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CDOT, 47th Ward propose removing left turns from Damen onto Irving Park to reduce crashes, improve walk/bike safety

CDOT presented two alternatives, one that eliminates the lefts and another that doesn't. They implied the first would be better for safety.

Looking north from Damen at the intersection with Irving Park and Lincoln. Ald. Martin and CDOT proposed eliminating left turns from northbound and southbound Damen to allow for pedestrian and bike infrastructure upgrades. Image: Google Maps

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

On Wednesday evening Ald. Matt Martin (47th) and the Chicago Department of Transportation hosted a community meeting on proposals to redesign the Irving Park Road (4000 N.) / Damen Avenue (2000 W.) / Lincoln Avenue intersection. This complex six-way junction has seen 47 crashes since 2020. The event took place at Martyr's, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., a music venue in North Center, just down the street from the intersection.

In June 2022, a distracted driver fatally struck 47th Ward volunteer Peter Paquette, 75, a block west of Irving Park/Damen/Lincoln as the senior attempted to cross Irving Park at Hoyne Avenue (2100 W.) Last January, Martin announced plans to install pedestrian islands, curb extensions, new crosswalks, and/or Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons at six intersections along Irving Park in the ward, including the one where Paquette was killed.

The goal of the new project is to improve safety at the six-way for pedestrians, bike riders, and motorists alike. "Most anyone who's interacted with this intersection knows that it’s a troubled one," said Ald. Martin at last night's meeting. "This slide [below] shows nearly 50 have been reported since 2020, which, on average, is more than once a month."

Slide from last night's meeting. Most of the 47 crashes since 2020 have been rear-end crashes, turning crashes, or sideswipes. Image: CDOT

Ald. Martin first talked about previously discussed street design changes for the intersection and nearby locations. He said the 47th Ward supports adding four-way stops signs at Lincoln and Byron avenues (3900 N.) since there have been several crashes and near-crashes there. That would calm traffic on a corridor with a plenty of retail and foot traffic leading up to the six-way.

The alder said a traffic study submitted to CDOT in 2021 found that adding left-turn arrows for north- and southbound drivers on Damen, a strategy to prevent turning crashes, would not be viable. The legally required minimum pedestrian crossing time would not leave enough green time for the turn phase.

Checking out info about the proposal at the meeting Wednesday night. Photo: 47th Ward

"Turning crashes were a quarter of the crashes that we saw at this intersection," added CDOT Complete Streets design manager Kurt Facknitz. "They make up a disproportionate number of our severe and fatal crashes throughout the city and throughout the country."

Facknitz and CDOT assistant chief traffic engineer Carl Schwarzer, next talked about two proposed designs to fix the safety issues. Irving Park is under Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction, and the need for IDOT approval often slows down or obstructs CDOT efforts to improve safety on state roads within the city. That was the case with the other safety improvements planned for Irving Park in the ward until, after much effort, IDOT was persuaded to relax its rules.

Image: CDOT

Alternative Concept #1, the preferred CDOT proposal to fix the left-turn crash problem at the six-way, would be to remove the left-turn lanes in both directions from Damen onto Irving Park. These kinds of lefts would be banned 24/7.

Image: CDOT

In the slide above, the department explains how major traffic problems at the intersection and nearby side streets could be avoided. In fact, CDOT says this change would improve traffic flow, and there would be no impact on street parking.

Close-up of north side of the six-way under Alternative Concept #1. Image: CDOT

"One of the big improvements that we can make through elimination of the left-turn lanes from Damen is that gives us a lot more space to work with," said Facknitz. This approach would also allow for sidewalk extensions to reduce pedestrian crossing distances for Damen and Lincoln by 30 percent. It would also make room for building protected bike lanes to shield riders as they enter the intersection from Damen and Lincoln, while parking-protected lanes could be put in on Damen south of the junction.

Close-up of south side of the six-way under Alternative Concept #1. Image: CDOT

Alternative Concept #2 would have no impact on Damen's left-turn lanes, but it would eliminate car parking on the east side of Damen south of Irving Park. The curb extensions would also be narrower than with Alternative Concept #1 and wouldn’t be possible at all on the south side of the intersection between Damen and Lincoln. Alternative Concept #2 would also have curb-protected bike lanes, but no parking-protected lanes on Damen south of Irving Park.

Image: CDOT

But CDOT suggested there would be more safety benefits from Alternative Concept #1, eliminating the left turns from Damen. Schwarzer describes a scenario that currently sometimes happens with the lefts. "You have two or three cars that are all sitting inside of the intersection and there's a green [light], waiting for a gap in traffic.That first [driver] sees what they think might be a gap... But maybe as they're starting to make their left turn, they realize there's a pedestrian in the crosswalk and they have to stop and the [motorist] behind them does not react to that, and rear-ends the vehicle."

So clearly banning left turns from Damen is the way to go. Learn more about the proposal by viewing the linked materials below, and then share your POV on the in the survey.

Watch a recording of the presentation here.

Access the slides from the virtual presentation, including explanations and images of each alternative concept, here.

Complete the Lincoln/Irving Park/Damen Traffic Safety survey here.

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