How far does your expressway avoidance take you?


Showing undesirable pedestrian and sidewalk conditions under the Kennedy Expressway on Belmont Avenue at Kedzie Avenue. There is a bus stop here, on a portion of the sidewalk that narrows to about 2 feet. It wasn’t until I wrote this post that I realized that there is no bus route on Kedzie Avenue making this bus stop’s location quite ridiculous. There are bus stops in both directions on Belmont Avenue that are actually near businesses and residences. Explore on Google Street View.

I shop for groceries mostly at Aldi. The one nearest my house is 3,725 feet by walking (about 0.71 miles), the Avondale Aldi. The next closest store is 11,102 feet away (about 2.1 miles), the Lincoln Square Aldi, and the third closest is 11,599 feet away (about 2.2 miles), the Wicker Park Aldi. I live at Belmont and California, in Avondale.

I shop at the third closest one the most often. The Wicker Park Aldi is at Milwaukee Avenue and Leavitt Street. The reasons I shop here instead of the other two, considering that it’s two-thirds closer to home, are based on two travel factors: trip chaining (the practice of attaching multiple trips into the same one so one leaves the house less often), and trip quality (the characteristics that make the trip interesting, not interesting, safe, and unsafe). A trip, as counted by transportation planners like myself, is movement from one address to another.

For example, the Chicago Transit Authority counts trips taken on its buses and trains as “boardings”, each time a passenger pays for the bus or passes an ‘L’ station turnstile. When people change routes on the same platform or station, this additional trip isn’t counted because there’s no mechanism to do so. A person who takes a bus to an ‘L’ station is counted twice in CTA’s reports (note 1).

Trip chaining

When business or pleasure takes me out of the house, it’s often oriented to points south and southeast, in Logan Square, Wicker Park, West Town, Ukrainian Village, the Loop, and Pilsen. The Wicker Park Aldi is along the route, Milwaukee Avenue, between my house and most of these neighborhoods. Instead of making a sole purpose trip to buy groceries, I plan to attach the grocery trip to a different trip, like a meeting downtown or a visit to a friend’s house.

Read more about what kinds of cities facilitate trip chaining by mode, or who is the most likely to trip chain. A trip chaining study used data from the National Household Travel Survey and found that “men increased their trip chaining more than women [from 1995 to 2001], and a large amount of the increase was to stop for coffee (we call this the Starbucks effect). We found that workers who trip chain live farther from their workplaces than workers who do not.”

Trip quality

While trip chaining can make grocery shopping at the third furthest store convenient, what happens if I don’t have a trip to which I can attach the grocery trip? It’s inefficient for me to pedal or walk 2.2 miles when the same store, in Avondale, is 0.7 miles away. The shortest route to the closest store is uncomfortable and feels dangerous so I avoid it as much as I can.

If you live near an expressway in Chicago, or a frequently used route takes you over or under one, you will have experienced the uneasy and unbearable aspects that are common on the streets near, above, and below the Kennedy Expressway. It makes sense to simply list them:

  • Ramps to the highway are usually connected to large, wide intersections, and have fast moving traffic.
  • There are often “express” turning lanes that must be crossed separately. See how the City plans to remove these.
  • There are few comrades traveling through here with you.
  • There is pigeon excrement and other garbage everywhere under a highway bridge, more than what’s encountered on most sidewalks.
  • The sidewalk design, essentially an arcade, has a closed-in feeling. The roadway side, where the bus stops are, are insanely narrow and close to high-speed automobiles.
  • People live and work under the expressway bridges, which seems to make some travelers uncomfortable.

My trip has additional problems: when I’m bicycling and I need to exit the Aldi parking lot I have trouble making a left turn onto eastbound Belmont Avenue. All things considered about the Avondale location, I walk there as often as I ride a bike there. Each mode’s resulting trip has disadvantages but when you’re walking, you’re not dealing with automobile traffic during the entire trip.

What the Pedestrian Plan says

The Chicago Pedestrian Plan, released in September 2012, includes “improving expressway entrances and exits” as a goal to improve pedestrian connectivity in Chicago. It describes a similar situation:

Thousands of pedestrians must cross the entrances and exits to the expressways on a daily basis to reach their destinations. Many of these entrances and exits were designed primarily for vehicles and are often very difficult for pedestrians to cross.

The “actions” and “milestones” make a rather mild commitment to changing the situation. All three short term and mid term actions consist of watching and waiting: listing the locations where there are transit stations at the expressway ramps, “developing typologies” that include low-cost improvements that could be installed, and prioritizing which locations should be improved first.

The long term actions are as weak as complete streets policies in Chicago: “consider eliminating ramps” as part of construction projects and “ensuring” that future construction “include improvements to allow for easy and safe pedestrian crossings”. The only part of page 73 that intends for anything to be changed or built at these locations is the second milestone: “begin designing improvements by 2016”.


This photo shows the two sidewalks on Sacramento Avenue under the Kennedy Expressway. There’s a ramp in the background (other side of the bridge). I think the share of pedestrians each side sees is evenly split. I prefer the “inside” (left in the photo) because it’s away from cars, but I often see children walking home from school on the road side (right in the photo). Each side is equally dark, dirty, and uninviting. 

What the Bike 2015 Plan says

The Bike 2015 Plan includes some references to the “highway problem” (note 2). One strategy is to “monitor city, county, and state bridge and underpass construction projects to ensure that adequate accommodation for bicyclists is provided”. However, it is rare that projects involve underpasses. There was one project in 2012, wherein the City of Chicago resurfaced the roadways under several viaducts with longer-lasting concrete construction. This improved conditions for cycling, but it can be argued that this doesn’t pass as adequate accommodation but instead a standard accommodation for bicycling everywhere.

In stronger terms, a strategy about identifying high-crash locations and installing “countermeasures” could improve bicycle travel near highway ramps.

Identify locations with a high number of bicycle crashes; determine the primary factors contributing to these crashes; and implement appropriate engineering, education, and enforcement and countermeasures.

Identify locations every 2 years, beginning in 2007. Implement countermeasures at 5 – 10 problem areas per year, beginning in 2007. Submit an annual report with recommendations to prevent bicycle crashes to the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council, beginning in 2007.

From 2005 to 2011 there were 10 bicycle-automobile crashes and 2 pedestrian-automobile crashes at the Belmont Avenue/Kedzie Avenue intersection, where a single off-ramp meets the surface streets. There were 4 pedestrian-automobiles crashes where the Avondale Aldi parking lot intersects Belmont Avenue (at Christiania Avenue). For comparison, there were 9 bicycle-automobile crashes and 7 pedestrian-automobile crashes in the same time period. This location has on and off ramps, in both directions.

What the plans have in common is that they acknowledge the barriers highways have become and attempt to set in place a standard that prevents that barrier from ever being constructed new, as well as mitigating the barrier when the location has construction work.

In the seven years I’ve lived in Chicago, I can’t recall a situation where walking or bicycling at a highway entrance and exit was improved. The major Dan Ryan work didn’t affect how the ramps met the surface street network; the Lake Shore Drive south work happened before I moved here in 2006; the situation at Lake Shore Drive and Fullerton Drive wasn’t improved during major construction there in 2012. Do you know of examples where highway-related construction has improved pedestrian and bicycle movement?


The Wicker Park Aldi, seen from the sidewalk. The store was renovated in August 2012 with proper bike parking, although locking to the fences was acceptable.

Lastly, there are lesser factors that affect the quality of the trip. The Wicker Park Aldi’s building is set back from the sidewalk and requires one to walk or bike through a parking lot, increasing the possibility of having a collision. The Avondale Aldi is set back from the Belmont Avenue sidewalk, but provides a sidewalk to the strip center’s store entrances.

As is true of any strip center, pedestrians on the sidewalk will often encounter be blocked by drivers in cars wanting to turn left but cannot do so quickly. In the Netherlands, the design solution is to bring the sidewalk (or bike path) away from the road edge so that one car can be ready for a turn without blocking the sidewalk. The design in the United States is the complete opposite: AASHTO’s 1999 bikeway manual says to put the bike path as close to the road edge as possible at a crossing (see page 58) (note 3).


My path is blocked. While crossing a strip center’s driveway, I must also watch out for drivers turning right into the parking lot. 


This photo shows how the bike path moves further away from the road edge at an intersection, so that a car can turn off the main road and yield, or a car can wait between the bike path and the main road without blocking the bike path. Another angle. A third photo showing a bus turning into the minor road, and the offset sidewalk. Photo by Fietsberaad. 

See all photos for this post.


  1. The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) keeps data on annual unlinked passenger trips for all three service boards.
  2. The Bike 2015 Plan came out in 2006 and lacked a community planning process. The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, released in December 2012, doesn’t discuss the issues posed by expressways but had an in-depth community planning process.
  3. A new manual came out in 2012, but I haven’t been able to purchase it.

36 thoughts on “How far does your expressway avoidance take you?”

    1. Kimball to what? He said he lives at Belmont/California. There aren’t many underpasses to the Kennedy that taking Kimball would help with. Kimball-Wellington-Sacto is an option, but Sacto under the Kennedy isn’t any better than Belmont. Otherwise, north on Kimball, you have to go all the way to Addison (unless there’s some way through the industrial stuff on the east side of Kimball to Kedzie, there might be). Addison is a mess there too.

      1. See my comment above that talks about the path using Kimball. In short, it’s longer and has other disadvantages.

        I don’t agree that Sacramento isn’t any better than Belmont. There’s less traffic here, it’s quieter, and has less “grunge”.

    2. The shortest walking path (going south on Sacramento to Wellington to Christiania) is 1.0 miles that has me crossing 4 lanes of Belmont Avenue, in an unmarked crosswalk at Christiania Street.

      The shortest walking path that has me taking Kimball (and where I would cross at a signal) instead of Christiania Street is 1.13 miles. Biking paths have different lengths because of the one-way streets that are encountered on Wellington and Barry (which doesn’t reach Sacramento, but George 2 blocks south of Barry does). Biking in this way (instead of taking Belmont) also has disadvantages, but they are different than the walking path’s disadvantages.

      1. I don’t think that’s an unmarked crosswalk at Christiana and Belmont so much as it is an eliminated crosswalk. They removed it (blacked it out) shortly after we moved on Christiana, in maybe 2003 or 2004. I know this for a fact as the owner of the Subway restaurant mentioned that he saw his business drop almost immediately.

  1. Ah, my oldest nemesis, the Belmont-Kedzie intersection…

    Good article, as always – one thing I’d throw in there as a possible solution is the City banning left turns out of privately owned lots on arterial streets altogether (such as the Whole Foods on Ashland does).

    There is little that is more disruptive to cyclists than that car, such as the one you pictured above, trying to turn across several lanes of moving traffic. Most of the time the drivers get impatient, and inch out, blocking one or more lanes of traffic.

  2. A few points. (1) There is a difference between a sidewalk approach to a driveway, and a bike path approach to an intersection. Your second to last picture is the former, and your last picture is the latter. (2) From a design perspective, it is always preferred to have the sidewalk set back from the curb rather than carriage walk (sidewalk directly adjacent to the curb). Also, it is preferable that the sidewalk maintain its elevation through a sidewalk (preferably above the roadway), and the driveway elevation adjust to match up/down. (3) Your example from the Netherlands is interesting. The logic behind the AASHTO design guideline (which is replicated by many other agencies) is that motorists in the US will not be looking for pedestrians/cyclist *near* only *in* the intersection. Thus it is preferable to have the stop bar located behind the crossing, or to move the crossing so far away from the intersection it would be considered mid-block. I do think that over time the Netherlands design could be adopted in the US, but not in situations such as in your picture as this an entrance and not an intersection.

    1. 1. The additional photo links show that the sidewalk has been offset in its approach. ONE, TWO.

      2. Maintain elevation. I rarely see this in Chicago. The entire Elston Avenue strip center has “carriage walk” with fluctuating elevations.

      3. For the Dutch design solution to be implemented here, part of the property would have to be “taken over” (meaning a loss of some car parking spaces).

      1. Thanks for the additional photos. Again, the two scenarios (Netherlands to Avondale) are not analogous as one is an intersection and the other is an entrance. The maintain elevation is what is desirable when the sidewalk is set back from the curb, which still rarely happens. Maintaining elevations is really not possible with carriage walk as it has to vary to go from full curb to depressed at entrances (another reason why carriage walk is undesirable). The dutch design could be applied at *intersections* but would never work for entrances/driveways.

        1. I tried to find a photo from the Netherlands that showed a driveway entrance – I couldn’t find one. I found a couple locations on satellite view, though.


          It’s really hard to find a strip mall in Amsterdam!

          I have another idea. I can show you how they treat a “priority intersection”, where the minor road yields to traffic on the major road without the use of signals or a stop sign.


          1. I am a huge fan of elevated sidewalks. Your pictures show exactly what I am talking about, except I was referring to entrances/driveways, and the pictures show intersections. I am intrigued by the application. In the use that type of application is typically referred to as a “speed table”. I have seen several instances where an entire four-way (usually stop) intersection is elevated, but never where one leg is elevated such as in your pictures. Drainage would be the primary concern, but that could probably be worked around.

  3. Why is the Belmont/Kedzie stop ridiculous? Sure, there isn’t anything close on Belmont, but there is on Kedzie. There are houses on both sides of the expressway that are much closer to that stop than the ones 2 blocks away on Belmont.

    1. Because of the way the expressway cuts neighborhoods diagonally here that puts the homes further away from this intersection compared to the alternative bus stops. Additionally, as you can see from the abhorrent conditions, it’s rude to invite people to a place like this to wait for a bus.

      1. For general information, there’s about 13 boardings and 65 alightings per day at this stop. The two adjacent stops have about 5 times the boardings and the same number of alightings.

  4. As far as underpasses go, Kimball isn’t so bad since it’s only a four-way intersection with the highway vs. Belmont/Kedzie. Sacramento, California, and Damen also follow this pattern.

    Montrose, Addison, and most of the streets downtown pass over the Kennedy as opposed to under it, and I find that those types of crossings are much more pleasant. The threat of entering/exiting vehicles is still there, but the roadway is much more open and bright.

    The problem with the highways is that no side streets cross them (which also contributes to their neighborhood-isolating effects) so someone walking or biking is forced onto a main arterial with fast-moving car traffic.

  5. I do a fair amount of trip chaining for my neighborhood errand runs. In my case, the biggest nemesis is 111th St. between Washtenaw and Albany – the Mt. Greenwood speedway. It’s the least scary way to go from locations east of the tracks and cemeteries to locations in Mt. Greenwood, such as the two excellent hardware stores that are my most frequent destinations there. It’s not as hairy as viaduct under the Kennedy interchange at Belmont, but bad enough.

    I’ll second Carter’s suggestion that the city should ban left turns out of privately owned lots onto arterial streets. These turns are hazardous to all types of road users.

    1. In some places this is banned through the use of private signage and diverting islands. See Costco at Clybourn/Diversey/Damen. It has “left turn preventers” on both Clybourn and Damen Avenues. Yet people turn left regardless; there’s no official signage that prevents such a maneuver so I don’t believe it’s actually illegal.


      Left turns are illegal from southbound Damen into Costco’s parking lot, as indicated by the yellow median.

      1. I’ve had a few scary moments with left turners going in or out of that Costco parking lot. It’s especially scary northbound, when the lane ahead may look clear, then a driver suddenly turns left out of the parking lot, forcing hard braking. I used to love flying down the Damen bridge, and I miss the days when I didn’t have to brake before Diversey.

  6. Wait; why is it “quite ridiculous” to have a bus stop at Kedzie? Some people just walk to the nearest bus stop rather than cycling to an L station.

  7. The highways in Chicago have a huge influence on where I bike. It is so unpleasant to cross them, I often end up staying on whichever side I am on. My dream is to bury the highways, and create a surface park like the Big Dig in Boston.

    1. It’s more likely we’ll have flying cars (thus eliminating the need for highways/interstates) before that much money would be spent to “bury” them.

    2. The Big Dig was the most expensive highway project in the history of the USA at the time. It took 25 years and $14.6 billion to bury just 3.5 miles of roadway. No thanks. I’d rather the city use that kind of money on more protected bike lanes and improving crossings with the highway. I suspect that even tearing down the entire Kennedy would be cheaper.

    3. I’m disappointed that the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 doesn’t mention the hazards presented to bicycling by expressways, when it was such a major part of the public input process: it was mentioned consistently, at all meetings.

      The word “highway” appears once in the definition of the acronym “AASHTO” and “expressway” appears 0 times.

  8. Thank you for acknowledging this, Steven. My rides east between Lawrence/Milwaukee to Lawrence/Elston feels like a carnival ride sometimes with the Metra, abandoned railroad lines, and bridges over 90 and 94 with large entrance/exit ramps. A big deterrent on the NW side for any cyclists trying to connect to the major cross town routes.

  9. Nice attention to this congested and crazy area! I live near Wellington and Sacramento and am regularly in this area.

    I actually walk on the other “outside” section under the Kennedy. I usually come through here late at night, and the outside is better lit. Also, being a lady walking alone, I like the idea of people and traffic being able to see me, instead of behind the concrete in the darkness.

    Walking through the Belmont/Kedzie underpass area is like a war zone of pigeon droppings. We take our dog to Animal Ark, just north of the Kennedy, and it’s so disgusting some times that I just carry the her through. It’s unsanitary, dark, and when it’s raining – cross your fingers that anyone will even check for pedestrians.

    Biking down this stretch of Belmont heading west is crazy too. I actively avoid it, and will walk with my “grandma shopping cart” if I have time. I think something like the Netherlands design could really help this area. Most of the time the parking lots aren’t full, and having a bike path or raised sidewalk would make the area a lot more friendly to non-car folks.

  10. Some of the old railroad viaducts are even worse than the expressway overpasses, especially when they go under train yards. Like on Damen south of Roosevelt.

    Seems your Dutch example above would require more land for circulation, no? (as opposed to sidewalk only between building and street)

  11. Another problem with the Sacramento sidewalks under the Kennedy is that they have very poor drainage and accumulate small ponds of muddy water when it rains. This forces pedestrians to the inside(road side) path. When the water finally drains away, 1-2 inches of mud and garbage (and surely a good amount of pigeon fecal matter) is left behind covering the sidewalk.

    1. “On which side of the columns do you walk?” was an alternate basis for this topic of pedestrian experience around expressways. I believe that it’s not random. There are physical site conditions and even personal characteristics that influence on which side of the highway columns a person will walk. I think that at Sacramento and Kennedy, the split is 50/50. I see many schoolchildren walk on the inside/roadside path. I sometimes see mothers pushing strollers on the inside path as well.

      I walk on the outside path (the wider sidewalk) because it offers protection from any errant drivers.

  12. I’ve taken to jogging through underpasses, because they’re so pigeon poop-filled and scary. Belmont and Kedzie. Sacramento and the Kennedy (is the worst).

  13. I’m late to this thread and not to hijack, but it’s relevant to what sort of future changes will be made to help non-motorized streets users at highways exits/entrances: Are you following the Circle Interchange project rebuild? Looks like they’ve had a few meetings and there are preliminary designs. This will most of all affect the closest bordering surface streets of Halsted, Des Plaines, Harrison and van Buren. Any readers who live nearby or whose commutes will be affected by this should pay attention.

    1. What’s wrong with the circle interchange? I hope they don’t make it any larger – it already takes up four city blocks. We should be encouraging more people to take the train downtown, not making it easier to drive.

      1. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe the main problem is that the ramp to get onto the outbound Eisenhower from the northbound Kennedy at the circle interchange is inadequate to handle the volume of traffic it services. Again, don’t quote me, but I believe I understand from the latest drawings on that project website that the main/only big change will be building an elevated flyover ramp to address the problem. It does not enlarge the circle in the process.

        1. Still seems like a waste of money that can be better spent on transit. I know that’s now how funding for these kind of projects works, but it still seems wasteful. Instead of thinking how to add car capacity (which will inevitably fill up shortly after completion due to induced demand) we should find a way to reduce the amount of cars.

        2. Sounds like a great reason to reduce the traffic volumes. The strategies available to us to do that are less costly and disruptive. The alternatives to car travel will never see increases in their mode share as long as we keep them competing against each other instead of with (single occupancy) car travel.

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