Calling 311 to make service requests about infrastructure is an onerous task


Reporting street issues to 311 was an arduous process that absorbed 24 minutes and 37 seconds of my Monday. I called to follow up on the issue of accessibility I reported in February for the southwest corner of Kinzie Street and Clark Street. After 14 minutes and 09 seconds, the 311 operator found three calls for service – all were marked closed – for that stepped curb! She asked if the problem still existed (it does) and made a new record (the fourth one). The other two records, neither of which were mine, both indicated that it was inaccessible to wheelchairs. She told me that on one of the existing records there was confirmation that it was a vaulted sidewalk (meaning there’s a hollow space underneath). This may be part of the reason this corner wasn’t fixed after the ADA lawsuit.

My original request for this curb problem is 12-00337103, made on February 22, 2012. Today’s request is 12-01060656.

I submitted two new requests in the following 10 minutes:

  1. A large gap in the bridge joint on Desplaines Street (west side, southbound lanes) at Kinzie Street, near the Jewel-Osco makes bicycling uncomfortable and possibly hazardous. This gap had previously been filled in after I alerted CDOT to this in October 2011, but the asphalt filler, as it is wont to do, lost its structure and fell into the gap. So the gap remains. And it’s hard (on the hands and body) to ride over. It could cause a crash. After describing the situation in a couple different ways to the 311 operator she had to decide which request type was appropriate. She selected “slab differential”. I hope the right person sees the request. The Service Request (SR) number is 12-01060712.
  2. A large gap in the bridge joint on Belmont Avenue (north side, westbound lanes) at Rockwell Avenue, over the Chicago River. This has never been filled in as far as I can tell; it is also hard on the hands and body to ride over and has the same balance-jarring effects as the Desplaines Street gap. A difference between the two gaps is that on Desplaines one is going uphill and on Belmont one is going downhill, so there’s different momentum and maneuvers and I think this one is more hazardous. I measured the gap today to be 2 inches deep and 12 inches across (see photo below). The SR number is 12-01060733.


The gap on Desplaines Street at Kinzie Street. It’s been repaired at least once since October 2011, but the fix has failed and the gap returned. 


This illustration attempts to demonstrate the size and depth of the bridge gap and missing asphalt at 2600 W Belmont, in the westbound lanes. The gap on the opposite end of the bridge has a flexible filler. 

Spending 24 minutes on the phone to get the status of one request and to make two new requests is a deficient way to notate and address infrastructure issues. It means, among other outcomes, that many of them won’t be reported because of the time required of callers. Correspondingly unproductive, the 311 website doesn’t return you an SR number (your tracking ID), a necessary feature of any database: it confirms your request was received.

311 is probably the second best way to get something fixed. You could spend the same amount of time on the phone with someone in your alderman’s office. They have at least two advantages over 311: they can accept your photos over email to better understand the issue. The second is that City departments likely prioritize requests from alderman’s office. Many requests from aldermen were prioritized in my job as a bicycle parking planner at the Department of Transportation.

I’ve asked the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for insight on how the corner could be fixed. I will update the article with their response. What success or disappointment have you experienced when reporting dangerous infrastructural issues to 311 or to a ward office?

N.B. While looking for photos of Belmont Avenue for this post, I came across a situation that’s always bothered me since I moved to Avondale in 2011 and started making more trips to Lakeview. I call them “scars in the roadway”. They look like they came from an asphalt grinder and they catch and channel bicycle wheels, which can be dangerous. Also on Belmont, between Western and Halsted, are a thousand and one utility cuts for all the new condo construction that happened in the previous decade. To report these I’ll have to pencil in my calendar another 24 minute call.


Roadway scars on Belmont Avenue between Western Avenue and Oakley Avenue. 

12 thoughts on “Calling 311 to make service requests about infrastructure is an onerous task”

  1. Is 311 good for park district as well?  For the second time in about as many weeks on the North Shore Channel Trail, the landscaping crews have decided that the trail itself is a good place to park/drive, completely blocking the trail during commuting hours (usually around 8:30-9am).  Is that even park district?

  2. A large gap in the bridge joint on Desplaines Street (west side,
    southbound lanes) at Kinzie Street, near the Jewel-Osco makes bicycling
    uncomfortable and possibly hazardous.

    I got to experience that one on Saturday night.  Those expansion joints seem to be a universal problem for cyclists. I haven’t been on the ones on Halsted over the Ike in a while, but those have generally been horrendous in recent years – huge gaps.

    1. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that the one on the south side of the Halsted bridge over the Eisenhower (I-290) were fixed to be mostly comfortable last year. And I think that fix has remained. It’s not the first time it’s been “fixed” (more like patched) in the past 4 years, though. A previous fix didn’t last for more than one winter.

  3. Thank you for noting that calling your local Alderman’s office is an option. Although, 311 can be a useful tool for reporting simple requests (i.e. garbage/ sanitation needs, building complaints, etc.) it may not be as helpful for fixing larger infrastructure issues. While you may spend the same amount of time on the phone with your local Alderman’s Office, you are more likely to find a staff member who can follow up on your issue. 

    1. I’ve had equally disconcerting experiences with reaching out to ward offices, through email and phone calls.
      Maybe the issues didn’t matter at the the time because I couldn’t say I lived in their ward.

  4. Agree, it is difficult to explain problems to 311 operators, and the wait times are often unacceptably long.

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