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


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.

There are 16 tools, starting with marked crosswalks, and then moving on to “lagging left turns” (the left-turn phase for cars is at the end of the cycle, instead of the beginning), chicanes, and “skinny streets”. Many of these tools have implications far beyond walking safely. Many can improve the bicycling experience, or give more space to people waiting for a transit bus. Others slow driving, reducing neighborhood noise.

The Pedestrian Plan sets policy that should have always existed, and perhaps it did, but never on a published paper. For example, actuated pedestrian signals, rare in Chicago, “should be installed with an LED indicator light that demonstrates to the pedestrian that the button was pushed”. This type of feedback has been necessary since the device was invented.

One of the faults in the Tools section of the Plan is the lack of information that tells what the effect of that tool is on the goals of the plan. Each of the four goal categories lists at least two goals, the most significant being “eliminate pedestrian fatalities in ten years” (also called Zero in Ten), and “reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50% every five years”. Each tool, in place of describing its impact on these and other goals, indicates its cost as low, medium, or high. These arbitrary classifications aren’t very meaningful, except to say that one tool costs about the same as another tool. But what of these tools’ impacts on eliminating pedestrian fatalities? Limited impact analysis is given for pedestrian refuge islands, chicanes (like the Albany Avenue home zone), and traffic circles.

The city has been touting the Lawrence Avenue road diet for almost 3 years and spreading the same before and after drawing, including it on page 24, for the road diets tool description. A road diet has been undertaken in several locations since commissioner Gabe Klein was hired. The first happened in June 2011, on Kinzie Street, with the addition of a cycle track there. Or the road diet on page 41, Humboldt Drive. This is heralded as a success, with traffic speeds dropping, and people who were surveyed said they found it easier to cross (during the pilot phase). Nevermind that this road diet has created a pinch point for people cycling: there isn’t enough room for a car and a bike side-by-side past the pedestrian refuge islands. Take the lane and suffer the horn.

Circling back to car-centric rhetoric in the plan, we see it on the road diets tool page (24): “A road diet can be considered on all streets with four or more lanes and less than 23,000 vehicles traveling on it daily” (but in some circumstances it’s possible on streets with up to 30,000 vehicles per day). Why are we limited to those parameters? And on the lagging left turns tool page (23) we read: “An analysis must be conducted to ensure that changing a left-turn phase to lagging [which reduces conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles turning left] will not negatively affect the operations of the intersection.” Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I interpret “negatively affect the operations of the intersection” to mean increased delays for drivers at the expense of pedestrian safety.

But the plan is quite revolutionary for Chicagoans. There’s now a metric against which to chart the change in pedestrian safety. The changes will be good.

The plan rightly includes an objective to improve crash data collection (page 47): “Timely access to pedestrian crash data is essential to improving the pedestrian environment”. I couldn’t agree more. I just received crash data for 2011 from the Illinois Department of Transportation. This objective indicates that a website will be created to host crash data, but doesn’t specify how timely it will be (last year’s versus last month’s?). The previous page has an action item to “collect and analyze data on the presence of bicyclists on sidewalks and crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians”.

There are several action items that will directly affect one’s experience walking on a sidewalk (not crossing the street), and this includes better snow removal, developing new guidelines for sidewalk cafés that take into account pedestrian volume, and requiring newspaper boxes to have identification to make it easier to contact and cite their owners. One of the related action items is to “develop a method to allow people to report issues with sidewalks on their mobiles devices” – this should happen sooner than “long term” because of the City’s adoption of Open 311.

My favorite pages are 69-76, as these objectives will have excellent, long-term impacts on the quality of the pedestrian environment:

  • Improve six-way intersections (remove all channelized right-turn lanes by 2015).
  • The six-way intersection before and after graphics show a “straightened” intersection with more crossing opportunities, and what would likely be a slower and safer intersection.
  • Improve underpasses and create an underpass improvement program by 2018.
  • Improve expressway entrances and exits. This objective is focused on the CTA’s Blue and Red Lines, both within expressways and receiving a lot of visitors who arrive by bike, bus, or foot. Again, excellent before and after graphics.
  • And for the unexpected kicker: Develop standards for pedestrian facilities within parking lots. A better objective would be to disincentivize the creation of surface parking lots and reduce the surface area of existing parking lots.

See more photos from the press conference or watch the press conference below.


N.B. Page 25 mentions speed feedback signs as a tool to reduce vehicle speeds. It cites it as a “medium cost pedestrian safety tool”. It doesn’t mention that there are several installed around the city but disabled. I’ve noticed at least three that have been off for over a year, on Damen Avenue in Wicker Park, King Drive in Bronzeville, and Oakley Avenue in Little Italy.

Recently we’ve talked about marked and unmarked crosswalks. Page 38 discusses establishing a citywide marked crosswalk policy that would determine how and when a marked crosswalk would be installed. The Pedestrian Plan also establishes the ladder crosswalk design as standard for all future crosswalk installations. We thought this to be the case when all of the crosswalks at Milwaukee Avenue and Western Avenue were restriped with two parallel stripes this past August and have asked CDOT to look into why the ladder design wasn’t installed. (The ladder design is also known as the “international”, “zebra”, and now, according the Pedestrian Plan, “continental” style.)

48 thoughts on “Chicago’s first pedestrian plan includes great ideas, lacks some information”

  1. I really hate those signs that tell pedestrians to watch out for cars. Yes, everyone knows that a car can easily kill you. Not a day goes by where I am not watching out for speeding cars, whether it be biking or walking. The burden of responsibility falls upon the motorists, since they are the ones capable of killing. Not many of them realize this or seem to care. The campaign should be reminding DRIVERS to watch out for pedestrians/cyclists and slow the heck down. Not the other way around.

    1. I’d love to see a lot of tickets written at intersections with high volumes of pedestrian and bike traffic. Loop traffic was much better behaved back when tickets were a possible punishment. I rarely see any tickets written in the Loop now. Plenty of other locations could use some ticket writing, too, because the average driver is going to do whatever he/she can get away with if penalties for bad driving behavior are effectively non-existent.

      1. We are developing a new feature to track the number of citations given for certain violations (equitably divided among car, bike, and pedestrian violators). We are open to suggestions as to which violations should be tracked.

          1. Thanks!

            Ah, so not IL law like bikes reflectors & bikes/cars not yielding to pedestrian (big push right now), correct? Cell phone use by cars (& bikes, though not prohibited).
            What about scooters & motorcyclists? Latter constantly breaking noise ordinance, very disorienting if next to one on bike.

  2. I think that all six-way intersections in the city should have a “scramble” phase, where all motor traffic is stopped and pedestrians can cross any way they like. Those six-way intersections are really quite awful to traverse on foot or bike.

    1. I’d go for this if the intersections were smaller so crossing distances were shorter. Imagine a scramble phase at Lincoln, Ashland, Belmont. It would have to last 60+ seconds just to cross the longest tangent.

      The graphic on that page in the plan does show the AFTER, with wildly smaller six-way intersections. This transformation probably has a greater impact in reducing pedestrian crashes than anything else that could be implemented at the intersection. However, the plan doesn’t actually say, “Transform a six-way intersection based on this drawing”. So it may never happen. Instead it says,

      1. Short term. Develop typologies and guidelines, utilizing additional pedestrian safety tools, for diagonal intersections with five or six legs and offset intersections.
      2. Mid term. Remove channelized right-turn lanes where streets intersect at acute angles. [This wouldn’t be a majority of six-way intersections as most don’t have channelized right-turn lanes. It would include Ashland/Elston, though.]
      3. Mid term. Pilot a project that studies the effects of prohibiting turning movements at intersections where three major streets intersect.

      Page 69.

      1. Anything to make Elston/Ashland better. That intersection is one of the worst in the city. That compounded with the fact that drivers speed under the rail underpass northbound on Elston past the intersection – despite there being a bike lane – makes it quite dangerous.

    2. These are the six-way intersections I know that have channelized right-turn lanes:

      Ashland/Elston (just two legs of four)
      Damen/Milwaukee (just one leg of six)
      Damen/Lincoln (just one leg of six)

        1. Since posting this, I’ve noticed a lot more intersections with the right-turn channelizations.
          It’s seriously one of the things in the plan I’m most looking forward to. Another one is Milwaukee/Ashland, just 1 leg of 4.

  3. Gabriel is only interested in one thing- and that’s REVENUE!!!!! You heard him say it, his favorite “tool” is automated enforcement.
    Any of you who watch this or read this and think he gives two shits about anything else, or anyone’s safety, is a fool. He came here to do one thing only, and that’s take money from everyone’s pocket in the form of speed cameras. The Chicago Tirbune obtained emails that he wrote just days after taking office outlining his plans for speed cameras.

    And for everyone who thinks road diets are necessary, I’m glad that one has created a choke point for bikers- you can’t have your cake and eat it too! Cars need to get where they are going in a timely manner.

    Let’s hope Gabriel moves on before he does any more damage to this city.

    1. Did the Chicago Tribune publish those emails? Can you point them out to me? I wrote a lot about the speed camera debates and I didn’t see anything about Mr. Klein writing said emails.
      Watch your language. I’ve edited your comment to remove the disgusting name calling.

      1. This article here talks about Gabe writing emails. It sounds like the city redacted most of the content.

        from the article:
        One top administration official who shows up repeatedly in the log,
        going back to the very first email on speed cameras sent on May 31, is
        city Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein. He has publicly taken
        credit for generating the speed camera idea.

        This article also discusses his involvement

        and is a good read to show what really was going on behind the scenes.

        So while I think there are good ideas in this pedestrian plan, it really is a guise for he (and the mayor) really wants, and that’s revenue.

        1. Now I remember: I did read the first article. It’s a shame Mayor Emanuel kept pointing to some “redeeming” report on the effectiveness of speed cameras and then his press people said the Tribune couldn’t have it. What a joke.
          As you may remember, I came out in favor of speed cameras but against the ordinance as written. I was shocked to see that 15+ aldermen voted no; I thought they were all push overs (seeing as they voted for the budget and additional police powers for NATO).

        2. Even if it may be about revenue, the city can’t fine you if you don’t speed. I don’t understand why people are complaining that they are suddenly going to start getting tickets for something they have been doing that has always been illegal. If you don’t want a ticket, then don’t speed. It’s that simple. I think that this thought process will eventually catch on and drivers will eventually slow down.

          1. The problem with speed cameras are that they are too punitive. When driving, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and react to the conditions around you, not constantly slamming on the brakes and watching your speedometer (next time you are driving in the city, try and keep a steady speed, while trying to move with the flow of traffic). It’s much easier on an open highway to set cruise control and not speed, but in a city like chicago with streets that aren’t optimized for traffic flow, it’s much more difficult. So if all of sudden, you are going 26 MPH, oops, that’s a ticket, even though you really aren’t doing anything dangerous.

          2. 26 MPH is under the city-wide speed limit of 30, so that wouldn’t warrant a ticket. And I disagree: driving a car at a high rate of speed is inherently dangerous. Drivers are going to get into collisions. It’s safer for everyone if those collisions happen at a lower speed. There is a much higher survivability rate for a pedestrian or cyclist who is hit at 20 MPH vs 30 MPH. If everyone who drives a car slows down, then the need to monitor one’s speedometer vanishes. Lest one forget: money is a very strong motivator.

          3. Speed limits vary by street. I’ve seen some as low as 20, and a few larger streets on the outskirts of the city are higher than 30. I believe the majority of streets are set at 30 though. And I believe the cameras will give some leeway, six MPH I believe.

          4. This is true. I’ve seen some streets that are 20 or 25 MPH and LSD is 40MPH (I am assuming that no speed cameras will be installed on LSD). However, the vast majority of streets are 30 MPH. I would hope that the cameras would have a speeding threshold. I don’t believe someone deserves a ticket for going 31 MPH, but 40 certainly warrants one.

          5. Lake Shore Drive is legally excluded from being monitored by automated speed enforcement. As are the expressways. Someone told me that the streets around the lakefront parks are also excluded from monitoring but I think that is incorrect.

      2. I just posted the links to the articles, then refreshed the page, and my response was gone.
        These two articles talk about Gabe starting the push for speed cameras.

        While I don’t disagree that there has been a lot done to improve biking and walking in the city, this plan is really a guise for him to make a case for speed cameras, which are 100% about revenue, since no one has ever shown any safety benefits. Gabe came to take everyone’s money.

        1. So little of the plan is dedicated to any type of automated enforcement.

          In the next two months, though, we should be hearing about CDOT’s testing of the different companies’ speed camera technology. The aim is to have something operational next year, and issuing tickets by the end of 2013.

        2. An article today about speed camera bidding (yesterday was the deadline):,0,62135.story

          The article poses the school zone speed limit as a problem, but it’s one that CDOT knew about before issuing the RFP as it was discussed in the City Council hearings. Yes, there must be a child present to activate the lower speed limit. A person can still be caught speeding at the normal speed limit, in a school speed limit zone, when a child is not present. A child’s presence only activates the lower speed limit (during the times a school speed limit can be active). Confusing?

          1. I saw that, I’m just waiting for now for Lisa Madigan to issue a new opinion saying school zone speed limits should be enforced 24 hours/day, since you “never know when a child might be present,”

          2. The article mentions that other cities don’t have the “child must be present” exception; the lower limit speed is enforced based on time instead of who’s there.

    2. Wouldn’t ticketing texting drivers fall under “police crackdowns on dangerous drivers” and create some revenue? I applaud this project, but do we just continue educating pedestrians and bicyclists about safety and building defensive islands and barriers while the number of distracted drivers rises?

  4. I love the idea of lagging left turns. I think it would make turning left a lot less stressful. People are already making lagging left by hanging out in the intersection and turing left as the light turns red — this would make it legal, safer for drivers, and also safer for pedestrians who will have cleared the intersection by then.

  5. As a pedestrian, and as a person that uses a wheelchair for mobility, I have to question why the rising number of unsafe cyclist are not included in the plan. It has been put forth numerous times. But as always in Chicago we sweep things under the rug, and hope they go away, or until they are out of control. It is Time to instill responsible, enforceable laws for cyclist in the City of Chicago.

    1. I cannot speak for the creators of the plan, but I have my own thoughts regarding your concerns about the plan’s lack of action about the interaction between cyclists and pedestrians.
      1. Harmful interactions between cyclists and pedestrians are extremely few and far between. Well, to put it another way, there’s absolutely no way to know how often this happens because the interactions are not reported unless there’s an injury and an ambulance is called for. 2. Enforcement is the job of the police department. It’s been discussed time and time again on Grid Chicago that the police are not enforcing traffic laws in any visible or meaningful way.
      When you say, “It has been forth numerous times”, do you mean that the issue was brought up in the meetings about the Pedestrian Plan, or in official comments submitted to the planners?

      1. It has been brought in numerous Public Meetings, Committee meetings, and the planners have been present on many occasion’s. . And you are very wrong over your comment of ‘Harmful interactions between cyclists and pedestrians are extremely few and far between’. It is a issue that we all face daily, We do not have enough Police in Chicago as it is, they do not have time for babysitting the unsafe cyclist’s. A inexpensive license system would be a solution, and with a registered tag, it would reduce tremendously the unsafe sidewalks, crosswalks we have due to unsafe cyclist.

        1. A workable license system for bicycles has not yet been invented. License systems for bicycles have been created and abandoned. It would also not be so simple, as the police would have to set up a computer system to be able to track the registrations and citations. A cyclist who runs into a pedestrian could run off just as easily as a driver who hits a pedestrian can with the police powerless to do much, if anything, when they don’t witness the crash.
          I would be interested in seeing data or analysis that attempts to track crashes between pedestrians and bicyclists.

        2. I agree with you about these conflicts being frequent, especially in the Loop. However, I also agree with Steve’s point about the feasibility of a bike license system. We do need more enforcement, and an overall culture change. We have a long way to go before everyone shares the road well.

  6. In seems you always ask for statistics from posters – if you feel you write a responsible blog, you would know very easily where this info is. it has been available on a local and national level – (if you dispute this comment I will be happy to post link) – every post on cyclist you always lean to protect, spin comments, and ignore the real issues. I would like a link to your comment that licensing cyclist to created and abandoned, you ask all the time for this info from people, well then you should post a link also. Good luck in the world you live in.

  7. developing new guidelines for sidewalk cafés that take into account pedestrian volume

    Yes, PLEASE!!!! I’m sick of sidewalk cafes taking up 1/2 to 2/3 of available sidewalk width in many locations with lots of ped traffic. The one on the NW corner of Adams and Dearborn is a good example, where available walking space is narrow and ped traffic volume is typically VERY high.

    At the very least, make locations like this remove the post-top planter boxes that steal another 6″ of sidewalk space at elbow height. They may make the location a little prettier, but where space is this tight, every inch counts.

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