Sunday, September 30, 2012

Can this idea help improve the Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln intersection?

by Michelle Stenzel

The six-way intersection of Fullerton, Halsted and Lincoln is in need of improvement, that's for sure. 

Crossing it as a pedestrian is a hassle, since the width of each leg is very wide, and the amount of time given to cross is relatively short. Worst of all, if the direction of your travel requires you to cross more than one leg, just to continue walking on the street you're already on, the signals are timed J-U-S-T so that you will always have to wait another entire cycle before continuing on your way.
Google map view of the Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln intersection.
According to the Chicago Department of Transportation's 2011 Pedestrian Crash Analysis, this intersection is tied for 9th in the city for the highest number of crashes between motor vehicles and pedestrians, with 19 crashes between 2005 and 2009. 

These problematic six-way intersections are common in the city, and Chicago's new Pedestrian Plan contains an intriguing graphic of an intersection that can be improved. The initiative is under the "Connectivity" section of the Plan, which highlights ways to build a more connected network that prioritizes pedestrian access.
Here is the "before" graphic, which looks pretty much like Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln currently:
"Existing Conditions" graphic of a typical six-way intersection, taken from Chicago's Pedestrian Plan.
Here is the "after" improvements graphic:
"Potential Conditions" graphic of a six-way intersection, taken from Chicago's Pedestrian Plan.
The changes include reclaiming space for pedestrians by filling in the red areas with new sidewalk. This in itself shortens the time and distance needed to cross each leg of the intersection. 

Another change is removing the channelized right turn lanes and prohibiting turns at the intersection. I'm not sure if that means no left or right turns? So motorists would have to take make their turns at other, non-six-way intersections. 

Another change is providing new crosswalks for more movements. The plan actually says it provides crosswalks for "all" movements, but if that were true, there would be a crosswalk directly connecting Fullerton's corners, as well as those of Lincoln. On this graphic, there are two new crosswalks allowing direct connection of Halsted's corners, which would be very nice. But if you're putting that in for one street, why not the others, especially if no turns are allowed for motor vehicles? 

So I look at the after graphic, and picture myself using it as a pedestrian, and I feel happy and hopeful! 

But then, I remember that nowadays, I'm usually riding my bicycle when I go through the intersection, and when I look at the graphic with my bicyclist hat on, the "after" graphic doesn't look so great.

(The intersection is third highest in the entire city for bike/motor vehicle crashes, with 19 recorded between 2005 and 2010.)

It doesn't look great because I love the idea of reclaiming street space as sidewalks when I'm a pedestrian, but not as a bicyclist. Every new sidewalk that juts into the street is a barrier that a bicyclist has to ride around, by merging into the lane with the cars.

Both Halsted and Lincoln are designated on the Streets for Cycling 2020 draft plan as being Cross Town Routes, meaning they're important throughways for bicyclists to get longer distances between neighborhoods. Lincoln especially is already too narrow to be given much in the way of protecting bicyclists, and making it even more narrow will only make things worse. 

So, it's complicated. We certainly don't want to make changes favorable for pedestrians but detrimental to bicyclists. I'm sure there will be careful coordination between all the various teams that are planning improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists, to make sure there's a balance of interests.


  1. Does any plan you've seen suggest studying the use of pedestrian only signal phases? This is a signal phase where only pedestrians get the green light and can cross in any direction through the intersection, even diagonally. Pedestrians movements would be closed during all auto signal phases allowing more cars through the intersection. This makes perfect sense at extemely heavy pedestrian crossings downtown, but may also have some potential at major six-way intersections. Most traffic engineers don't like this configuration because it adds a signal phase to an already overburdened system.

    1. Do you mean using the pedestrian-only signal phase for this intersection? I have heard it mentioned once or twice in connection with this or similar intersections and then pretty quickly dismissed as not being an option, and I believe it's because the distances are so huge that the pedestrian signal would be very, very long and there would be too much risk in having people "stranded" in the middle of the street if they misjudge how long it takes to cross. -- Michelle Stenzel