TagHarrison Street

What Complete Streets means to DOTs: the case of widening Harrison Street

What Harrison Street looks like in 2013, replete with additional lanes and no “bicycle ways”. 

The Chicago and Illinois Departments of Transportation completed a project in 2012 to rebuild the Congress Parkway bridge over the Chicago River and build a new interchange with Lower Wacker Drive. It also rebuilt the intersections of Harrison/Wacker and Harrison/Wells.

Harrison prior to the project had two striped travel lanes (four effective travel lanes) but now has six travel lanes (including two new turn lanes). Bicycle accommodations were not made and people who want to walk across the street at Wacker and Wells must now encounter a variety of pedestrian unfriendly elements:  they must use actuated signals (waiting for a long time), cross long distances or two roadways to reach the other side, avoid drivers in the right-turn channelized lane, and wait in expressway interchange-style islands. Additionally, Wells Street was widened and all corner radii were enlarged to speed automobile traffic and presumably to better accommodate large trucks.

That is how IDOT interprets its “complete streets” law (which took effect on July 1, 2007) and how CDOT interprets its “complete streets” policy (decreed by Mayor Daley in 2006). The full text of the Illinois law, known as Public Act 095-0665, is below:

AN ACT concerning roads.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois,
represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The Illinois Highway Code is amended by adding
Section 4-220 as follows:

(605 ILCS 5/4-220 new)
Sec. 4-220. Bicycle and pedestrian ways.
(a) Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full
consideration in the planning and development of
transportation facilities, including the incorporation of such
ways into State plans and programs.
(b) In or within one mile of an urban area, bicycle and
pedestrian ways shall be established in conjunction with the
construction, reconstruction, or other change of any State
transportation facility except:
(1) in pavement resurfacing projects that do not widen
the existing traveled way or do not provide stabilized
shoulders; or
(2) where approved by the Secretary of Transportation
based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or
absence of need.
(c) Bicycle and pedestrian ways may be included in pavement
resurfacing projects when local support is evident or bicycling
and walking accommodations can be added within the overall
scope of the original roadwork.
(d) The Department shall establish design and construction
standards for bicycle and pedestrian ways. Beginning July 1,
2007, this Section shall apply to planning and training
purposes only. Beginning July 1, 2008, this Section shall apply
to construction projects.

Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect July 1,
2007.

Here is the case: a “bicycle way” should have been incorporated into the Harrison/Congress/Wells modification.

Here is the evidence:

  1. The project location is a transportation facility in the State
  2. The project location is in or within one mile of an urban area.
  3. The project widened an existing traveled way, from 52 feet (two marked travel lanes, four effective travel lanes) to approximately 64 feet (six marked travel lanes).
  4. Local support for bicycle and pedestrian ways is evident; see the “Streets for Cycling Plan 2020” planning process and the addition of a concrete deck (to reduce bicycling slippage) on the sides of the Harrison Street bridge over the Chicago River approaching the project location.
  5. The project was constructed after July 1, 2008.

The missing piece of evidence, though, is whether or not the Secretary of Transportation, based upon documented safety issues, excessive cost or absence of need, made an exception for this project.

The Chicago “complete streets” policy is less specific than the Illinois “complete streets” law, printed below:

The safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, and motor vehicle drivers shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.

One of the examples CDOT gives on how this policy can be implemented is “Reclaim street space for other uses through the use of ‘road diets’ e.g., convert 4-lane roadway to 3-lane roadway with marked bike lanes” – they accomplished the opposite on Harrison Street.

In a 2010 traffic count, 16,800 cars were counted here, an amount handled by roads with fewer lanes and less than the amount in CDOT’s guidelines for implementing road diets and narrowing a road from 4 lanes to 2, yet in 2012, the agencies increased capacity.

Before: An aerial view from November 7, 2007. Image from Google Earth’s historical imagery feature. These two images represent the same zoom and area so you can compare the land changes from before to after the infrastructure modification. 

After: An aerial view from April 4, 2013. Image from Google Earth. Notice the additional lanes, roadway width, land taken south of Harrison Street, and the widened intersection at Wells with increased curb radius. 

Drivers get to choose which light they want

Normally when light signals fail (I have no idea how or why they fail – wouldn’t they just restart their original programming?) they flash red in all directions. This one started flashing with all three colors at Wabash Avenue and Harrison Street.

Photo by Calvin Brown.

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