Eyes on the Street: The Broadway/Halsted Slip Lane Is History

Meanwhile, "The Big Island" pedestrian refuge also makes Broadway/Clarendon safer for cyclists

The removal of the slip lane makes crossing the street safer and more convenient. Photo: John Greenfield
The removal of the slip lane makes crossing the street safer and more convenient. Photo: John Greenfield

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The Chicago Department of Transportation recently made some, ahem, concrete improvements to the stretch of Broadway between Irving Park and Grace in Lakeview that make the area much friendlier for pedestrians and bicyclists. They’ve permanently removed the slip lane that previously allowed drivers to make dangerously quick turns from northbound Halsted to southeast-bound Broadway. They’ve built a large pedestrian island two blocks north at Broadway/Clarendon that also makes it easier for northbound cyclists to turn left on Broadway to continue towards Uptown. As a bonus, this short stretch also got brand-new buffered bike lanes.

These permanent changes mark the end of a long, surprisingly contentious debate about closing the slip lane, which had previously created an inconvenient and potentially hazardous situation for people on foot. In December 2015 the department put up “Do Not Enter” and “No Right Turn” signs by the slip lane as a test prior to this year’s repaving project on Broadway.

Broadway/Halsted before slip lane removal and after. Photos: John Greenfield
Broadway/Halsted before slip lane removal and after. Photos: John Greenfield

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. However, CDOT rush hour traffic counts done on a single day 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.

After local alderman James Cappleman hosted multiple meetings with CDOT officials and stakeholders, it was decided that the slip lane would be permanently closed but right turns by car drivers (but not truck drivers) would be permitted. “This is a great compromise,” said Lakeview East Chamber director Maureen Martino told me last summer.

Reached today, Martino said she’s not happy with how the closure turned out, arguing that the sharper right turn is difficult for drivers and that CDOT should have at least included a cut-through for bicyclists making the right turn. However, slowing right turns by drivers was the purpose of the change, the CDOT counts showed that only a handful of drivers were making this turn on a regular basis. While a cut-through might have been a nice convenience for cyclists, that would have partially negated the benefits for pedestrians.

Crossing the southbound protected bike lane on Clarendon to the new pedestrian island. Photo: John Greenfield
Crossing the southbound protected bike lane on Clarendon to the new pedestrian island. Photo: John Greenfield

The reconfiguration of Clarendon/Broadway began in Novemer 2015, when CDOT converted the stretch of Clarendon from Irving Park to Broadway to one-way northbound, with a parking-protected southbound bike lane and a conventional northbound bike lane. In June of this year they constructed the large pedestrian island at Clarendon/Broadway, which shortens the amount of street width left-turning cyclists on Broadway have to cross. The new buffered lanes on Broadway also serve to shepherd bike riders through the junction, making this maneuver much more comfortable and intuitive. As an added bonus, new crosswalks have been added to connect the island to sidewalks on the west side of Broadway and the east side of Clarendon.

According to Cappleman’s assistant Tressa Feher, the ward is working with the Northalsted Business Alliance and the Lakeview East chamber to come up with ideas to beautify the new pedestrian island (which I’ve nicknamed “The Big Island”) and the new peninsula at the former slip lane location. According to Martino, while the the peninsula isn’t considered to be a safe location for seating, planter boxes, sculpture, and a decorative paint job are under consideration.

The new pedestrian island and bike lanes make Broadway/Clarendon more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Images: Google Street View, John Greenfield
The new pedestrian island and bike lanes make Broadway/Clarendon more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists alike. Images: Google Street View, John Greenfield

We can look forward to some more slip lane removals later this year. CDOT has announced plans to eliminate slip lanes at Wicker Park’s Division/Ashland/Milwaukee and North/Damen/Milwaukee intersections on a test basis through the installation of flexible posts and street paint.

This post is made possible by a grant from Freeman Kevenides, a Chicago, Illinois personal injury law firm representing and advocating for bicyclists, pedestrians and vulnerable road users.  The content belongs to Streetsblog Chicago, and Freeman Kevenides Law Firm neither endorses nor exercises editorial control over the content.

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