Oak Park Tests Steel Rail Bumpouts as a Cheaper, Quicker Alternative to Concrete

The Oak Park neckdown. Photo: Jason Jenkins
The Oak Park neckdown. Photo: Jason Jenkins

Concrete pedestrian safety infrastructure, such as sidewalk bumpouts and pedestrian islands, help make walking safer and more convenient, but concrete infrastructure can cost several tens of thousands of dollars to install. Earlier this month the village of Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, tried a relatively inexpensive, flexible strategy to test out an intersection improvement before committing to setting it in stone.

Rendering of the neckdown. Image: Dero
Rendering of the neckdown. Image: DezignLine

Workers installed a neckdown at Cuyler Avenue and Fillmore Street using DezignLine PedRail, a modular barrier between pedestrians and motorized traffic created by the Minneapolis-based safety infrastructure company DezignLine. The system consists of steel rails that are bolted into the pavement, with high-visibility flexible posts to help prevent drivers from running into them. The rails can be used for temporary tests, or as permanent barriers, according to the company. The materials for the Oak Park installation were manufactured by the Minneapolis-based bike rack company Dero and installed by the city of Oak Park.

The intersection is located just southeast of Washington Irving elementary school. According to Dero rep Jason Jenkins, a former Active Transportation Alliance staffer, there were previously problems with impatient drivers whipping around corners during pickup and drop-off times, resulting in children and parents nearly being struck.

Installing the railings. Photo: Jason Jenkins
Anchoring the railings. Photo: Jason Jenkins

The railings, which took three hours to install, reduced the pedestrian crossing distance from 31 feet to 15’8”. Jenkins noted that the project cost a fraction of the price tag for pouring concrete, and the design can easily be modified if necessary. Although a couple of sewer grates lie within the bumpouts, stormwater drainage shouldn’t be a problem since the rails sit two inches above the street.

If Oak Park finds that the rail bumpouts (the product can also be used for pedestrian islands) have similar safety benefits as concrete infrastructure, it might make sense for Chicago to try this approach using PedRail or competing products. If lower costs and more flexibility – which could help reduce the potential for NIMBY opposition to street redesign projects – result in more bumpouts and islands getting installed across the city, that would be a net win for pedestrian safety.

  • Basically a #Sneckdown. Well done!!!

  • what_eva

    I wouldn’t like to see them become permanent as they’re just ugly. That said, as a testing tool, they seem like a really great idea. Figure out if there are any unforeseen issues caused by the design and adapt it, then go to permanent concrete.

    As an example, the initial design of the Lincoln Hub (Lincoln/Southport/Wellington, done with posts/paint only) was too restrictive on Southport in that if 2 cars were turning left (SB Southport to SEB Lincoln is common), there was no room to get around, leading to blocks long backups at busy times. A small tweak to make give a little more room alleviated the issue. If that had been done with concrete right off the bat, it would have been a disaster.

  • Hi, Eva! Jason, the Dero rep mentioned in the article here. Thanks for your interest in the system. I think you’re spot on about the advantages of the adaptability as a pilot piece and the Lincoln Hub is an excellent example.

    We want the PedRail and BikeRail systems to be something that can also function as a medium to long term solution where infrastructure is needed immediately but where funds may not be available for concrete for some time. Usually the primary appearance concern with demarcations like this is all the spikey delineators poking up everywhere, which is why we made the system in a way that you can start out with a delineator at every pivot point like shown in the install above, but as road users become familiar with the presence of the system you can go back and remove some or all the delineators creating less visual clutter, while still maintaining the same level of physical separation. like in the illustration below, but I’m genuinely curious about your opinion on the aesthetics of the system. Please let me know if there’s alterations that you think will make it a more eye pleasing solution. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e583b608a507c42b75205426fdf23efb3b9e7e4ca49a574e9412467426f4ec4c.jpg

  • Jeremy

    In that top photo, there are at least 40 bollards. That is not visually appealing. Other than that, the system looks fine to me. With the ease of installation and relatively low expense, hopefully aldermen in Chicago would be up for experimenting with this system.

  • 42 to be exact! :)

  • Anne A

    In a similar vein, I remember how bumpouts were tested on Clark St. in Andersonville years ago before concrete was poured. Those were done with bollard and paint.

    It was a valuable experiment. The original configuration proved to be too much of a pinch point, as the bumpouts would have trapped cyclists and forced them to wait for cars and buses to pass the bumpouts before cyclists could continue down the street. When concrete was poured, the size of the bumpouts was reduced somewhat so that they slowed motor vehicle traffic but still allowed some space for bikes to pass. They have slowed down traffic and created much safer crossing points for peds.

  • 神隠し

    How do these hold up against snow plows or even just bad drivers? I feel like they are going to be as resilient as those “State Law Pedestrian Crossing” signs that get put up in the middle of the road. Those seem to barely last a few weeks.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Why does temporary and inexpensive always have to look so damn ugly? It should be possible to make a temporary barrier that’s just as cheap and effective but would be much less unpleasant to look at.

  • Wallaby

    That is why soft-posts are often used as well. They allow extra wide or emergency vehicles to pass, and then the posts just pop right up again.

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Honestly, these are horrid! Must everything be designed for bumbling fools holding the keys to SUV death machines?

  • TRPCLRMNTCST

    Patient and exact! Son, how would you like a job with the CTA?

  • Completely agree. Most communities would say no to this because of how ugly it is, which is a problem

  • Hi Ziggy, Jason with Dero here. Usually the primary appearance concern with demarcations like this is all the spikey delineators poking up everywhere, which is why we made the system in a way that you can start out with a delineator at every pivot point like shown in the install above in order to draw maximum attention to the new infrastructure, but as road users become familiar with the presence of the system you can go back and remove some or all the delineators creating less visual clutter, while still maintaining the same level of physical separation. like in the illustration below. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/11b99cd34c86e76ddca36080681baa12d24c4cba260a5121b7754329f00e2e4e.jpg

  • Jason with Dero here. I’m the rep from Dero, the company that fabricated these. The PedRail and BikeRail systems are both intended to be used as both a pilot before pouring concrete or as a longer term solution. We’ve actually had them in a number of urban cores like downtown Minneapolis and New Orleans (as well as installations in about a dozen other locations nationally) where they have sustained multiple impacts from private, commercial, emergency and municipal vehicles including snow plows and none have needed to be replaced. The system uses approx. 1/8” thick steel wall tubing throughout and an extremely robust anchoring system. These features coupled with its ability to distribute the force of an impact throughout the system makes it extremely durable. But one of the many advantages of the system is that as a modular system if a portion is damaged it can easily be pulled and replaced quickly and cheaply. Likewise if the configuration shows that repeated impacts are happening in one section it can be reconfigured or removed completely just as quickly, easily and cheaply, unlike concrete. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  • info@dezignline.com

    DezignLine here. As the designers and suppliers of BikeRail and PedRail, we appreciate everyone’s input. Our primary goal is to give cities a cost effective, rapidly deployable system that actually provides a measure of protection for bicyclists and pedestrians — something that functions a bit like a concrete curb, but can be moved and repurposed if/when the city decides on a different approach to a
    permanent safety solution. We learn and adapt the system based on feedback from
    you: those who install, use and see it. Feel free to send us your thoughts
    & ideas directly: info@DezignLine.com.

  • Jason

    Maybe yellow bollards? I think part of what makes this look garish is all the contrasting colors. Making the bollards the same color as the steel base should result in bollards that are still visible while reducing the unpleasing mess of colors.

  • One idea: see if you can get something on the flexposts, like a loop or something, so enterprising neighbors can do things like string Christmas lights or yarn or whatever to make it more “owned” by the ‘hood. I think the current design is basically inevitably going to be a little on the ugly-side given how many flex posts there are and how obvious it’s supposed to look.

  • Bernard Finucane

    To me they look like they have about twice as many spikes as they need. Also wouldn’t say red stripes improve their visibility?

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3e661324ee95f7db1f2f83b87e75b36afec1a94828c203256afe410512b549cd.png

    This is what posts look like in Germany.

    But what I find odd is the barriers on the sides of the crosswalk. What are they for?

  • c2check

    Likely because drivers are horrible so we need to make everything bright and reflective so they don’t run into it because then somehow it becomes the city’s fault for putting obstructions in the roadway, not the driver’s fault for failing to see an object (which could very well have been a human or animal, which are typically not retroreflective)

  • c2check

    Unfortunately we give drivers licenses out like candy and rarely actually enforce driving laws across most of the US so…. yes.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Bright and reflective doesn’t need to be so ugly. Form doesn’t need to be without function. Things can be made pretty and functional at the same time. In fact, making bulbouts pleasant to look at might actually improve its effectiveness.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Active Trans Launches a New Crusade Against Dangerous Intersections

|
The Active Transportation Alliance was instrumental in creating the Transit Future campaign, with the goal of creating a dedicated funding source for regional transit. Now they’re also pushing for dedicated funding for pedestrian infrastructure, while raising awareness of Chicagoland’s many hazardous intersections, with their new Safe Crossings initiative. “It’s really important that we recognize the […]