Neighbors propose new plan for Logan Square traffic “free for all”


A rendering of a new design for Logan Square. It may be helpful to look at all six of the images in a new window while you read this article. Open the location on Bing Maps bird’s eye view

If you receive 35th Ward Alderman Colón’s newsletter, you would have seen in December a couple graphics and short description of a Logan Square “reimagination”, or rather, the Logan Square Bicentennial Improvements Project. The “square” of Logan Square is really circle at the confluence of Logan Boulevard, which ends here, Kedzie Avenue (which goes around the west side), and Milwaukee Avenue (which cuts the square).

Three Logan Square residents, Charlie Keel, Don Semple, and Ryan Westrom, have created a new plan for the Logan Square traffic circle, an unrivaled demonstration of multi-modal transportation harmony. I kid. The plan, which reduces the number of lanes, shortens crosswalk distances, and adds a mix of conventional and protected bike lanes, has received support from the Logan Square Preservation Society, Alderman Colón, and Active Transportation Alliance. And maybe even the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

I’ve met with them more than once to get all the details and to provide feedback from the point of view who rides a bicycle everywhere and lives in the area. I think there’s a widely held perspective that the traffic circle (I don’t think that’s the best term for what is there) needs dramatic changes. Put simply, by Calvin Brown, a former Bicycling Ambassador for the city, “It is confusing and there are too many lanes of traffic”.

Plan details

From the project summary and their presentation to me:

  • Increase pedestrian safety with improved and ADA compliant infrastructure; reduces crossing distances and increases the places where one can cross; adds speed tables
  • Increase bicycle safety with improved infrastructure & innovative bikeways; this is done by using green bike lanes, and in some cases protected bike lanes; the segment of Milwaukee Avenue that cuts through the square is only for bicycles and buses
  • Increase green space and create a new, more centralized site for The Farmer’s Market; 1.6 acres of green space is added, all taken from reclaimed asphalt
  • Infrastructure improvements for safer and more efficient auto and bus traffic; this is done in several ways, essentially by making the lane design less confusing, restoring lane markings, and removing some of the entrances/exits from the circle
  • Acknowledge the history of the square and make changes within historic preservation guidelines
  • Infrastructure improvements for sustainable storm water management through the use of permeable pavers and decreases in asphalt surface area; Milwaukee Avenue is apart of a green infrastructure corridor and the 35th Ward has grants to help build it

Note: There are probably 50 other features I’m not listing here. I have a lot of information from my multiple meetings with the group. If you have a question about an aspect of the plan I’m not listing here, please leave a comment or email me.


What do the designers have to say about their own project?

Charlie Keel, an historical preservationist, would like to make all pavement out of pavers (like brick), for both the aesthetics and traffic calming effect it provides. They want to create a difference between the square and the tertiary, incoming roads.

I’ve met with all three but spent the most time discussing the plan with Don Semple, the group’s architect (he also made most of the drawings, while Ryan Westrom, an engineer, made engineering drawings).

Don Semple, the group’s architect, says, “The idea here is to migrate toward a modern roundabout, instead of the free-for-all it is now. There’s so much ambiguity right now, with the parking spaces, as well as the 4-lanes but only 2 are striped. We want to make it safe by telling people where they’re supposed to be”.

Responding to the historical plans from 1913 all the way to the Logan Square Open Space Plan in the 2000s, Don said that “the early plans were ‘how can we move car traffic better, not, how can we cross the road safely, or how can we preserve or expand the park'”. This coincides with what CDOT commissioner Gabe Klein said to me for the Architect’s Newspaper interview:

I think there was a push in the past to make it so that cars moved as quickly as possible. Back then, cities lost their self-confidence and catered to the transient drivers who passed through. (Read the full interview)

Showing the group’s fervor for the neighborhood and fixing this traffic mess, Don offered their pro-bono work as a “hallmark project for the City. This has the ability to be a major milestone project, using modern techniques that haven’t been used in other parts of the city. We are presenting it as opportunity for Gabe as a symbol for new type of planning”.


A bird’s eye view of the plan drawings overlaid on Bing Maps. View all of the other drawingsOpen the location on Bing Maps bird’s eye view

Interview with Commissioner Klein

In the Architect’s Newspaper article, I prefaced Klein’s response with a brief description of the place to orient those who aren’t familiar:

“In January, a group composed of a preservationist, a transportation engineer, and an architect met with Klein and Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of project development at CDOT, to present their vision and plan about a traffic problem in their neighborhood. In the past 100 years, Logan Square has become less square and more circular, to the detriment of people trying to pass through on foot or bicycle. It now has four lanes of fast, one-way traffic circling the small park, which includes the Illinois centennial monument. Four lanes of Milwaukee Avenue cut through the square diagonally.”

Here’s what he had to say about it:

I have a few reactions: I thought wow, this has become a big enough issue and problem that the community itself has come up with ideas for a solution [emphasis added]. We often in these agencies go to the public and build support for solutions. They did some of that.

I don’t think all the wisdom for traffic design engineering resides within the agency. Some of the “crazy” ideas come from the public. Streetcar routing and others were initially thought of crazy, but ended up being the most logical idea at the end of day. Everything should be looked at.

On the project’s viability:

There were aspects I thought were great, but some others need to be looked at: running a bus through the middle. It was conceptual, but very well-thought out. But you’ve got to work on property acquisition, costing. I don’t know if it’s viable or not. Traffic circles in general: I’m very used to them in Washington, D.C.. I have an appreciation for them that others may not.

(Gabe mentioned that someone sent him a redesign for the Damen-Elston-Fullerton intersection they had created. In the Architect’s Newspaper article, I made a connection with the Bloomingdale Trail, itself an idea borne from the community.)

What do you like about this plan?

Simplicity of the idea. Complicated in the construction, but simplicity of cars coming in and out of the circle makes it seem safer potentially for pedestrians. I like the enhancement of public space, and a park like atmosphere. I envision bike share stations potentially. I also like the respect they gave to the history of the square. (I question how buses would run through the middle of what’s supposed to be a park.)

Logan Square resident Ash Lottes wrote in her blog, after seeing the alderman’s newsletter, that perhaps she had died and gone to pedestrian planning heaven:

 A stretch of Milwaukee free from personal automobiles. This looks to be the exact model I’ve been arguing for for years and now here it is tied nicely in a bow and presented to the Alderman for consideration. Best of all, he’s publicly praising it.

The potential plan above also brings what is a terribly dangerous set of intersections for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike much more in line with a typical European roundabout that actually keeps all traffic moving along safely and steadily.

I am also a proponent of the plan.


In the coming weeks, and hopefully months and years, CDOT staff will be investigating the feasibility of the plan. Klein told me, “You’ll have to look at alternatives. We’ll have to look at what other work is happening on Milwaukee Avenue, and whether it fits into that [reconstruction project] (from a traffic and aesthetic standpoint).”

I must note that this new design coincides with two events:

  1. Illinois will have its bicentennial (200th) in 2018. The Illinois Centennial Monument becomes a focus point in the redesign of the sidewalks through the square. A space is devoted to a possible future monument for the bicentennial.
  2. The City of Chicago is rebuilding Milwaukee Avenue, starting from the north and working all the way to the south. This year, the phase is Irving Park to Addison. Then Addison to Belmont, and then Belmont to Fullerton. It’s imperative that this plan be vetted now and go through a community planning process so a good design is ready for when reconstruction comes through Logan Square.

Chicagoans are also discussing this plan on EveryBlock.

29 thoughts on “Neighbors propose new plan for Logan Square traffic “free for all””

  1. Having lived in Boston for a bit and seen how effective some traffic circles can be, I like this plan. The elimination of that confusing cut-across of traffic being the best bit!

      1. Yikes! I figured cyclists would get to use the new cross-cut, but having buses use it too, seems…scary. I’m no urban or transportation planner, though, so maybe they have a way to get it to flow smoothly.

          1. Since the buses aren’t frequent, why even bother with it?  Why not just have the buses go around the circle too?

  2. Yes! I fully support this plan, let’s get behind it and make it happen.  (but…what happened to the ped crossing at the Auditorium building across Logan??)

  3. I like it overall…my only small quibble is, surprisingly, about truck access. Delivery trucks for all the businesses in the Logan Square Auditorium building use that little alley in the back, I’d be concerned that closing off the access road and bumping the sidewalk out so far would not provide enough turning radius for trucks to get in or out.

    And it’s great that Rey’s on board, too bad it’s not in his ward anymore. I presume Waguespack would be receptive though…

    1. The service drive in front of Boulevard Bikes along Kedzie Avenue and its turnaround have been designed by a transportation engineer and will be vetted by CDOT. My guess is that it’s okay. Are we talking about the same place?

      1. It’s more about access to the alley next to Boulevard. That is where Lula & Dunlay’s (and Boulevard) receive deliveries. The trucks are generally too large use that turnaround.

    2. It’s only Waguespack if no one sues….which remains to be seen….and when the council adopts….which hasn’t happened yet.  So unfortunately we’re stuck with Colon and his antics for a while yet.  🙁

    3. The new ward map doesn’t go into effect until 2015. They have met with Waguespack, and he is interested in the idea.

  4. way cool, thanks for sharing this Steve. The traffic going around the square is a bit daunting, and pedestrians don’t necessarily follow the sidewalks or the walk indicators at intersections. 

    1. “pedestrians don’t necessarily follow the sidewalks or the walk indicators at intersections.”

      This because the walk indicators and crosswalks were not designed with people’s intentions and desires in mind. They are also not synchronized: to cross Kedzie on the north side of Milwaukee, the far signal has a walk before the near signal, and when you arrive at the far signal, it bars you from walking. That’s not logical or what anyone wants to do!

  5. This is a great plan overall, but nobody has mentioned perhaps the biggest benefit: the bike/bus-only section of Milwaukee could be re-signed as “Old Milwaukee Avenue,” and the Logan Square Comfort Station would be the only building using it as an address.

  6. Interesting ideas.  Asking pedestrians to cross two or three lanes of traffic without a signal seems like it might be problematic, but perhaps the speed tables will be enough.  Also, I’m not sure I see the point of the inside traffic lane in the circle. No entering lanes feed into it and no lanes exit from it.  Is it just to pass slower drivers?  That doesn’t seem necessary.

    1. I was waiting for you to respond, John! 

      I didn’t think about this. I think the designers are thinking that the slow speeds mean that stopping for pedestrians in the crosswalks (speed tables) is a likely occurrence (much more than is observed now in Chicago).

      I counted the number of lanes a person has to cross to walk from New Wave Coffee/Boulangerie, to the Logan Square CTA station: 18 lanes. With this plan? 9 lanes. 

  7. I like the plan except for the bus and bike lane cutting through the green space.  There’s no value to it. A dedicated bike lane could be part of the traffic circle and buses could travel on the outside lane of the circle leaving the entire “square” without cars and buses.  It would be safer for pedestrians as well, especially children, to have the entire “square” green and without any traffic.  Imagine a bus/bike lane cutting through Palmer Square from Kedzie to Humboldt/Sacramento Blvd.  Yuch! 

    1. Routing the buses around the Logan Square “circle” may increase their travel time. The value of it is maintaining or even improving their travel time (travel time could be decreased with smart light signals that turn green before the bus arrives so it does not have to make a stop at the light). 

      I believe Palmer Square needs its own improvement. Its size could be increased and safety around it improved by removing a lane of car traffic or making a protected bike lane. 

  8. Well I sure am glad that I read the background information before I sprouted off. I thought the whole idea was to improve the flow of traffic. Not so according to the local residents. They want to take away roadway to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. That makes this problem unique from any I’ve seen before. I wonder what the motorists will say when queues backup to get through here with less roadway space. It doesn’t seem any input came from the motorists standpoint in arriving at conclusions as to what to do. I haven’t been to Washington, DC in a while, but when I was working there, there was little concern given to the non-motorists at the circles. Moreover, the circles had smaller geometry and none had surface streets bisecting the circle. In the UK and Europe, the only country I saw that used circles was the UK. And at that, most were outside of the cities where traffic was light. The main country I saw that concerned itself with bicycles was the Netherlands to the extent that there were separate traffic signals for them. But there were no traffic circles. The only circles I’ve seen work where two main streets intersected were ones where the two streets were grade separated. This case holds in DC as well as in Abu Dhabi. Grade separation here will ruin the architecture of the square which is a no-no in the objectives of the upgrade. It seems to me the solution lies in looking at a larger area than just Logan Square itself. If traffic surface is to be taken away, then it has to be given back by using some method of diversion of traffic before it reaches the square. So the solution is not simple and I don’t think the proposed plan will work at all. Just running buses through the square in itself runs against the grain of clean architecture. Why are the buses so important? Is there a bus priority system in place along Milwaukee Ave? I bet not. In which case, just change the bus schedules to incorporate the extra time to navigate around the square.
    OK. Here’s a quick stab at a solution: Make Sacramento Ave. one way Northbound, make Kimball Ave. one way Southbound. Now NW bound Milwaukee Ave through traffic turns right onto Sacramento Ave. and then left onto Diversy, then right back onto Milwaukee. SW Bound Milwaukee through traffic turns right onto Kimball and then left onto Fullerton, then right back onto Milwaukee. Only local traffic is allowed on Milwaukee to the square. A slip lane needs to be added at the North side of Milwaukee and Kedzie so that NB Kedzie traffic doesn’t need to make a backward type of turn off of Milwaukee to continue a NB journey. Now there has to be a way to distinguish local Milwaukee traffic from through Milwaukee traffic. Toll road type transponders on the windshields of local vehicles could do the the job along with transponder readers mounted properly. Any vehicle in the local zone without a transponder would be fined automatically via mail. Now bring on the critics and naysayers to complain about this quick solution.
    Roy W Kessmann, Professional Traffic Engineer

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