Sunday, March 10, 2013

I'm walking here! Improving the Halsted and Armitage intersection

by Michelle Stenzel

One of our goals this year for Bike Walk Lincoln Park is to continue to encourage Alderman Michele Smith to use a portion of our ward's $1.2 million in annual menu funds to improve conditions for people walking, and we decided the best way to do that is to evaluate one important intersection or stretch of street at a time. The plan for each location is to observe and document current conditions, and produce written recommendations for Alderman Smith to use when planning infrastructure upgrades for the year. The changes we'll be suggesting are all tools included in Chicago's Pedestrian Plan (download the plan from the official website here).
We evaluated the sidewalks and crosswalks at the intersection of Armitage and Halsted.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
In gray and damp weather this past weekend, BWLP Co-Chair Michael Reynolds and I tackled the first intersection: Halsted and Armitage. This is an important intersection for pedestrians at all times of day, on weekday and weekends, largely due to the CTA Brown line stop three blocks to the west, two active bus lines, nearby shopping and dining destinations, density of residences in the area, and the location of Lincoln Park High School two blocks to the east. 

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So what did we observe about the intersection that's already good?
  • There are marked crosswalks in existence at each "leg" of the intersection
  • The crosswalk paint is in good condition and doesn't need touching up
  • The crosswalk marking is the highly visible "zebra" pattern instead of just two skinny lines
  • There are curb cuts present at each of the four corners, and they're wide and in good condition
  • There are countdown timers at each of the four pedestrian signals
  • The lines of sight for drivers to see people walking are not hampered by the presence of parked vehicles too close to the crosswalks
  • Driver behavior was quite good (no red-light running, no stopping ON the crosswalk, no cutting off pedestrians on the crosswalks while turning right on red).

View of the Halsted and Armitage intersection looking east on Armitage. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
So what are our recommendations for improvements at Halsted and Armitage?

1/ Add leading pedestrian intervals for both streets

You'll recall that leading pedestrian intervals give pedestrians the green light to walk a few seconds before motor vehicle traffic gets its green light. It helps make pedestrians more visible and reduces the chance of a turning vehicle colliding with a person in the crosswalk. You may have experienced these already in many locations in Lake View and in the Loop.

2/ Consider increasing the length of time allowed for pedestrians crossing Halsted

We timed how long a person is given to cross the street on foot to evaluate whether it's adequate not only for a fleet-footed youngster, but also a senior citizen moving slowly. Crossing Armitage, the pedestrian gets the white "Walk" signal for 14 seconds and then the orange flashing "Don't Walk" for 16 seconds, for a total of 30 seconds. This was sufficient time to cross Armitage, even walking quite slowly. 

However, when crossing Halsted, a person only gets 9 seconds of "Walk" and 16 seconds of "Don't Walk" for a total of 25 seconds, even though Halsted is slightly wider. Reaching the opposite sidewalk was more difficult to achieve at a slow pace (not impossible, but I'd certainly feel nervous and pressured if I were frail and using a walker). Therefore, we recommend an evaluation for lengthening the interval crossing Halsted.

3/ Consider adding accessible signals for pedestrians with impaired vision

In the relatively short time we were at the intersection, we saw a sight-impaired man crossing Halsted. One Pedestrian Plan tool is accessible pedestrian signals, which provide an auditory or tactile information to help sight-impaired people navigate tricky intersections. If there are known to be sight-impaired people who live or work nearby and who would benefit from this tool regularly, accessible signals should be considered.
This view is on Halsted looking south. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park) 

An issue we noticed that deserves a mention is how narrow the sidewalk became immediately next to both bus stops on Halsted, likely due to widening the street decades ago to create more lanes for automobiles. My laser measure advised that the distance from the signal pole to the side of North Community Bank (seen in the picture immediately above, right under the green awning) is a mere 3'11".  It's only wide enough to accommodate one person passing at a time comfortably. In an area like this, at the heart of a popular retail district and an important transit hubway, that's really unfortunate. This isn't a problem we can fix quickly because making more room for pedestrians would mean some major redesigns, but we thought it was worth pointing out.

That's our take on the Halsted/Armitage intersection!

However, there are two nearby issues that we believe should be addressed as well. First are the three crosswalks at Armitage and Orchard, at the southern border of Lincoln Park High School. 
Lincoln Park High School students and nearby residents would benefit from upgraded crosswalk markings at the intersection of Armitage and Orchard. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The crosswalks at Orchard still the have outdated "two skinny lines" markings, and they're largely faded as well. Given that 90% of the 2,200 LPHS students arrive at school via train, bus, bike or on foot (commuting data taken from a promotional brochure published by LPHS), we believe this intersection is long overdue for being upgraded to the zebra-style crosswalks.

Second, we note that there is a long stretch of Halsted to the south of Armitage that has no help at all for pedestrians. 
Halsted south of Armitage is densely populated but has little help for pedestrians to cross the street.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
The distance from Armitage to Willow is .3 miles, but that entire segment doesn't have any stop signs or marked crosswalks. Therefore, drivers on Halsted tend to gather speed since they perceive no reason to slow down. (We note that fast-moving motor vehicles are also detrimental to safe bicycling on this busy bike route.) However, there are residences, shops, bus stops and a playground along Halsted that people on foot want to reach safely. They shouldn't have to choose between either walking .3 miles out of their way to a signallized intersection or "jaywalking" among fast-moving cars just to cross the street. 

Envisioning a better Halsted using Chicago's Pedestrian Plan tools. Note there are bus stops on both sides, and even a playground, but no crosswalk. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Therefore, we recommend that Alderman Smith consider adding a new marked crosswalk on Halsted at 1900 North, in the vicinity of the bus stops and playground. An in-street Stop for Pedestrian sign should certainly be included in order to increase visibility and chances of drivers stopping. 

Adding a crosswalk might take some time, so in the interim, this part of Halsted might be a good spot to place a temporary speed feedback sign that notifies drivers of their driving speed (see how those work in Humboldt Park on this Streetsblog Chicago post) to help them comply with the limit, and make the street safer for all users. 
Join the fun next time! I'll let you use my clipboard and
maybe even my laser measure.

Here is the letter we've submitted to Alderman Smith.

What do you think of our evaluations and recommendations? Did we miss anything?

Would you like to join the fun? Of course you would! And we'd love to have you add your input during our next mission, which tentatively is to evaluate the Clark and Fullerton intersection (and nearby environs) on Saturday, March 16 at 9:00 am. 

If you'd like to participate on March 16, please e-mail us at so that we know to expect you, and so we can advise you if the weather forces a postponement. 

Follow us on Twitter @BikeWalkLP and we'll see you in the crosswalk!


  1. This is great stuff! Thanks for putting so much work into it.
    You mention that some accessible signals for pedestrians with impaired vision offer tactile information. How?

    1. Erik, I'm glad you asked because it made me look into the topic a little more. It appears that signal signs can be made to include the name of the street in Braille, and a raised arrow on the pushbutton, which helps the vision-impaired user confirm which street's signal is being activated and the direction of the destination. They can even include a tactile map of the intersection to help the user preview how many lanes he'll need to cross, whether there's a median involved, etc. Thanks for reading! -- Michelle Stenzel

  2. You may want to look into the space between the mast arm pole and building. If I recall correctly, ADA and/or PROWAG requires that the Pedestrian Access Route be a minimum of 4' at all locations. There are exceptions made for feasibility and increase in project cost, but not sure if they are applicable.

    Also, I believe you overlooked the most obvious addition for pedestrian safety at the intersection: curb bump outs. As you can see from your second photo above, there are already locations where portions of the parking lane have pavement markings indicating no use for vehicles. These areas can be converted to curb bump outs, and it appears one could be provided at the departing sides of all legs. This would also decrease the time for pedestrians to cross the intersection, and may even mean that adjusting the signal timings is no longer necessary. It may also provide enough pavement to relocate the mast arm pole to provide the necessary 4' clearance. Lastly, the bumps outs may even provide an opportunity for beautification through "gateway landmarks" or landscaping.

    1. Thanks, Ryan. We thought about curb bumps while we were looking at the intersection but thought they weren't feasible because there are bus routes on both streets, and a curb bulbout might interfere with a bus pulling back into traffic. However, there would be no problem putting bulbouts in on the "other" four curbs. This might be something to consider, especially the two bulbouts that would help to narrow Halsted. Thanks again. -- Michelle Stenzel