Residents Weigh in on CDOT’s Latest Logan Square Designs

Option 4 "The Bend" scenario would implement two-way traffic around Logan Square and reconfigure Kedzie to create a new plaza. Image: CDOT
Option 4 "The Bend" scenario would implement two-way traffic around Logan Square and reconfigure Kedzie to create a new plaza. Image: CDOT

The city’s project to redesign Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Boulevard to Belmont has primarily focused on the complicated issues that surround the six-way intersection and traffic circle at Milwaukee, Logan, and Kedzie, the namesake of the Logan Square neighborhood. Last night’s hearing on the initiative was similarly focused on the juction, as five of the eight design presentation boards and all of the tables set up with plans laid out upon them featured the four new Logan Square layout concepts. That made sense, because anyone that you talked to at the meeting immediately offered up their opinion about the intersection, although people still had some thoughts to share about the rest of Milwaukee.

One alternative the Chicago Department of Transportation presented for Milwaukee, dubbed Concept 1, included curb bump-outs to shorten pedestrian crossing distances, plus “dashed bike lanes.” Last summer CDOT piloted this kind of bikeway, featuring a solid line to the right of the lane and a dashed line to the left, on a stretch of Milwaukee in Wicker Park that was too narrow for installing conventional bike lanes without stripping car parking.

“I still don’t feel as safe cycling through Wicker Park where they introduced dashed bike lanes as I do in the protected segments [closer to downtown],” said Avondale resident Erin Watson. As such, Watson and fellow neighborhood resident Olivia Barrett, voiced their support for Concept 2, which involves removing parking from one side of Milwaukee to make room for European-style raised bike lanes. Barrett added that it would be important to make sure that “the transitions from shared lane to protected lane are properly designed”

A possible scenario for Milwaukee would involve stripping parking to make room for wider sidewalks with raised bike lanes. Image: CDOT
A possible scenario for Milwaukee would involve stripping parking to make room for wider sidewalks with raised bike lanes. Image: CDOT

“We understand that [the removal of] parking will be a tradeoff, but we are interested in leading outreach to businesses about how bike lanes and walkability improve economic development,” said Julia Gerasimenko, advocacy manager at the Active Transportation Alliance. “We liked all of the conceptual components that promoted safe walking, transit, and cycling conditions, like the bike lanes protected by bus islands.”

Regarding the redesign of Logan Square, Watson and Barrett shared sentiments that were common among meeting attendees. Watson said, “I am excited for a more unified green space and the closing of Milwaukee avenue” through the green space, as shown in Concepts 2 and 4 for the square. Barrett added that “crossing those multiple-light intersections is harrowing, and takes forever.”

Option 1 "Spot Improvements" would involve only minor changes. Image: CDOT
Option 1 “Spot Improvements” would involve only minor changes. Image: CDOT

Other meeting attendees suggested building pedestrian underpasses and overpasses to reduce conflicts with motorists. CDOT engineers present explained that aside from the exorbitant cost of these structures, both were unlikely to get much use due to how far out of the way they would need to take users in order to account for grade changes and the Blue Line subway running under the square.

Some residents were skeptical of the proposals that involved closing a section of Milwaukee to motor vehicles. “While the consolidated green space is a nice idea, I don’t feel a traffic circle is a workable solution because it forces hundreds of semis onto the roundabout, many of which, by accident or on purpose, will end up on the boulevards,” said longtime resident Mark Heller.

Option 2 "Traffic Oval" maintains one-way traffic around the square but closed Milwaukee to cars through the square. Image: CDOT
Option 2 “Traffic Oval” maintains one-way traffic around the square but closes Milwaukee to cars through the square. Image: CDOT

Someone pointed out that raised crosswalks and appropriate signage could guide through traffic on Milwaukee to continue on the diagonal route rather than entering the boulevards. But Heller responded with the claim that, “during past meetings about improving the square, [a former Illinois Department of Transportation employee & CDOT consultant] said a roundabout is suboptimal due to peak traffic numbers.”

Current CDOT capital projects lead Nathan Roseberry, clarified that “Option 2 still meets minimum thresholds. However, all three of the lanes are needed on the south and west sides of the square to meet that minimum threshold.” In effect, he was saying that the current width of the roadway — which currently acts as a moat around the square, discouraging pedestrian crossings — cannot be reduced in a one-way scenario without causing more congestion during rush hours.

“Based on our traffic analysis,” Roseberry continued, “there are three predominant movements that drivers make through the square: Kedzie to Kedzie; Milwaukee to Milwaukee; and the south leg of Kedzie to Logan Boulevard. In Option 2, most of these three movements must utilize the south and west portions of the square.” CDOT explored many permutations which lead to options 3 and 4, which introduce two-way traffic on the major arterials passing through the square. “Options 3 and 4 spread out the intersections so that they aren’t so closely spaced. Which means that these concepts, while reducing paved area, do not increase travel times. Option 4 has a slight [30 seconds or less] increase in travel time due to the realignment of Kedzie, but the travel times through the physical square remain unchanged.”

Option 3 “Trip Match” involves two-way traffic around the the square and would, in fact, be a very trippy street layout. Image: CDOT
Option 3 “Trip Match” involves two-way traffic around the the square and would, in fact, be a very trippy street layout. Image: CDOT

The realignment of Kedzie is clearly about improved walkability rather than improving traffic flow. It allows for the creation of a new plaza that would be directly activated by the the businesses on the east side of the street. Landlords present at the meeting complained that these changes would negatively impact their tenants by eliminating parking and making it impossible for delivery trucks to use the existing alley.

However, the advantage of the reconfiguration to these businesses is that there would no longer be an 80′ roadway to cross between the Logan Blue Line stop and their storefronts, which means that the 7,000 daily commuters using the station would be more likely to spend money there. Moreover, a well-designed plaza could still accommodate delivery trucks.

For example, the Place Simon-Valois plaza in Montreal’s Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighborhood allows for trucks to deliver directly outside of the businesses lining the square during the day while cafe seating for the businesses occupies the plaza at night. A slight increase in travel times for vehicles on Kedzie is an acceptable tradeoff to create a plaza that is a worthy sibling to Logan Square’s boulevards and the green space surrounding the monument.

Montreal's Place Simon-Valois.
Montreal’s Place Simon-Valois.

Ward Miller, a Logan Square resident and director of Preservation Chicago also voiced opposition to changing the road alignment. “Milwaukee, as the Old Plank Road, has been in the square for its entire existence, so we should narrow, rather than close a street that has been there for 150 years,” he said. “This redesign needs to happen in the most sensitive and cost-effective way to calm traffic and embrace historicism.” He argued that, instead of closing Milwaukee to motor vehicles, brick and granite pavers, as are being used in Fulton Market, should be used as traffic calming in and around the square.

“Looking at existing conditions and the ongoing mode shifts away from private vehicles means that we need to plan for a multi-modal future, not just slight changes to the status quo,” countered Active Trans’ Gerasimenko. Of course, motor vehicles didn’t exist 150 years ago, so one way to stay true to the origins of Logan Square would be to keep Milwaukee open as a pedestrian and bicycle street through the green space, but simply close it to motorized traffic. And if the occasional horse-and-buggy driver wants to cross the square on Milwaukee, that would be fine as well.

Roseberry summarized CDOT’s approach to these varying interests. “Our goals for this project were to create compact and efficient intersections, from trimming at the edges to addressing not just the physical footprint of the intersection but the functional footprint of the intersection,” i.e. the spaces where cars line up at the approaches to the intersection.

Despite the varying viewpoints, there was still some common ground. Even Heller said he appreciated the proposal to eliminate slip lanes and pedestrian “pork chop” islands in order to slow down turning vehicles and make walking safer and easier. He also approved on plans to reconfigure the service drives to reduce the number of intersections that pedestrians must cross, such as the service drive by Logan Auditorium and Lula Cafe.

Local aldermen Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) said they were encouraged to finally see movement on this long-awaited project. “I worked with Alderman Waguespack to pressure CDOT, as this money and [request for proposals] have been identified and allocated for a long time,” Ramirez-Rosa said, adding that he was “excited for the four great options that have been derived from the best practices of traffic engineering and from extensive community input that allowed new constituents to voice their opinions who normally have not been given a chance to.” The alderman was apparently referring to outreach to local parents about the project conducted by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Active Trans at area schools.

“We’ve gotten a really good look at the problems related to the square, and have collected a ton of feedback from the community over the last two meetings,” Waguespack said. “We’ve worked with CDOT, the Active Transportation Alliance and community members, and now we need to figure out how to pay for these great ideas in the face of federal spending proposals that are geared towards public private partnerships that don’t acknowledge projects like this that benefit the community in ways that cannot be directly monetized.”

Both alderman urged their constituents and users of the square to make their voices heard via the public comment section of the project website. All plans and presentation materials can be viewed in high resolution here.

  • Jacob Wilson

    “Other meeting attendees suggested building pedestrian underpasses and overpasses to reduce conflicts with motorists.”

    How 1950’s of them!

  • Looking at the concept renderings it appears that one thing the city has still not figured out is how to keep drivers from blocking the crosswalk/bike lane when making a turn. Despite the curb bump-outs to shorten pedestrian crossings (great idea), the turn radii are still huge and drivers still have to pull into the bike lane/crosswalk to be able to safely make a turn.

    Also, why is there a slip lane in the project area in concept 3? We are supposed to be getting rid of those across the city.

  • planetshwoop

    It’s nice to see proposals with lots of extra greenspace. That would be pleasant.

  • Tooscrapps

    I also would like to see access to/from the frontages via Logan and Kedzie, potentially eliminating 4 crosswalks.

  • JacobEPeters

    This is why I loved this service drive alteration https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/65a92e61dd6163e27b64195348b046dbbf84190683ccf1d933c256bdb371c9f2.png
    I just would love to see the bike facility on the east side between the parking & the sidewalk.

  • Tooscrapps

    Too bad it’s in the design I like the least. We need a Frankenstein option.

    I do not like having off-street bike paths so close to corner where people wait to cross. Peds will certainly stand in the path and I don’t blame them. Ever try to take the Randolph bike lane under the Metra tracks? I’ve never seen it clear when their are pedestrians waiting to cross.

  • This is a tough one. It’s pretty much my street so I’ve thought about it a lot but really any improvement would go a long way. It’s a free for all out there right now. I was at the meeting and my main feedback was that feeding 2 lanes from a single lane is what I see create racing speeds as drivers find the opening and blast through it after being hemmed in for miles around as much of the traffic in the area eventually feeds into this single spot. It seems like the overall strategy around here is just to add more and more signals which means you need to leave the width for the cars to collect while they’re waiting for the red lights every 30-40 feet. New signals are expensive. They also said they’re trying to at least maintain capacity, which I’m not totally sure is necessary. I didn’t talk to anyone who knew what the current average speeds were but they said they did do a traffic study. I still don’t know what that really means. Plenty of good ideas in here though like reversing the flow on the east side of Kedzie so it can’t be used as a shortcut anymore. I hadn’t really thought about the historic aspect of Milwaukee until I read this. Milwaukee was an indian trail, then a plank road, then a trolley route, then a motor vehicle route. I think the trolley pickups actually used to be in the middle of the square, that’s why Milwaukee is so wide through the square. It’s always been changing. No funding source identified so we’ll see what happens. In the mean time if anyone wants to put some attention cones out there, go for it. Please slow down.

  • JacobEPeters

    Most of the design components are interchangeable. So the final option will be a Frankenstein’s monster option. In your comments, highlight which components, not necessarily which “option”.

  • Tooscrapps

    Primarily option 2 with these changes:

    – No slip lane onto Milwaukeen from the Oval
    – Frontages on both Logan and Kedzie are accessible only from those streets, not the square. Or, remove Logan frontages or convert to shared space.
    – Remove asphalt from west corners, make like NE corner.
    – Put the bike lane down the middle of the square rather than around and install better mixing zones on Milwaukee. Similar to the bike left turn lane onto the 606, but instead, bikes go straight and cars turn right.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The solution to too much concrete is clearly MORE of it!

  • JacobEPeters

    Fill out the public comment form http://chicagocompletestreets.org/nmilfeedback/ it literally has a place where you can lay out this preference on one of the later pages.

  • JacobEPeters

    tbf, many of the attendees who suggested this were children of the 50s.

  • Jeremy

    “feeding 2 lanes from a single lane is what I see create racing speeds as
    drivers find the opening and blast through it after being hemmed in for
    miles”

    This also applies to Clark between North and Armitage. It is an awful setup.

  • Bhaskar Manda

    “Traffic-calming”, “making walking safer and easier”, and such are euphemisms for “eff the drivers,” as as a consequence, the city as a whole. Walking is nice for going to restaurants and bars, not for dropping kids off at school, driving to work (part from those who work downtown or along train lines), driving for work, trip-chaining, and most daily tasks.

    Yeah, these are people who make a point of using cars as little as possible, but few have this luxury; and those people need commercial traffic anyway – things need to get to stores, service people need to travel, etc.

    These solutions, very appropriate for Danish villages, merely displace traffic to other, frequently residential streets, cause people to drive around looking for parking, and make commutes and other driving longer (and more polluting). They are regressive, and especially slanted against drivers, who are the only ones who actually pay (gasoline taxes); 80%+ of the finding for this comes from the Feds, and over 85% of Fed transportation money is from gasoline taxes. Safer and greener cities will come from smoother traffic – not slower traffic.

  • Frank Kotter

    This is meant ironically, right?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    For starters, “traffic calming” is actually a euphemism for “encouraging motorists to drive at reasonable speeds so that they don’t get themselves killed.”

  • A big “nope” on the funding part of your comment.

    The Highway Trust Fund pays for federal grants for road and transit projects. A vast majority of the Fund’s balance is in the highway account. Less than half of the Fund’s funding comes from federal taxes on gasoline and diesel. There are a some other excise taxes that contribute to the Fund, like a sales tax on heavy trucks. The remaining funding is provided by annual transfers from the Treasury (so, mostly income taxes) to the tune of about $14.3 billion per year, on average, between 2008 and 2017.

    Gasoline and diesel taxes are paid by anyone who drives, anyone who pays to ride in a car, and anyone who purchases goods transported by a vehicle.

  • “but really any improvement would go a long way” aka “something is better than nothing” is not a good accountability threshold for public investments

  • There are also sharrows in Option/concept 3!

  • This is the option that has sharrows.

  • I will advocate for Option 2, but with the two-way traffic from Option 3, and reducing lanes even more.

    Ward Miller said, “so we should narrow, rather than close a street that has been there for 150 years” – closing it to car traffic doesn’t close a street. 150 years ago there were no cars.

    Option 2 maintains “Milwaukee Avenue” as a historic street for non-motorized transportation, kinda like how it was hundreds of years ago as a plank road.

  • Logan Square Driver

    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  • Bhaskar Manda

    The project’s director stated that 80%+ is coming from the Feds.

  • JacobEPeters

    They are components Steve. I know you already know that every time a “Concept” is presented at a public meeting, it’s a frankenstein of many optional components that are being considered.

  • Eric

    And most bridges over the river/ freeways or underpasses, plus Elston’s redesign. Granted some of those areas don’t have high pedestrian activity but it leads to the same outcome – motorists racing to the next red light.

    North Damen over the river is particularly obnoxious as there are short segments of two lanes after the bridge/ going downhill.

  • Eric

    Smashed my head against the table after reading that.

    Maybe they can include some chainlink fencing around the overpasses! At least include some urinals in the underpasses.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The two way traffic is IMO a bad idea. Chicago needs to embrace roundabouts, this is the gold-plated opportunity to do one right.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Smoother traffic = roundabouts. America is as behind the curve on this as we are with embracing the metric system.

  • Bob from Logan Square

    I think the square is fine the way it is. Leave it alone.

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