The Dickens Slow Street experiment is winding down in two weeks

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

Summer won’t officially end for more than a month from now, but the wildly popular Dickens Slow Street (the city calls it a “Shared Street”), which created safe space for socially-distanced transportation and recreation, will be dismantled in the next two weeks.

On Slow Streets through traffic is banned to allow people to safely walk, jog, scoot, and bike in the street. Drivers are still permitted to park and make deliveries, pickups and drop-offs.

The temporary Dickens Slow Street treatment was intended as a dry run for a “Neighborhood Greenway” proposal, including permanent traffic calming infrastructure and a contraflow bike lane. That project had previously faced a backlash from a vocal minority of neighbors who claimed that more biking on the street would result in a pedestrian bloodbath.

But the Slow Street corridor got great use from families with young kids, seniors, and residents from many other demographics. Moreover, not a single crash was reported on this stretch of Dickens during the test, which started in early July.

Today local alderman Michele Smith announced plans to take down the Slow Street in her newsletter today. She noted that, as she said when she announced the program, Chicago Slow Streets have generally being installed for 30 days, after which city officials decide whether to continue the program for another month.

“We are ending the program primarily because St. James School, which will be resuming in-person classes soon, cannot effectively do their pickup and drop off under the shared street conditions,” Smith wrote. “There is also construction east of Lincoln Avenue which is interfering with that portion of the [Slow] Street.”

Smith shared collected by the Chicago Department of Transit that showed the Slow Street got great use the shared street was well used.

  •  July 11th (Saturday): 1,549 people biking, walking, or jogging on the street, including 636 bicyclists and 913 pedestrians.
  • July 15th (Wednesday): 1,113 people biking, walking, or jogging on the street, including 277 bicyclists and 836 pedestrians

Another benefit of the Slow Streets treatment was a reduction of motor vehicle traffic on the street, which meant safer conditions for all road users, fewer emissions, and a quieter, more peaceful street. Smith said motorized traffic was “dramatically down” from the usual 1,800 average daily trips.

“Users reported that the shared street was pleasant, and it encouraged them to bring their children to the street to bike,” Smith wrote. “Car owners complained that the barrels and barricades made it difficult to access their alleys. Many also objected to the aesthetics of the street. In our view, CDOT was overly aggressive in the use of barrels in the street, which, while it dramatically slowed traffic, was confusing to many users.”

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

While the Slow Street design could be easily tweaked to accommodate school pickups and drop-offs, the grumbling about the aesthetics of the corridor isn’t completely off-base: It did look like a construction zone. CDOT should come up with more attractive and/or permanent Slow Street traffic calming infrastructure in the future.

“This shared street was designed to be an experiment, and neither CDOT nor our office is completely finished with the analysis of all the comments collected about the shared street,” Smith wrote. She said her office heard from about 125 people via email or phone.

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The alderman is still collecting feedback on the project, including via the above survey included in the newsletter. You can also email her at yourvoice@ward43.org to weigh in.

While it’s a bummer that a highly popular and successful Slow Street is being taken down while there’s still plenty of great weather and sunshine left for strolling, running, and cycling, hopefully this experiment will pave the way for permanent safety improvements on Dickens with the long-awaited Neighborhood Greenway.

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