Update December 2, 2011: Mike Stephen asked me for the Outside The Loop radio broadcast some more questions about these choices.
Halsted Street and Roosevelt Road (worst)
Because of its proximity to two on-ramps and two off-ramps of the Dan Ryan highway, traffic is very congested through this intersection. Many times it negatively affects bus transit and sometimes semi-trucks are stuck blocking cross-direction traffic. Possible solutions include eliminating some of the ramps or ramp traffic or enforcing a “don’t block the intersection” rule.
Elston, Ashland, Armitage Avenues (worst)
A lot of traffic, short signal times, short space on Armitage between Elston and Ashland, and people turning when they shouldn’t cause blockages. Drivers going northbound on Elston often turn right onto Ashland at high speeds across the path of a bicyclist. People crossing Ashland using Elston (a rare observance) have a crossing distance of 158 feet on the north side; people crossing Elston using Ashland must walk 172 feet across traffic.
Milwaukee and Elston Avenues (southernmost) (worst)
A sign says that people can only turn right into northbound Elston from northbound Milwaukee on a green arrow, but many don’t. The purpose of this is to allow people walking to cross Elston using Milwaukee and because there’s a short distance between the signal here and the one at Fry Street which is probably red when the green arrow is not lit (meaning there’s not enough room to store waiting cars). When the right-turn arrow is green, many people driving dangerously cross in front of people bicycling north on Milwaukee. Lastly, because the right-turn storage bay on Milwaukee is very short, there is sometimes a line of cars that block the bike lane.
And the final worst intersection designation goes to Damen, Elston and Fullerton Avenues. I’ve given it attention on Steven Can Plan.
Kinzie Street, Desplaines Street, and Milwaukee Avenue (best)
This is the only best intersection I could come up with. Rarely do I see people blocking the intersection with their cars, there’s a left-turn light for the directions that need it most (southeast-bound Milwaukee, northwest-bound Desplaines), a bike box in two directions (although a lot people driving don’t know how to use it), and the city’s first “through the intersection” bike lane to guide bicyclists and drivers into their respective lanes on Kinzie Street. After the installation of the bike lane on Kinzie Street, the Department of Transportation doubled the light for left turns from six seconds to 12 seconds (it should be tripled, to 18 seconds).
I didn’t think of any more contenders for “best intersection” – I want to say Milwaukee, North, and Damen Avenues, because aside from its high traffic of cars, bikes, and people on foot, the crash rate is relatively low, but I couldn’t say that without data to back it up. And at some times (especially during the weekend), the intersection is the most annoying on earth (and not just for traffic-related reasons).
Tell us your nominations for best and worst intersections in the comments below. Also, give your ideas on what makes an intersection the “best” or the “worst”.