Intersections are long!


There are many intersections in Chicago that are so long that, while cycling, I can enter it (by passing the stop bar) on a green light, be in it during the entire 3-second yellow phase, and exit the intersection after it’s been red for several seconds.

I don’t like this. I think it puts me at risk. We could make our intersections shorter or we could increase the length of the yellow and all-red phases. One of these intersections is Elston Avenue at Ashland Avenue. Going southbound on Elston Avenue, the distance from the west side to the east side is about 200 feet. Traveling at 14 MPH (because you didn’t have to stop, it was green when you arrived), that will take you 9.75 seconds to cross. Some people will be traveling faster but at this point you’re also riding uphill because of the railroad viaduct you just crossed under.

Traveling at 17 MPH, it will take you 8 seconds to cross – you’ll still be in the intersection when it’s red!

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About Steven Vance

Enthusiast for urbanism, bicycling as transportation, and open data. Building a bicycle culture in Chicago.
  • Brandt A.

    I’m not familiar with the area, but from the picture, it looks like this intersection is this way because of that diagonal street. It reminds me of the kinds of intersections that Broadway would create with other streets since it would cross two or three streets at a time due to the extremely acute angle it made with them. In a project called Green Light for Midtown, Broadway was blocked off at the intersections and turned into pedestrian plazas, which improved traffic flow (and shrunk the intersections).

    • Steven Vance

      Yep, part of this is caused by the intersection’s diagonal orientation. But that doesn’t prevent a way to shorten the distance. The cross street (Ashland Avenue) doesn’t need to be so wide at this point; medians can be added to straighten travel paths and add more “protection” from errant driving. The light timings should change now, though.
      I visited the Green Light for Midtown project in August 2010. It was very cool to see the extra space for people that was created.

  • ZachHoffman

    Even if the light remains green the entire time you are riding through the intersection, that is a long time/distance for a car making a left to decide your fate.

    • Steven Vance

      Yep. That is another downside to long intersections. I’m a fan of the protected turn, which means turns can only be made with arrow lights. I think we expect drivers (who are humans with limited risk assessment, distance and speed analysis skills). Turns are dangerous.

  • Jason Howard

     The scenery is very good there,, I hope I can go there to have a trip if  I have enough money and time/.

  • BlueFairlane

    This used to be my preferred route downtown, but somehow my timing meant that I almost never made the light on green. I’ve never worked out exactly why. Personally, I never really felt unsafe taking off when the light turned green, at least not because of the distance. In my view, the problem with this intersection has more to do with the fact that for some idiot reaon, Elston goes to two lanes for the very brief distance between Ashland and Armitage … or at least that’s how drivers treat it. It’s one of those spots where drivers decide all of the sudden that they’re going to fight for position, and a biccyclist has to be very aggressive with positioning (as in “put yourself in the middle of the lane so they’ll notice you) to keep from being sideswiped. It’s much worse heading outbound, as you have people making the right turn onto Ashland from the left lane.

    Speaking of, any word on when/if the city’s ever going to get around to restriping the bike lane on Elston … or doing whatever they’re going to do with it. (Maybe they’ve already done it … I’ve avoided this route since they removed all the striping in the repaving last summer. Cars took the removal of striping as permission to turn Elston into the Chicagoland Speedway.)

    • Steven Vance

      I think there are three things in your comment to address. 

      1. The intersection’s length is a problem in at least two situations: at the end of a green light phase when you enter it on green, but are in it for the entire yellow phase, the switch to red, and the switch to cross-direction green. And secondly because you are “out in the open” and every automobile holds a Duck Hunt gun. 

      2. The right turn from northbound Elston to northbound Ashland is horrendous and can be easily mitigated with a concrete island and a turn radius that forces slower right turns. Engineering and design is self-enforcing. I’ve had two close calls here with neither captured on video. Now when I travel northbound here, I always switch on the video on my camera, but I haven’t had another close call since. 

      3. Restriping Elston. This irritates me. From my conversations with CDOT staff, it seems that the pavement marking plans were not finished by the time the weather turned colder. The temperature must be reliably 45°F for several days in a row so that thermoplastic can be applied and settled. The plans were not finished because of negotiations with area property owners. For almost a month now, though, the weather has been reliably 45°F for several days in a row. I don’t know when the striping will go down. It will go down as a cycle track, the design of which I haven’t seen. 

      I am quite disappointed that the City created a situation where there is no bike lane and no pavement markings for six months, going on seven months. (This actually would have been a decent time to conduct some bike counts to see if the lack of a bike lane had any effect on ridership; I believe it did.)

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