Dispatches from Utah: Why wide streets are unpleasant

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One of Salt Lake City’s “saner” downtown streets with one travel lane each direction and left-turn lanes where needed. There’s one light rail lane in each direction. A bicycle priority lane is marked in the two travel lanes. 

Possible extended title: They have so many persistent disadvantages even after several (but weak) mitigation attempts

Preface: Utah law says that people driving automobiles must yield for pedestrians in or approaching crosswalk (stop if in a school zone and the school zone light is flashing). Drivers and bicyclists in Illinois must stop to let people cross the street, in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.

If you read my last “Dispatches from Utah” post you remember that I took a ride on the inaugural Frontrunner South train from Salt Lake City to Provo, Utah. Then my laptop died and things got hairy. I’ve been back in Chicago for over a week now. Riding the trains, both light rail and the commuter rail, was one of the transportation highlights of my trip. The second was walking a couple of miles from one TRAX light rail station to my family’s home. This walking experienced was then followed by a driving trip to meet my cousin at a “local” Thai restaurant. (When your city is as spread out like Salt Lake City, and less dense than Chicago, your definition of “local” is expanded.)

I drove for 20 minutes to meet him. I drove down Salt Lake City’s State Street for a majority of the way. It’s 102 feet wide, with 3 lanes in each direction, a center turn lane, parallel parking on both sides, and sidewalks. There are no bikeways. Many of the city’s and region’s streets are like this. I had an immediate problem: I was driving southbound but the restaurant was on the northbound side of the street. Under no circumstances did I feel safe slowing down and turning left across 3+1 northbound lanes into the restaurant’s parking lot – I didn’t even know if this was legal. I couldn’t even see the addresses of the buildings on the opposite side of the street. After passing the approximate address, I turned left at a signalized intersection and then did a full roundabout drive through a neighborhood for 3-5 minutes before coming back to State Street, now driving on the same side of the street as the restaurant.  Continue reading Dispatches from Utah: Why wide streets are unpleasant

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Observations from Europe: Near side traffic signals reduce crosswalk blocking

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The driver of a Chevy Equinox blocks the crosswalk at North Avenue and Oakley Boulevard in Wicker Park. If the only traffic signal was on the near side of the intersection, she wouldn’t drive into the intersection as she wouldn’t be able to see when the signal turned green. But with far side signals, she can still see the light change. 

It took me a while to see what was happening. I think I first noticed that people driving their automobiles were never blocking crosswalks while waiting at a red light. And people on bikes were doing a good job at respecting the crosswalk boundaries, too. I next realized I was doing it, too: waiting behind the crosswalk. I’d do this at intersections with hundreds of pedestrians and intersections with none. I then became aware of where the bike signal was: at the edge of the intersection, before you entered the intersection. And there wasn’t one on the other side.

Welcome to traffic in Germany, where traffic signals are mostly installed on the near side of intersections and rarely on the far side. The effect is simple but pleasant and profound: people stop at the stop bar, before the crosswalk. If you didn’t stop there, you wouldn’t see the signal and you wouldn’t know when it turns green. The near side signal also means fewer signal heads to install. Where in Chicago, a lot intersections have 3-5 signal heads, many German intersections I cruised through had 2. The intersection of Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue has 3 signal heads for each direction, although there is only one lane in each direction.

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This photo shows the effect of near side signal heads. It’s labeled to show where the signals are, and to whom they are directed. The Google Street View below gives you another view of this intersection in Munich, Germany. 

View Nymphenburger Straße and Dachauer Straße in a larger map. This Google Street View is from the point of view of the driver of the silver BMW station wagon in the above photo.

This intersection, of Nymphenburger Straße (“stross-uh”) and Dachauer Straße, has cycle tracks with bike lane crossings between the intersection and the crosswalk. Near side signals keep automobiles out of both crossings, then. Eastbound Nymphenburger Straße has three lanes, one of which is for left turns. It has 4 signal heads, all on the near side. Two signal heads are for left turns: one is low, for drivers waiting at the stop bar, and one is high for approaching drivers. Two signal heads are for through movements and right turns: again, one is low, and one is high.

This wasn’t a tool mentioned in the pedestrian plan, and I’ve not heard of it being a feature anywhere in the United States, but I’d love to experiment with removing far side signals and using only near side lights at intersections. Pedestrians would have a much easier time crossing the street.

N.B. Attorney Brendan Kevenides, a sponsor of Grid Chicago, has requested that we discuss in the future features of transportation we experienced in Europe that we disliked. I’ll get right on that as soon as I can figure out what they were. I’m kidding, I have a few in mind.

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Chicago’s first pedestrian plan includes great ideas, lacks some information

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A press conference was held last Thursday at the southeast corner of Dearborn Street and Madison Street to announce the city’s first pedestrian plan. Present were commissioners of transportation and public health, Gabe Klein, and Bechara Choucair, respectively, Metropolitan Planning Council vice president Peter Skosey, and various CDOT staff.

After 20 minutes of speeches from Klein, Choucair, Skosey, and Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke, CDOT pedestrian program coordinator Suzanne Carlson and Klein applied a diamond shaped decal to a sidewalk corner across Madison Street. The bright yellow “sticker on the street” says, “Be Alert. Be Safe. We’re all pedestrians.” It’s part of the Pedestrian Safety Campaign launched last year that also included 32 mannequins scattered around Wacker Drive and then to other sites, as well as orange flags at certain crosswalks, and a somewhat grotesque ad campaign on trash bins and buses.

The Pedestrian Plan has its merits and faults. The document is nicely designed, easy to read, informative (it does a great job introducing people to “pedestrian safety tools” that are mentioned later in the plan), but still speaks to the car-centric profession of traffic (transportation) engineering exhibited in Chicago. Continue reading Chicago’s first pedestrian plan includes great ideas, lacks some information

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Grid Shots: Crossing

Today’s theme is “crossing” and it was very easy to find photos for this one. I first look for photos by searching for the theme in the Flickr group. A variety of photos showing different kinds of crossings appeared.

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Cycling across the wide Western Avenue on Milwaukee Avenue. This photo wasn’t labeled with “crossing” but it was recently uploaded so I saw it in the group page first. Photo by Clint. 

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Crossing guards in Blue Island. Photo by Jane Healy. 

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A railroad crossing sign in the Wilmette Purple Line parking lot. The public isn’t allowed to cross the here (only CTA workers), and for the most part the tracks are guarded by the concrete wall. Photo by Michelle Reitman.

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A Metra Rock Island train crosses other railroad tracks at a 90-degree angle at the 16th Street tower. Photo by Eric Pancer. 

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This CTA bus stretches across the entire intersection. Photo by Señor Codo. 

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Ducks and their offspring will cross here, in Wheaton, Illinois. Photo by Clark Maxwell. 

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The Maya Hirsch settlement will help save the lives of other Chicago children

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Maya Hirsch with her father, courtesy of the Stop for Maya foundation.

On Wednesday Chicago City Council approved a $3.25 million settlement with the family of Maya Hirsch, a four-year-old girl who was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Lincoln Park, possibly due to poorly placed signs and faded crosswalks. Under the Emanuel administration the city has ramped up its efforts to improve pedestrian safety, but the settlement highlights the need to continue these efforts, which will help prevent similar tragedies.

On the afternoon of May 20, 2006, after visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo, Maya and her mother and older brother were crossing the intersection of Belden Avenue and Lincoln Park West to catch a cab when Michael Roth, 57, driving northbound, ran the stop sign. Roth, who had worked as a driving instructor in the early 1980s, but had his driver’s license revoked for several years after two DUI convictions, had a valid license at the time of the crash.

Continue reading The Maya Hirsch settlement will help save the lives of other Chicago children

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Halting words: Klein and Smith discuss the new “Stop for Pedestrians” signs

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CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith. Photo by Steven.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently began the process of installing hundreds of signs citywide in an effort to educate motorists about the state law requiring them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. The signs cost $400 each, sited and installed, a relative bargain for infrastructure that will raise awareness of pedestrian safety, calm traffic and possibly save lives.

At a press conference yesterday in Lincoln Park by the Brown Line’s Diversey station, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith discussed the benefits of the signs. They also crossed Diversey several times to demonstrate the signs’ effectiveness, with drivers usually, but not always, stopping for them without being prompted. The event was particularly timely because the previous night a young girl named Monet Robinson was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the West Side. Here’s a transcript of Klein’s speech:

Continue reading Halting words: Klein and Smith discuss the new “Stop for Pedestrians” signs

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