Sunday, July 31, 2011

Playing Frogger to cross Clark Street

Remember the video game Frogger, where the frog has to hop across multiple lanes of highway without being squashed? That was a lot of fun to play in the virtual world, but it's not so fun in real life. Our last post celebrated that Chicago was rated fourth most walkable city in the nation, and although that may be true, there are many Chicago streets and intersections that still need help, to avoid "Frogger" scenarios.

Menomonee Street at 1700 N. Clark is a marked crosswalk, although the lines are pretty faded.

With six lanes of traffic to cross and no median, here's the view:

That four inches of space between the yellow lines is not a fun place to be stranded when you make it half way across, and cars start barrelling toward you at speeds. 

This man had left Green City Market and was crossing westbound:

We watched as cars, buses, taxis all blew by him at top speeds as he was at each part of the crosswalk.

No one stopped for him, as is required by Illinois law for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Sadly, this scene occurs each day. It's so hazardous crossing Clark at the intersections of Menonomee and Wisconsin that many families with strollers, elderly people, or people in wheelchairs avoid them entirely. Is this the best we can do for Clark Street? It needs to be transformed to a more liveable street.
Contact us if you'd like to join the effort.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chicago is the 4th most walkable city!

We love Chicago for how pedestrian-oriented it is. No matter where you go, there are sidewalks, at the very minimum, and often painted crosswalks and things like countdown timers. More importantly, there are places to walk to, for pleasure or to run errands. City parks, neighborhood pubs, the local cleaners, are all there around the corner, or at least close by. So we don’t need national organizations to tell us we have it good in our fair city. Nevertheless, it’s great when we do get recognition. Today Walk Score released its newest list of most walkable places in the United States, and Chicago is fourth most walkable city!

The score is calculated by measuring the number of amenities within easy walking distance in each area.

Here are the top ten US cities and their scores:

New York City  85.3
San Francisco    84.9
Boston               79.2
Chicago             74.3
Philadelphia       74.1
Seattle                73.7
Washington DC 73.2
Miami                 72.5
Minneapolis        69.3
Oakland              68.2

Is it a coincidence that these happen to be some of the most popular cities in the United States for tourism and livability? I don’t think so. These are the cities that college kids want to move to after graduating, and I’d even say roughly in the order listed (except swap LA for Philly). People are happy living in neighborhoods in which they can walk to grocery stores, restaurants, and transit stops. These cities are full of them.

The scoring system translates to the following, according to Walk Score:

90-100   Walker’s Paradise – Daily errands do not require a car
70-89     Very Walkable – Most errands can be accomplished on foot
50-69     Somewhat Walkable – Some amenities within walking distance
49 -25    Car-Dependent – A few amenities within walking distance
0-24       Car-Dependent – Almost all errands require a car

So Chicago as a whole is “Very Walkable” but there’s a big spread between neighborhoods. Within Chicago’s boundaries, they also analyzed 220 separate neighborhoods and calculated the Walk Score of each one. Here are the top 11 Walkable Chicago neighborhoods, and their scores:

#1                 Printer’s Row      99

Tied for #2   Near North           97
                     Sheridan Park      97

Tied for #3   Dearborn Park      95
                     Old Town            95

Tied for #4    Gold Coast          94
                      Lincoln Square    94
                      Noble Square      94
                      Park West            94
                      River North         94
                      Uptown               94

But you want to know about Lincoln Park specifically, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, right? Lincoln Park as we know is split up into 8 sub-neighborhoods on the Walk Score list, and they received an average score of 91, which makes Lincoln Park a “Walker’s Paradise”! Here are the Lincoln Park neighborhoods and their Walk Scores:

Park West                      94
Sheffield Neighbors       93
Wrightwood Neighbors 93
West DePaul                  91
Lathrop Homes              90
Ranch Triangle              88
Old Town Triangle        88
Lincoln Park                  87

To see the exact neighborhood boundaries, find out the walk score of your home address, and lots more, go to the Walk Score website.

Happy walking!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Clark Street Needs a Road Diet

The section of Clark Street from North Avenue to Armitage Avenue needs to be made safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

South of North Avenue, Clark is a nice two-lane street that runs through the Sandburg Village/Gold Coast area. There are plenty of stop lights, each one with pedestrian crosswalks. Since it's only one lane in each direction, with parked cars on each side, it feels narrow to drivers, who therefore roll along at moderate speeds. There was even a pedestrian island at Clark and Germania installed a few years ago.

A pedestrian island at Clark Street and Germania Place helps pedestrians cross safely.

That calm feeling all changes at the intersection of Clark and North Avenue. A motorist heading northbound suddenly notices between the Chicago History Museum and the Moody Church that there are now four lanes for moving traffic, plus additional lanes on either side for loading. This wide-open feel is an invitation to step on the gas, and usually, the driver does.

Clark Street suddenly widens to a six-lane "superhighway" at North Avenue.

Sometimes the vehicle is "caught" at the red light at LaSalle Drive. But after that, it's hit the gas again. Now there are four wide lanes for moving traffic, no median, and no marked bike lane. There is a pedestrian crosswalk at Menomonee, but given the speeds taken and the width of the street, motorists barely take notice.

The crosswalk at Clark Street at Menomonee is treacherous for pedestrians.
(Photo: GoogleMaps Streetview)

Motorists will drive as fast as the road "tells" them to drive. On this stretch north of LaSalle, I've seen taxis and other vehicles reach speeds I would guess to be 40 or 50 MPH. Sometimes they blow through the red light at Lincoln, nearly taking out pedestrians at the crosswalk.

Bicycling on this portion of Clark is not enjoyable, as you can imagine. There's not even a shared bike lane, and with the high speeds of passing cars sometimes inches away, it's no wonder that many bicyclists choose to ride (illegally) on the sidewalk for this entire stretch. That, in turn, endangers pedestrians.

There is a marked crosswalk at Wisconsin, but it's not even a "zebra stripe", just two thin, barely visible lines.

Clark Street at Wisconsin Avenue, looking south. There is a crosswalk just in front of the van, but it's so thin and faded as to be invisible in this photo.
Besides, any pedestrian who wishes to cross there has to go traverse six lanes of street to make it to the other side. It's a marked crosswalk, so under Illinois law, all drivers must stop for pedestrians who are crossing, but what are the chances of having three for four approaching vehicles all stop? Next to nothing. So, no sane pedestrian crosses until all four lanes of moving traffic are completely clear. This takes a long time. Pedestrians deserve more respect.

Luckily, at Armitage, things improve for pedestrians and bicyclists. Most importantly, two lanes for motorized traffic disappear -- although motorists don't even notice this -- and therefore cars reduce speeds naturally.

For bicyclists, traffic is calmer, and a stripe appears at Belden that gives them either a continuous full or shared bike lane, all the way up to Wilson Avenue at 4600 North.

North of Armitage, pedestrians have to cross two fewer lanes at crosswalks. Some of the crosswalks even have red brick stamping, which visually cues drivers to slow down and watch for pedestrians. Clark Street becomes safer and more charming.

Stamped brick crosswalks on Clark Street at Dickens Avenue.

So what can be done to help the half-mile of Clark Street from North Avenue to Armitage? The Clark Street Road Diet.

We should remove one lane of traffic each way. If you're unfamiliar with "road diets", I recommend that you watch this four-minute video by Streetfilm that introduces the concept. Importantly, it addresses the common concern that removing a lane of traffic will "clog up" a road. In fact, it has the effect of doing the opposite.

Removing a lane of moving traffic on each side gives our city's Department of Transportation planners plenty of room to improve the street for the better for all users. For pedestrians, we could have pedestrian islands. For bicyclists, we could have a protected bike lane. For all users, we could add planters or other features to enhance the beauty of the area. This half-mile is the de facto gateway for pedestrians to the green fields of southern Lincoln Park; shouldn't its Clark Street border be human-scale and inviting?

Veggie burgers and pickled asparagus at the Green City Market.

There are many stakeholders who would benefit from increasing the safety and livability of this part of Clark Street. Wouldn't it be nice if visitors leaving the Chicago History Museum after learning that our official motto is "City in a Garden"could step out onto a beautiful street instead of a barren expressway? I think patrons of Equinox health club would appreciate not having to play Frogger to cross the street to go work out. Green City Market could enhance their mission of sustainability by encouraging more people to bike to the market instead of driving. Perennial Virant would benefit by having more pedestrians and bicyclists visible to those enjoying their dinners, and fewer cars racing by at 45 MPH.

Everyone would be safer. The possibilities are endless. Do you agree?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stockton Drive Pedestrians Need Help

Stockton Drive from LaSalle (1700 N) to Cannon/Diversey (2700 N) is a winding north/south street that goes through the heart of Lincoln Park. It runs alongside popular recreational destinations like the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and North Pond Cafe. Pedestrians from areas to the west heading to any of those destinations, as well as the soccer and softball fields, Lakefront Trail or beaches, all cross Stockton en route to their destination.

This long stretch of road has many pedestrian crosswalks but only infrequent stop signs or stop lights, and cars often move at speeds far in excess of the 25 MPH posted speed limit. They rarely stop for pedestrians at crosswalks, which are often poorly visible due to fading. Also, the current signage only tells motorists to "yield" and not stop for pedestrians.

Pedestrians crossing Stockton at a crosswalk. Notice the faded paint. (Photo:

Therefore, what usually happens is that a pedestrian enters the crosswalk and waits as car after car zooms past, until there are no cars approaching from either way, until finally crossing the street safely. It's not unusual for a pedestrian to start to cross, only to have a speeding car swerve around them in order to avoid stopping.

Stockton Drive pedestrians desperately need help. So what can be done to help the situation?

First, change the current signs that say "Yield to Pedestrians" to reflect the new law in effect since July 2010 that motorists must stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk. In addition, why not put a blinking solar-powered light on top to call attention to it?

This sign in Champaign, Illinois clearly tells motorists to STOP for pedestrians in the crosswalk. (Photo:

Next, at the minimum, repaint all the crosswalks so they are clearly delineated in white. Or, take it a step further and use colored pain to differentiate the marking visually and make the crosswalk more of an extension of the sidewalk.

Example of a painted crosswalk, in an unspecified location. (Photo:

Or maybe go all-out and put in a few raised crosswalks like the one below. They're not speed bumps, but they're visual speed bumps. Encountering even one of these will put a motorist on alert mentally that pedestrians are likely to be present, and they are to be given their due respect.

Example of a raised crosswalk, in an unspecified location. (Photo:

At times, Stockton is unnecessarily wide, and that creates a "highway" feel that makes drivers think it's OK to drive faster. Reduce those wide sections as often as possible. One stretch of Stockton at 1800 north by the Farm in the Zoo has no parking on one side allowed because the space is supposedly reserved for "charter buses", but there are never any buses there. The emptiness makes passing drivers hit the gas, and endangers pedestrians. Why not direct all buses to use the massive Lincoln Park Zoo parking lot, which has an area expressly reserved for them? Then, parking for the public can be added here (yes, added!), which would effectively narrow the street, make motorists slow down, and pedestrians would benefit.

Stockton Drive is unnecessarily wide at times. (Photo:

Finally, we could use better enforcement by police of the new law requiring cars to STOP for pedestrians in a crosswalk. Maybe if all the measures above are undertaken, motorists will respond favorably due to the visual clues they are given, and ticketing won't be necessary. 

Do you have any additional suggestions on how to make Stockton Drive or similar streets safer for pedestrians?