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”.
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”.
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:
- 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.
- 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.