Strategies in the Pedestrian Plan: Remove all channelized right turns in 3 years


A right-turn channelization from southbound Kedzie Avenue to northbound Milwaukee Avenue. From 2005-2011 there were 7 pedestrian crashes (including a fatal hit-and-run crash in 2009) and 4 bicycle crashes. The crash data do not allow me to relate any of them to a specific hazard at this location. 

The groundbreaking Chicago Pedestrian Plan says goodbye to this pedestrian safety hazard. I can’t wait to say goodbye to the right-turn channelization on northbound Elston Avenue at Ashland Avenue (why? one, two, three).

Goal: Improve non-standard intersections

You’ll find the right-turn channelization (characterized by the presence of an additional crosswalk and often a concrete island) most often at intersections with diagonal streets. The Chicago Pedestrian Plan, in Goal 8 of the “Connectivity” chapter, will “remove all channelized right turn lanes by 2015”. This is an excellent idea because it reduces crossing distance, reduces car travel speeds (which is the determining factor of an injurious or fatal crash), and reduces the likelihood of a right-angle (t-bone) crash. Download the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.


Connectivity: Goal 8, page 69 in the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. 


While right-turn channelizations are mainly a pedestrian safety issue, they have adverse consequences for bicyclists as well. Where Elston meets Ashland, there is a paint-only right-turn channelization that allows drivers to turn right across a through-bicyclist’s path (which is illegal in addition to being dangerous, municipal code 9-16-020). 

This seems to conflicts with the Mid Term Action item above it, “Remove channelized right-turn lanes intersect at acute angles”. There are some right-angle intersections with right-turn lane channelizations. For example, westbound Adams Street at the Kennedy Expressway, or its complement, the left-turn channelization on eastbound Jackson Boulevard at the Kennedy Expressway. While these two examples will be investigated because of Goal 10, Improve expressway entrances and exits, the milestones and action items there are not as strong as decisive as “remove all channelized right turn lanes by 2015”.

But the intersection of Harrison and Halsted Streets isn’t covered there: it has two right-turn channelizations (on the north corners) right outside of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where thousands of students and others cross daily to reach 8/Halsted buses and the Blue Line station. At this intersection, there were 2 pedestrian and 4 bicycle crashes from 2005-2011. Another disadvantage of the right-turn channelization is that it disallows drivers moving through it from seeing bicyclists approaching in that direction. I suspected that pedestrian crashes would be higher but perhaps the high level of pedestrian traffic in turn makes for safer driving. At this particular intersection, pedestrians and drivers become a nuisance to each other: pedestrians cross against the crosswalk signal and drivers block the crosswalk, waiting for a break in traffic into which they can make a legal right-turn on red.

View Turn lanes and the Chicago Pedestrian Plan in a larger map in which I’ve marked the intersections in this article as well as intersections with right-turn lane channelizations that I believe would be eliminated based on the action item in Connectivity Goal 8, improve non-standard intersections. Notice that the crosswalk across the Jackson Boulevard turn lane into the Kennedy Expressway is 60 feet long. 60 feet to cross a single lane of traffic. Lanes are normally 9-14 feet wide.

The Chicago Pedestrian Plan doesn’t directly address wide-radius intersections, like Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street (the scene of 13 pedestrian and 7 bicycle crashes from 2005-2011), that enables (encourages) drivers to turn right at high speeds, who, when braking for a pedestrian in the crosswalk, would have to decelerate more quickly than someone traveling slower at a smaller-radius right-turn. This example is likely addressed with Goal 10, Improve expressway entrances and exits, of which the intersection Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street is not.

View Roosevelt and Halsted in a larger map. Note the distinct difference in turning radii of the northern and southern corners. See more discussion on strategies in the Chicago Pedestrian Plan.


The six-way intersection before improvements, page 70, in the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. The text mentions removing right-turn lane channelizations, but the graphic doesn’t show it.


The six-way intersection after improvements, page 71, in the Chicago Pedestrian Plan. Crosswalks for all movements have been added; at some intersections, like Damen-North-Milwaukee, people cross where there is no crosswalk. This drawing shows crosswalks in exactly those places.

28 thoughts on “Strategies in the Pedestrian Plan: Remove all channelized right turns in 3 years”

  1. Are you kidding me! Surely there are better ways to address the “perceived” hazard at these intersections.

    1. The problems are this: drivers driving too fast and because of that speed not seeing pedestrians and getting into crashes, or seeming like they would get into a crash and the pedestrian avoids the crossing even when they have the signal. The other problem is that it increases crossing distance and the pedestrian spends more time in the road and not above it on a curb. Can you think of a different solution based on that problem statement?

      1. I think there are times when channelization really helps to reduce the crossing distance. The island can act as a refuge and help separate conflicts (like a roundabout). I’m just not convinced that these are inherently unsafe. One of the problems with the City’s new document format is that the entire plan is basically an executive summary. There’s no way to find more detailed analysis if you want it.

  2. From what I’ve observed of the Halsted-Harrison intersection, a big part of the problem is that the people making the turn operate on their own signal that runs counter to the primary crosswalk. Pedestrians crossing with the signal make it to the island, where they’re presented with a don’t walk signal across the little channel. Most, of course, ignore that signal. I’m sure many don’t even see it.

    If they remove the painted channel at Ashland-Elston, would they replace it with a simple turn lane? What would that intersection look like?

    1. The Pedestrian Plan document isn’t clear on what would replace it, but it is very clear on what’s going away. On the following two pages in the document pages, 70-71, there are two graphics, a before and after drawing of a six-way intersection that meets without an island in the middle (so not like Fullerton-Damen-Elston, but like Diversey-Racine-Clybourn, to give one example of each). But this graphic lacks any turn lane channelizations.
      I presume that the turn lane on Elston to Ashland would be replaced with a turn much closer to a right-angle turn with a radius more similar to two roads that meet perpendicularly.
      Halsted-Harrison: Are you saying that the two pedestrian signals are not linked to each other?

      1. Halsted-Harrison: They do not seem linked … or at least they weren’t in the past. Say, two months ago. I honestly haven’t noticed recently, though I’ll check it out to be sure I’m not making stuff up later today. But I stepped in front of a car once because of this. I had the walk signal across Harrison and just assumed I had it across the channel as well. The driver slammed her brakes and pointed angrily to the walk signal, which sure enough was orange. I looked back, and the Harrison signal was still white. I stuck around to watch the whole sequence, and they were off. And this didn’t seem to be an accidental, out-of-sequence event. I felt like it was designed that way.

        But like I said, I’ll check to see if that’s still how it works.

        1. What you described is exactly how the pedestrian signal at Kedzie/Milwaukee (in the photo) works. There are three signals and I believe if you’re walking in a certain direction, you will have to wait for three. Linking the signals will improve the situation less than removing the channel.

  3. The stretch of Milwaukee that cuts though Logan Square (the actual square, not the neighborhood) should be removed so that that intersection can be turned into a true roundabout. The side streets along Kedzie and Logan Boulevards are wonderful for biking (although they are in dire need of resurfacing), but the square is quite harrowing to bike through. I remember that there were plans for this a while back – what happened to them?

    1. I totally agree that something should be changed with that stupid oval roadway. Most bicyclists, and many drivers don’t know what the hell to do in it, and I don’t blame them, it’s ridiculously confusing.

  4. Maybe in some cases the channelized right turns can preserve bike traffic? In Berkeley they have a chanlleized right turn but it’s only for bikes and I doubt it causes many bike+ped crashes. Doing this in Chicago would help make bicycling more convenient. If you’re curious as to what Berkeley’s example looks like, it’s the intersection of Hearst and Oxford,+CA&hl=en&ll=37.87384,-122.266194&spn=0.000442,0.000483&sll=37.269174,-119.306607&sspn=10.311269,15.842285&oq=berkeley&t=h&hnear=Berkeley,+Alameda,+California&z=21&layer=c&cbll=37.87384,-122.266194&panoid=AM_beni3aXbylBFlF33DOw&cbp=12,20.85,,1,7.68

    1. That’s a neat feature. I’d like to see that tried out in Chicago, perhaps in the space formerly occupied by a right-turn channelization. A great place to start would be where a right-turn channelization leads from one street with a bike lane to another street with a bike lane, like Kinzie and Clinton (where there used to be a sorta right-turn channelization because of the train viaduct column. (probably not the best example)

  5. That turn you mentioned at Ashland and Elston is so dangerous. I just have to get off my bike and walk because I have had so many close calls there.

  6. Banning Right-Turn-on-Red within the city limits, as is the case in New York CIty, would also lead to fewer pedestrian-vehicle crashes

    1. I haven’t read every word of the plan yet, but I flipped through it a few times trying to find the really revolutionary (infrastructure) stuff. I’m going to double check if “right turn on red” is mentioned in the plan. I advocate for it. We have a pretty heavy ban as-is, at nearly all six-way intersections, and at non-six-way intersections (based mostly on traffic flows and speeds, not pedestrian safety concerns, in my opinion).

    2. I really hope this will happen someday all across cities in the US. It is simply one of the worst decisions regarding traffic in my opinion, and has only further reinforced motorists’ perceived entitlement of priority and dominance on the road, as well as aiding in the creation of an impatient and angry driving culture.

      It will be very hard to change, even if mandated by law everywhere starting tomorrow. It’ll be like taking a favorite toy away from a child. But you have to start somewhere, or it’ll remain this way indefinitely.

  7. Steven, what do you mean by “The text mentions removing right-turn lane channelizations, but the graphic doesn’t show it.” The “after” graphic does have red where new concrete/sidewalk/curbs would be instead of the right turn lanes.

    You and the Peds Plan seem to be defining channelized turns differently, though. In the Peds Plan example, they are simply right turn lanes that appear just before an intersection, whereas you seem to think a channelized turn must always have an additional crosswalk or island as part of it.

    1. I am using the Federal Highway Administration’s definition of a channelized right turn.

      I don’t think the “before” graphic in the Chicago Pedestrian Plan shows a channelized right turn. It shows right turn lanes, but not the channelized kind. See this document on the FHWA’s website for a description and graphic: (control-F for “channelized”)

      Here’s another document that may be useful in learning more about channelized turn lanes, at least in the respect of design for blind pedestrians: (from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, part of the Transportation Research Board)

      Since Chicago will be removing them, we won’t really need that research.

      1. Thanks for that. I was just daydreaming that maybe CDOT could do a map like the bike share map where they take requests for the intersections with channels the public would like to have removed right away. One of my top choices would be the Congress and Columbus intersection alongside Buckingham Fountain (do we really need a double right turn channel leading into the heart of the Loop, just a few blocks away??)

        And also my local Lincoln Park “favorite”, Clark Street where it meets up with LaSalle Drive, also a double-channel, creating a horrible, uncontrolled and unnecessary (and barely striped) pedestrian crossing. I carried my daughter when we crossed this intersection until she was WAY too old to be carried because I felt we had to be ready to RUN if a car driver didn’t see us/weren’t expecting a pedestrian there. All this asphalt could be reclaimed as new green space instead, along with a really nice bike-only cut through, as shown in Walk Eagle Rock’s Berkeley example above.

        1. I built a map to accept submissions, but I don’t think I’m going to develop it any further because I am considering a solution that does what I want that’s mostly already built (even if it’s using someone else’s commercial-oriented website).
          I don’t know if one can consider southbound Clark to southbound LaSalle a right-turn channelization, but it definitely has a channeling effect. It should be improved for two other reasons: the crosswalk is too long (and people in it are affected in the way you describe) and there’s no curb cut, according to Street View, at the northern end of the crosswalk, just a driveway.

  8. Another plus would be that drivers no longer have to figure out their lane choice well in advance of knowing which lanes go where. Boston drivers have a bad rap, but so many times trying to get around unfamiliar streets, I end up in a turn lane ad I want to go straight or vice versa, so I dive across the single-white line to avoid it. And god help you if it’s rainy or snowy, making it hard to see the lines.

    If drivers can count on Right lane = straight or right, they could better concentrate on the immediate job of operating their vehicles in a safe and courteous manner.

  9. I realized one very obscure use for right-turn channelizations recently: for allowing tractor-trailers to turn right at otherwise-too-sharp intersections. But that would probably only be necessary on designated truck routes.

    1. As a city we should be seriously considering the use of smaller trucks to move our cargo. There’s a lot of precedent for this in European city centers where goods must be offloaded to smaller vehicles, including to electric vehicles and cargo bikes.

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