Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why is Fullerton always jammed up with cars?

We’ve been thinking about transportation gaps lately, because one of the assignments in the Streets for Cycling 2020 plan recently was to identify gaps and barriers to bicycling within north side neighborhoods. Chicago has plenty of gaps for safe accomodations for bicycles, but there are gaps in other services, as well, and it leads to visible consequences.

Did you ever wonder why Fullerton Parkway, from Halsted to Cannon Drive, is perpetually clogged with automobile traffic? It’s because people are given few alternative means of traversing that stretch: No bus service, and no bike lanes.

The Fullerton 74 bus line does not serve Fullerton east of Halsted/Lincoln. Its service begins 8.5 miles to the west, near Harlem on the city’s western boundary, but as soon as an eastbound #74 reaches Halsted, it turns south, then east on Webster for a few blocks, then makes its turnaround to head west again by going north on Lincoln. Here’s the route it takes:
The Fullerton Avenue bus does not serve the stretch from Halsted to the lake front, leaving a nearly one-mile service gap.
So this means that if a person takes the bus from any point west, with a destination anywhere close to the lake, they must disembark at Halsted and walk the rest of the way, which at nearly one mile, is not a short distance. Fullerton Parkway from Halsted to the lake is a pleasant walk, but it takes an average person 20 minutes to walk that far.


How about if someone wants to ride their bike? Not very convenient there, either. There is a marked bike lane on Fullerton from Greenview to Halsted/Lincoln, and then suddenly it disappears, and there is no marking at all for bikes, not even a shared lane, and Fullerton is very narrow, and full of parked cars.
There's a marked bike lane on Fullerton from Greenview to the west, but it ends at Halsted. The orange line to the east merely indicates a "recommended bike route" with no actual lanes or accommodations for bicyclists.
The lack of options and the effect it has becomes clear when we apply a specific example. Let’s say a woman living near Racine and Fullerton would like to take her toddler son to the Lincoln Park Zoo, 1.3 miles from her home. There is no bus service for that stretch. It’s about a 30-minute walk one way.  Since they’ll be walking a lot at their destination, she feels that 60 minutes total walking to get there and back would be too tiring. The woman is comfortable riding her bike in the city when there are bike lanes, but when she has her son in his bike seat, riding down Fullerton east of Lincoln is too dangerous. For public transportation, she could instead walk north half a mile to the #72 Diversey bus stop, then ride it to the Notebaert Nature Museum, and then walk to the zoo, but that would take about 28 minutes. 

Or, she could get into her car and drive straight down Fullerton, which takes six minutes with no traffic (which rarely is the case, of course, but even with congestion, the trip is perhaps 10 minutes). Even if this theoretical woman would like to avoid driving her car 1.3 miles to the zoo, she tends to choose that option every time, given the lack of safe and convenient alternatives.

And that’s why Fullerton Avenue is always jammed with cars. Can’t we do better than that? That one-mile stretch of Fullerton has no east-west public transit service or bike facilities, even though it is packed with popular destinations like the Clark and Fullerton retail/shopping area, North Pond Nature Sanctuary walking trails, Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Green City Market from November through April, the lake front trail, and Fullerton Avenue Beach.

Decisions made about street infrastructure and public transit have real, immediate effects on citizens’ behavior. Having a street that is clogged with cars most hours of the day is not optimal for anyone: The people in the motor vehicles, the pedestrians on the sidewalks and the residents living on the street who are subject to the noise and exhaust fumes on a daily basis, the tens of thousands of Chicagoans who live along Fullerton to the west who are denied safe, convenient options other than the private car, and the merchants who watch people driving by instead of stopping in to spend a little money. Adding accommodations for bicyclists and public transit makes sense on so many levels. It’s high time to close this transportation gap and many others throughout the city.

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