Showing undesirable pedestrian and sidewalk conditions under the Kennedy Expressway on Belmont Avenue at Kedzie Avenue. There is a bus stop here, on a portion of the sidewalk that narrows to about 2 feet. It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized that there is no bus route on Kedzie Avenue making this bus stop’s location quite ridiculous. There are bus stops in both directions on Belmont Avenue that are actually near businesses and residences. Explore on Google Street View.
I shop for groceries mostly at Aldi. The one nearest my house is 3,725 feet by walking (about 0.71 miles), the Avondale Aldi. The next closest store is 11,102 feet away (about 2.1 miles), the Lincoln Square Aldi, and the third closest is 11,599 feet away (about 2.2 miles), the Wicker Park Aldi. I live at Belmont and California, in Avondale.
I shop at the third closest one the most often. The Wicker Park Aldi is at Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street. The reasons I shop here instead of the other two, considering that it’s two-thirds closer to home, are based on two travel factors: trip chaining (the practice of attaching multiple trips into the same one so one leaves the house less often), and trip quality (the characteristics that make the trip interesting, not interesting, safe, and unsafe). A trip, as counted by transportation planners like myself, is movement from one address to another.
For example, the Chicago Transit Authority counts trips taken on its buses and trains as “boardings”, each time a passenger pays for the bus or passes an ‘L’ station turnstile. When people change routes on the same platform or station, this additional trip isn’t counted because there’s no mechanism to do so. A person who takes a bus to an ‘L’ station is counted twice in CTA’s reports (note 1).
When business or pleasure takes me out of the house, it’s often oriented to points south and southeast, in Logan Square, Wicker Park, West Town, Ukrainian Village, the Loop, and Pilsen. The Wicker Park Aldi is along the route, Milwaukee Avenue, between my house and most of these neighborhoods. Instead of making a sole purpose trip to buy groceries, I plan to attach the grocery trip to a different trip, like a meeting downtown or a visit to a friend’s house.
Read more about what kinds of cities facilitate trip chaining by mode, or who is the most likely to trip chain. A trip chaining study used data from the National Household Travel Survey and found that “men increased their trip chaining more than women [from 1995 to 2001], and a large amount of the increase was to stop for coffee (we call this the Starbucks effect). We found that workers who trip chain live farther from their workplaces than workers who do not.”
While trip chaining can make grocery shopping at the third furthest store convenient, what happens if I don’t have a trip to which I can attach the grocery trip? It’s inefficient for me to pedal or walk 2.2 miles when the same store, in Avondale, is 0.7 miles away. The shortest route to the closest store is uncomfortable and feels dangerous so I avoid it as much as I can.
If you live near an expressway in Chicago, or a frequently used route takes you over or under one, you will have experienced the uneasy and unbearable aspects that are common on the streets near, above, and below the Kennedy Expressway. It makes sense to simply list them:
- Ramps to the highway are usually connected to large, wide intersections, and have fast moving traffic.
- There are often “express” turning lanes that must be crossed separately. See how the City plans to remove these.
- There are few comrades traveling through here with you.
- There is pigeon excrement and other garbage everywhere under a highway bridge, more than what’s encountered on most sidewalks.
- The sidewalk design, essentially an arcade, has a closed-in feeling. The roadway side, where the bus stops are, are insanely narrow and close to high-speed automobiles.
- People live and work under the expressway bridges, which seems to make some travelers uncomfortable.
My trip has additional problems: when I’m bicycling and I need to exit the Aldi parking lot I have trouble making a left turn onto eastbound Belmont Avenue. All things considered about the Avondale location, I walk there as often as I ride a bike there. Each mode’s resulting trip has disadvantages but when you’re walking, you’re not dealing with automobile traffic during the entire trip.
What the Pedestrian Plan says
The Chicago Pedestrian Plan, released in September 2012, includes “improving expressway entrances and exits” as a goal to improve pedestrian connectivity in Chicago. It describes a similar situation:
Thousands of pedestrians must cross the entrances and exits to the expressways on a daily basis to reach their destinations. Many of these entrances and exits were designed primarily for vehicles and are often very difficult for pedestrians to cross.
The “actions” and “milestones” make a rather mild commitment to changing the situation. All three short term and mid term actions consist of watching and waiting: listing the locations where there are transit stations at the expressway ramps, “developing typologies” that include low-cost improvements that could be installed, and prioritizing which locations should be improved first.
The long term actions are as weak as complete streets policies in Chicago: “consider eliminating ramps” as part of construction projects and “ensuring” that future construction “include improvements to allow for easy and safe pedestrian crossings”. The only part of page 73 that intends for anything to be changed or built at these locations is the second milestone: “begin designing improvements by 2016″.
This photo shows the two sidewalks on Sacramento Avenue under the Kennedy Expressway. There’s a ramp in the background (other side of the bridge). I think the share of pedestrians each side sees is evenly split. I prefer the “inside” (left in the photo) because it’s away from cars, but I often see children walking home from school on the road side (right in the photo). Each side is equally dark, dirty, and uninviting.
What the Bike 2015 Plan says
The Bike 2015 Plan includes some references to the “highway problem” (note 2). One strategy is to “monitor city, county, and state bridge and underpass construction projects to ensure that adequate accommodation for bicyclists is provided”. However, it is rare that projects involve underpasses. There was one project in 2012, wherein the City of Chicago resurfaced the roadways under several viaducts with longer-lasting concrete construction. This improved conditions for cycling, but it can be argued that this doesn’t pass as adequate accommodation but instead a standard accommodation for bicycling everywhere.
In stronger terms, a strategy about identifying high-crash locations and installing “countermeasures” could improve bicycle travel near highway ramps.
Identify locations with a high number of bicycle crashes; determine the primary factors contributing to these crashes; and implement appropriate engineering, education, and enforcement and countermeasures.
Identify locations every 2 years, beginning in 2007. Implement countermeasures at 5 – 10 problem areas per year, beginning in 2007. Submit an annual report with recommendations to prevent bicycle crashes to the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, beginning in 2007.
From 2005 to 2011 there were 10 bicycle-automobile crashes and 2 pedestrian-automobile crashes at the Belmont Avenue/Kedzie Avenue intersection, where a single off-ramp meets the surface streets. There were 4 pedestrian-automobiles crashes where the Avondale Aldi parking lot intersects Belmont Avenue (at Christiania Avenue). For comparison, there were 9 bicycle-automobile crashes and 7 pedestrian-automobile crashes in the same time period. This location has on and off ramps, in both directions.
What the plans have in common is that they acknowledge the barriers highways have become and attempt to set in place a standard that prevents that barrier from ever being constructed new, as well as mitigating the barrier when the location has construction work.
In the seven years I’ve lived in Chicago, I can’t recall a situation where walking or bicycling at a highway entrance and exit was improved. The major Dan Ryan work didn’t affect how the ramps met the surface street network; the Lake Shore Drive south work happened before I moved here in 2006; the situation at Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Drive wasn’t improved during major construction there in 2012. Do you know of examples where highway-related construction has improved pedestrian and bicycle movement?
The Wicker Park Aldi, seen from the sidewalk. The store was renovated in August 2012 with proper bike parking, although locking to the fences was acceptable.
Lastly, there are lesser factors that affect the quality of the trip. The Wicker Park Aldi’s building is set back from the sidewalk and requires one to walk or bike through a parking lot, increasing the possibility of having a collision. The Avondale Aldi is set back from the Belmont Avenue sidewalk, but provides a sidewalk to the strip center’s store entrances.
As is true of any strip center, pedestrians on the sidewalk will often encounter be blocked by drivers in cars wanting to turn left but cannot do so quickly. In the Netherlands, the design solution is to bring the sidewalk (or bike path) away from the road edge so that one car can be ready for a turn without blocking the sidewalk. The design in the United States is the complete opposite: AASHTO’s 1999 bikeway manual says to put the bike path as close to the road edge as possible at a crossing (see page 58) (note 3).
My path is blocked. While crossing a strip center’s driveway, I must also watch out for drivers turning right into the parking lot.
This photo shows how the bike path moves further away from the road edge at an intersection, so that a car can turn off the main road and yield, or a car can wait between the bike path and the main road without blocking the bike path. Another angle. A third photo showing a bus turning into the minor road, and the offset sidewalk. Photo by Fietsberaad.
- The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) keeps data on annual unlinked passenger trips for all three service boards.
- The Bike 2015 Plan came out in 2006 and lacked a community planning process. The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, released in December 2012, doesn’t discuss the issues posed by expressways but had an in-depth community planning process.
- A new manual came out in 2012, but I haven’t been able to purchase it.
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.
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Western & Ashland BRT: Pros and Cons - This webpage summarizes the project details and describes the pros and cons for each of the 4 bus rapid transit scenarios
Crash Portal - Exploring bike crashes in the City of Chicago and elsewhere
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