Grid Shots: Best and worst intersections

Update December 2, 2011: Mike Stephen asked me for the Outside The Loop radio broadcast some more questions about these choices. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”. 

14 thoughts on “Grid Shots: Best and worst intersections”

  1. I don’t know what the crash data is on Irving Park/Lincoln/Damen, but it seems like every time I go through that intersection, I see:

    * cars entering the intersection at the last possible second, often running the red light
    * peds and cyclists nearly getting hit when they’re starting to cross the intersection – in the path of the late-entering cars
    * (and occasionally) cars starting into the intersection slightly before their green light, often to make right turns before pedestrians step into the crosswalk – in their path

    I don’t usually see gridlock there, but I see a lot of VERY near misses that could have been head-in collisions, or 30+ mph car striking ped or cyclist.  This intersection and many of the other 6-way intersections have a lot of problems due to left-turning traffic, especially where there are no left-turn signals.  These intersections seem to have more traffic going through on yellow and red lights compared to the average 4-way intersection.

    Do you know if the city has ever considered changing stoplight cycles at high crash intersections to add a 1-2 second neutral period where the lights are red for traffic in ALL directions?  This could allow the late-entering vehicles to clear the intersection before the next street gets its green light and hopefully reduce the opportunity for all types of crashes.

    BTW, I absolutely agree with you about Halsted & Roosevelt.  Ever since the University Village development was completed and fully occupied, what had been an easy area to pass through became a serious gridlock nightmare.  You made good points on the others as well.  Ashland/Elston/Armitage is an obscenity in asphalt – ridiculously bad.

      1. In the later years of the old, deteriorated Maxwell St., the area had very low population density, and there were a lot fewer cars.  It seemed that the city and UIC were trying to empty the area out through neglect.  Infrastructure was thoroughly neglected.  Pavement on Halsted from Roosevelt to 16th was more craters than surface, so very few people drove there.  If you could ride between the craters, the street was pretty much yours.

        I’ve watched the traffic and parking density increase over the years as each phase of University Village was completed.  The area now suffers the typical aftereffect of gentrification – too many cars in a newly-dense area.

        I’m aware of the 2/08 cyclist fatality at Irving/Lincoln/Damen.  I’d be curious to know if there have been other crash fatalities of any type.

        1. I arrived in Chicago in late 2005 when the new dorms and stores in University Village were opened. I lived in one of those dorms for one semester. Then I moved to Pilsen. I got to watch the later phases of UV being built, and the entirety of University Commons get built. 

          Check out this article from Curbed about UIC being an urban renewal failure.

  2. As a northbound Elston cyclist, I simply hate the intersection of Armitage, Ashland, and Elston for the reason you cite. Drivers will almost always move to the center or left lane to pass me and then proceed to make the right turn onto Ashland (from the center or left lane) in front of me. It’s incredibly dangerous, illegal, and most drivers don’t even realize what they’re doing wrong.

    At a most basic level, that area simply needs freshly painted lane lines and markers showing where it is permissible to make the right turn from. At a more severe level, it needs a barrier separating the right turn lane to prevent the turns.

    Thanks for the article.

    1. I don’t think new/refreshed pavement markings are sufficient to modify behavior at this intersection. To be safer, a right turn lane should not have such an angle that encourages high-speed driving: a 90° angle turn should be required. 

  3. i agree that the halsted and roosevelt intersection is terrible.  people making a right turn ignore the bike lane that’s painted on there and just cross it all willy-nilly without looking.  during the summer, i see a lot of cyclists yell warnings to drivers with their windows down.  the winter, i try to avoid that intersection at all costs, it’s dark and without other cyclists i feel less safe.  

    1. It does feel dark sometimes. And it’s a long distance to cross (longer than most intersections). I also don’t like the merger, going south on Halsted, from 2 lanes + 1 bike lane north of Roosevelt, to 1 lane (for everyone) south of Roosevelt. 

  4. I’m frustrated at “Kinzie Street, Desplaines Street, and Milwaukee Avenue” being considered the best. The Kinzie protected lane is great and all but it dumps west-to-south commuters into a really poor situation. The transition from the protected Kinzie to the bike-lane-less Desplaines seems poorly implemented. Why bother with a protected bicycle lane if, at its end, it puts users into a competently infrastructureless direction and why ignore Halsted, one of the strongest North/South arteries of the city’s western neighborhoods.  I believe, while the Kinize path is a step forward, the intersection at Desplaines and Milwaukee is just a glorified “worst” intersection.In the end, the Kinzie lane just appears to exist to be visual for and make suburbans Metra riders feel good about what the city is doing for cyclists (you can see a good portion of the western end of the path from the western lines).

    1. If only there was room (and time) to list every intersection in Chicago. The only ones that aren’t bad are the little ones in our neighborhoods that see 500 cars passing through them each day. 

      I have no alternative for “best intersection”. Does one exist? 

      The “worst intersections” I chose are bad (unsafe, dangerous, uncomfortable, congested) in all directions for all modes. Kinzie has provisions that counter those “bad things” for at least two directions (south to east, and west to north).

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