Eyes on the Street: The North/Damen/Milwaukee slip lane removal is now permanent
Transportation departments all over the country are currently pushing the envelope by opening up streets to make room for socially-distanced walking and biking during the pandemic. In contrast, the Chicago Department of Transportation has been awfully quiet on the livable streets front during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But here’s a project that flew totally under our radar, which represents a small win for walking and public space. CDOT recently made the slip lane removal at the the south side of Wicker Park’s usually-bustling North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection permanent.
Back in 2017, the department closed the slip lane, aka a channelized right-turn lane, with flexible plastic posts as part of several quick-and-cheap safety upgrades to the six-way junction, which also including new crosswalks and green bike boxes. Removing slip lanes is a good strategy to improve conditions for walking, because it makes it more difficult for motorists to whip around corners at unsafe speeds, and makes it easier for pedestrians to cross the street.
The new pedestrian space that created by the lane closure immediately became an ad-hoc stage for street musicians. In 2018 the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area added heavy terra cotta planters with greenery next to the posts for more protection and to improve the aesthetics.
This latest upgrade filled in the trough between the sidewalk and the old “pork chop”-style pedestrian island with concrete, creating a triangular sidewalk extension. Hopefully street performers will still be allowed to use the space. And let’s keep our fingers crossed that this beloved intersection, currently a relative ghost town, returns to its former vibrancy once Illinois’ Stay at Home order is lifted.
Update 5/4/20, 11:30 PM: In other concrete infrastructure news, CDOT recently installed new bump-outs at 15th Place and Kedzie Avenue in North Lawndale. Thanks to Cathy Haibach for alerting us.