A close zoom on the newly created west intersections from the plan drawing. Renderings are courtesy of CDOT.
Update April 10, 2013: Construction will begin in fall 2014 after the acquisition of several parcels, covered in an ordinance introduced to city council on April 10, 2013.
Update January 25, 2012: Based on some comments, and on some emails from readers, neither the original and revised designs are very good. One reader said that the project designers are applying a set of standards to a problem instead of applying a solution. Part of the problem at this intersection is the traffic coming from a highway where the ramps are spaced too closely together, but is not within the project limits. I will be looking into these and other questions, like, How much will this project cost (including property acquisition)? and Who will pay for it?
The much despised Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection is being redesigned by the Chicago Department of Transportation. They hosted an open house in April 2011 at the Bucktown Wicker Park library which I wrote about extensively on Steven Can Plan. I and others who attended were not satisfied with how the new design affected people who will bike through here. I published my comments in my article, left a brief comment with the stenographer at the open house, and emailed the project manager my extended comments. I asked Steven Can Plan readers to do the same. A few of them did!
CDOT received 41 comments, and is responding to all of them; 20 included comments about bike lanes and 3 people requested protected bike lanes.
I sat down with Bridget Stalla, the project manager, to get more information on the project. CDOT is submitting a revised Phase 1 project development report (PDR) in February 2012. The revision includes many cycling-specific changes. The designers have added in several new features I’m excited about:
- Curb-protected bike lanes on the curve of “New Elston Avenue”, the new street that is being created to connect the diagonal parts of existing Elston through the Vienna Beef truck trailer lot. From where the Elstons split (southeast of the intersections) to Fullerton, and from Damen west to the western project limit, there will be a buffered bike lane instead of a protected bike lane.
- There are “two-stage left-turn queue boxes” for bicyclists to turn left from New Elston onto the intersecting street (Damen and Fullerton respectively). I think that Damen should have these to turn left into New Elston (in either direction). A right-turn version of this was installed on Jackson Boulevard at Wood Street (see end of video).
- Bike boxes on New Elston at both intersections and Damen (see drawing). Bike boxes are also seen on the Kinzie Street bike lane.
- The bike lane on Damen north of Fullerton and New Elston will be extended to pass through New Elston (which it doesn’t even meet currently, ending several hundred feet north of Existing Elston) to meet the Fullerton intersection. However, the bike lane on Damen south of Fullerton will still end about where it does at the highway exit ramp between the highway and railroad viaducts.
- The northbound lane (against the curb) on Damen south of Fullerton will be widened slightly and will remain a “marked shared lane”.
- The southbound lane (against the curb) on Damen south of Fullerton will not widen, but the beginning of the parking lane will be pushed further south. It will remain a marked shared lane.
- The sidewalks in all directions on all roads will be made brand new. Some of them will even be widened.
All of these were placed with the Bicycle Program’s recommendation and none were in the original plans. I wish I could say that designing safe cycling facilities into construction projects was standard practice, as the Complete Streets policy mandates, but I don’t think that’s the case. And it may take until the end of Gabe Klein’s commissionership for that to happen. Or turning Complete Streets from a policy to an ordinance with teeth and an evaluation process, as Cook County did.
Since Elston Avenue is in IDOT’s jurisdiction, CDOT will need their approval to build these “new” bike facilities. Currently, IDOT is delaying the design for the Jackson Boulevard bike lane between Ogden and Halsted, a segment also known as Route 66. I expect to have more information about this issue in the coming days.
My comments were
1. Bike lane on Damen – There should be a bike lane on Damen connecting the two ends north and south of Fullerton. Additionally, the bike lane should go THROUGH both intersections. See an example of a “through bike lane” in this photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesbondsv/5148131134/. Too often bicyclists in Chicago are “dropped off” at intersections, left to fend for themselves and get caught in the same problems as automobiles. But automobiles and bicycles are different kinds of vehicles and need different treatments and direction.
2. Roundabout – Was a roundabout considered for any of the three intersections? What were the results of this analysis? A modern, turbo roundabout should be given serious consideration for at least one of the three intersections. Curve and wide road on New Elston Avenue – On “New Elston Avenue,” between Fullerton and Damen, there are two regular lanes and one bike lane in each direction. The widening of Elston was not justified. The high radius curve on New Elston Avenue on the east side of the project, and two regular lanes in each direction, will likely cause higher-speed traffic than bicyclists are used to on many roadson which they travel in great numbers. Automobile drivers speeding around the curve may enter the bike lanes. This is a good case for protected bike lanes at least on this part of the roadway.
3. Removing the center island – Was removing the center island an alternative the project team considered?
4. Queue backups caused by Fullerton-highway ramp intersection – The project area should be expanded to include the intersection to the west of the project area, at Fullerton/Kennedy ramp . Westbound drivers constantly and consistently block the Fullerton intersections with Damen and Elston while waiting to go through the signal at the highway ramp.
We received a number of requests to consider enhanced bike lane accommodations on Damen Avenue. Our team continues to evaluate measures to improve the safety of bike travel through the Damen corridor, including the feasibility of on-street bike lanes on Damen Avenue.
A roundabout was evaluated early on in the study, but was eliminated from further consideration for a number of reasons. Roundabouts are designed to accommodate vehicles entering, changing lanes and exiting safely. At this location, the roundabout would have six legs, requiring a very large radius, which would have greater impact on more commercial and residential properties than the proposed design. Similarly, providing a roundabout at any of the three intersections would impact significantly more right of way. Turbo roundabouts require users to carefully select their lane based on their intended destination prior to entering the roundabout. Turbo roundabouts also work best at the intersection of a major and minor route. Based on the existing conditions and driver expectations, this design would not be an appropriate fit for this location.
The widening of Elston in the proposed design was necessary in order to provide capacity at the intersections. The proposed radius of rerouted Elston Avenue is the minimum allowable by state standards for a 30 mph posted speed limit. The team is currently investigating the separation of the bike lane from the driving lane on re-routed Elston to provide buffering for bicyclists along the curve.
In response to removing the center island as an alternative, the team found that although this three way intersection appears similar to the other three way intersections in the city, the three streets do not align sufficiently to create a true six legged intersection. Therefore, three separate signals are required to serve the individual legs safely. Removing the island would eliminate the ability to site the signals for each of the three separately functioning operations.
The signals along Fullerton will be retimed to accommodate the new intersection timings. The existing Fullerton signals are all on an 85 second cycle length, so the new intersections will allow the city to achieve progression on the Fullerton corridor.
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011. We switched to writing at Streetsblog Chicago in January 2013.
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