way to fix this mess. This is the original as seen in google maps.


    To fix this, remove redundant lanes:


  • Bernard Finucane

    See my remark below. The traffic on Damen should be routed through the current island, eliminating one of the two right turn lanes.

    So the black vehicle should be standing where the light is and pointed northeast instead of northwest. The grey car should be next to it. The road directly in front of these cars should be a pedestrian plaza.