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Dummy

What was going through this driver’s head (do they have a brain?) when, as soon as the light turned green, they peeled away from the stop bar, turning the wrong way down a one-way street?

Were there not enough indicators that this is a one-way street against their direction? There were arrows, a “no left turn” sign, a stop bar the full width of the street, a DO NOT ENTER sign, and a “one way” sign.

Or is the driver entitled to do whatever they want?

The blizzard’s calming effect

Last Wednesday night, after the blizzard had stopped and the city had plowed arterial roads, I took two buses to Pilsen in 36 minutes. Transit buses have an average speed lower than bicycling and I don’t think I could have biked there in 36 minutes. (I didn’t want to bike because I didn’t know the condition of roads from my new place in Avondale to dinner in Pilsen.)

I credit the speedy journey to the complete lack of cars on the road and the few people wanting to go out on Wednesday, as well as ride the bus.

The blizzard gave Chicagoans a break. Hundreds of thousands of workers stayed home on Wednesday. Thousands more got the day off on Thursday. Car traffic remained light through Friday and the Chicago Transit Authority trains and buses were packed on Thursday (partially because of mechanical problems on the Blue Line but also because of new riders who couldn’t drive or carpool).

Chicagoans enjoy strolling through Humboldt Park. Photo by Joshua Koonce.

Many people took walking tours around their parks and neighborhoods, or went to see the calamity of Lake Shore Drive. Flickr is loaded with the explorers’ photos. Check out 2,000+ labeled “snomg chicago.”

The blizzard’s effect on traffic and roads

The snow plows inadvertently created a curb extension at the main intersection in Wicker Park, often used as part of a traffic calming project. This was gone on Saturday, but in addition to its removal, the entire corner sidewalk was cleared.

A lot of bike lanes are buried right now and people riding bikes are riding in the middle shared lanes, further calming traffic. I’m not sure how long the civility I noticed between drivers and bicyclists last week will last, even as bike lanes remain “closed” or have been illegally co-opted into backup parking lanes. See next photo.

These drivers have illegally parked their cars in the bike lane. The municipal code does not offer any relevant (i.e. snow-related) exemptions for parking or standing in bike lanes.

Riding and driving through town has been interesting. There’s no room for people riding bikes to share the lane with drivers side by side, so they must share it front to back.

For a fair division of commuting space

UPDATE: Transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch (“Hilkie”) published an article today about crosswalk enforcement in Chicago based on a new state law the Active Transportation Alliance helped pass that removes ambiguity about what drivers must do when a person wants to cross the street (they must STOP).

But I’m updating this post because he also writes about the crazy pedestrian situation I describe below at Adams and Riverside. I’ve quoted the key parts here:

The situation can be even worse downtown, where a vehicles-versus-pedestrians culture seems to flourish unchecked. Simply walking across Adams Street outside Chicago Union Station at rush hour can feel like you’re taking a big risk, as pedestrians dodge cars, buses and cabs and then must maneuver around the panhandlers and assorted vendors clogging the sidewalks near the curb.

It’s a mystery why such mayhem is tolerated by city or Amtrak police. The highest volume of pedestrian traffic downtown is right there at Adams and the Chicago River outside the station, according to a study conducted for the city.

“The cabdrivers have no concern with pedestrians trying to cross Adams in the crosswalk,” said Richard Sakowski, who commutes downtown daily on Metra from his home in Oswego. “They cut in front of other drivers cursing and yelling, pull from the center lane to the curb and stop in the crosswalk, not caring who they might hit. It is a very dangerous situation that the city does not care about.”

Chicago officials disagree, yet they have for years studied the problems around the downtown commuter rail stations without taking major action.

The city has received more than $10 million in grants to develop an off-street terminal on the south side of Jackson Boulevard just south of Union Station to address traffic safety issues and the crush of taxis and buses vying for limited curb space, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation.

“No timetable yet, but construction could begin in the next few years,” CDOT spokesman Brian Steele said.

Read the full article.


Every weekday afternoon in Chicago, over 100,000 people need to get to Union Station and Ogilvie Transportation Center to get on their Metra trains and go home. If you’re watching them walk, it seems like they don’t have enough room. The multitude of private automobiles with a single occupant and the hundreds of taxicabs also traveling towards these train terminals block the tens of buses that are trying to get commuters to the stations or to their neighborhoods.

Let’s look at Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Riverside Plaza is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare (privately owned) alongside the west bank of the Chicago River and connects both train stations.

People “wait” to cross to the south sidewalk on Adams Street at Wacker Drive because they want to get to the entrance of Union Station. I use wait lightly – they creep out into the street and jog across whenever there’s the slightest opening (against the crosswalk signal).

Those who didn’t cross Adams Street at Wacker Drive now have to cross at Riverside Plaza. Thankfully, there’s a timed signal here for the crosswalk that stops traffic on Adams Street. It doesn’t always work because taxi drivers park their cabs on all segments of Adams Street here, sometimes on top of the crosswalk stripes themselves.

Take a look at the data (from the City of Chicago Traffic Information website):

  • 41,700 pedestrians, walking in both directions, were counted on Adams Street immediately west of Wacker Drive in one 10 hour segment, between 7:45 and 17:45, in 2007.
  • 14,300 vehicles, westbound only, were counted on Adams Street immediately east of Wacker Drive in one 24 hour segment, on September 20, 2006.

For simplicity, divide the number of pedestrians in half to get the actual number of people walking toward the train station in the afternoon. 20,850 commuters walk on Adams Street to get to Union Station. But trains don’t stop at 17:45. There are several more leaving every 5-10 minutes until 19:00. So add a couple more thousand pedestrians. Imagine that a couple hundred of them will be walking in the street because the sidewalk is crammed (I haven’t photographed this yet).

Now for vehicles. We don’t know how many are delivery trucks, taxicabs, or buses were counted. Only two bus routes come through here. (On Madison Street, in front of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, there are twelve bus routes and fewer walkers.) Some of the vehicles are turning right or left onto Wacker, so we can probably decrease the quantity that’s actually passing by the same count location as the pedestrian count.

Spatial mismatch

So now we know a little bit more about how many people, and by what mode, travel on Adams Street between Wacker Drive and Riverside Plaza. Walking commuters have little room (so little that some choose to walk in the street) on their standard 10-14 feet wide sidewalks and motorized vehicles get lots of room in four travel lanes. Then, the vehicles that achieve the highest efficiency and economic productivity are delayed by the congestion, in part caused by the least efficient vehicles.

Is the space divided fairly? What should change? What examples of “transportation spatial mismatch” can you give for where you live?

Is Chicago ready for Tokyo-inspired elevated pedestrian bridges at intersections? Las Vegas has several of these, as well as every Asian city with a few million residents. I first brought this up in the post, World photographic tour. Photo by Yuzi Kanazawa.

Street safety is also a user issue

Street safety is based in part on the right infrastructure design, but also user behavior.

Keep off the tracks. Sometimes a train seems to appear out of nowhere (this seems to be especially true for motorists). I hope Operation Lifesaver is still being taught in schools. I remember someone coming to my school to talk about train safety.

I think trains to many Americans are still a new concept. To best understand what I mean, read the newspaper articles in the two months following any new light rail opening in the United States. There’s a collision every week. Unlike Europe, we ripped out all of our streetcars, light rail, and trams, and we’re still in the beginning stages of returning to rail.

Bicycling and buses: Their large size and unwieldy maneuvering can make it harder to predict movements. Don’t play leapfrog and wait for the bus operator to make the first move (video) – the second move is now yours and safer.

Recognize stop bars, crosswalks, signals. The stop bar isn’t at the bicyclist’s position for a very good reason.

Photo: Reclaim the streets


You should be able to tell that Peoria Street had auto traffic across the entire bridge over the Eisenhower (I-290), but then the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) took over this area in the 1960s (shortly after the sunken Blue Line was built). An expanded station house was built with a large waiting area which includes interior bike parking within the paid fare zone.

UIC has classrooms immediately north and south of the expressway and Blue Line so it’s in their students’ best interest to have good access to the train station.

How could the former road space be changed now to make this a better public space or plaza?

I think the first thing I would do is remove the curbs – if you’re riding a bike these get in the way.

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