Polka Dot Spot and Bel/Ash/Lin slated to get permanent infrastructure this year
In the mid-2010s the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Lakeview Roscoe Village Chamber of Commerce made some quick-and-cheap paint-and-posts pedestrian safety improvements to two complex six-way intersections in Lakeview. At the time officials promised that after the designs proved successful, they would be upgraded to permanent concrete infrastructure. Several years later, that’s finally supposed to happen later this year.
In 2015 at the junction of Wellington, Southport, and Lincoln avenues, the chamber designed, funded and implemented a creative and colorful treatment called the Lincoln Hub, although some locals called it the Polka Dot Spot. The project used flexible plastic posts and brightly colored paint dots on the sidewalks and streets to create curb extensions, eliminating several dangerous channelized right turn lanes, aka slip lanes, and shortening pedestrian crossing distances. The curb extensions doubled as seating plazas, with café tables, round concrete seating units, and colorful planters, which provided additional protection from cars.
In 2018 CDOT installed paint-and-post curb extensions a couple of blocks northwest at the chaotic intersection of Belmont, Ashland, and Lincoln avenues. The bump-outs helped correct the skewed layout of the junction, shortened crossing distances, and discouraged fast turns by drivers. The project also added dashed bike lanes through the intersection and eliminated some turning movements for drivers to make room for the new facilities and better organize traffic flow. New crosswalks were also planned.
According to Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for local alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd), the concrete improvements to the intersections are scheduled to be constructed this year as part of a streetscape project on Lincoln between Diversey and Belmont avenues, which will also include new sidewalks, benches, bike racks, and other street furniture. The start date for the work hasn’t been announced yet, since CDOT was planning to put the project out for bid this winter or early spring and figure out the work schedule after the contract is awarded, Sajovec said. He added that there will be a public meeting with updates on the project before construction begins.
The design of the permanent infrastructure will be similar but not identical to the current layout of the paint and posts, according to Sajovec, with tweaks made based on CDOT’s observations of vehicle movements. A working group composed of local residents had been meeting at the Lincoln Belmont library branch to discuss the streetscape design but hasn’t met since the COVID-19 pandemic started, so Sajovec said he doesn’t expect the design plans have changed significantly in the last two years.
According to Sajovec, the streetscape delay was partly caused by a water main project, since it would have made no sense to rebuild the street simply to have the water department tear it up again.
He said the blue and green dots at the Lincoln Hub, which proved controversial since some residents didn’t like the aesthetics, won’t necessarily be coming back the intersection is rebuilt. “Part of the idea of the streetscape was to have a consistent look and feel to the infrastructure elements, so it would be a little unusual to incorporate the polka dots, but not impossible.” He noted that the chamber of commerce has had employee turnover since the Lincoln/Southport/Welington treatment was done almost seven years ago, so the original planners of the treatment are no longer there. The chamber didn’t immediately respond to a request for info.
When the Polka Dot Spot treatment was first installed, there were many complaints from drivers, and two different petitions were launched to have it redesigned or even removed drawing hundreds of signatures. “Any time changes are made to streets people call and complain, and then it dies down,” Sajovec said. “But in this case they kept calling.” He said motorists argued that the original layout made it more difficult to make left turns from some locations on the six-way without blocking through traffic. After CDOT appeased these drivers by reducing the size of some of the bump-outs, people generally stopped grumbling.
While the streetscape has been a long time coming, Sajovec said he’s hopeful it will have been worth the wait. “It’s certainly a segment of Lincoln that needs new sidewalks, streetlights, and attention, so we’re happy to see that’s coming.”
We’ve asked CDOT for the latest design renderings and a cost estimate, and will update the post if the department provides them.