Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Intersection of North Avenue and Sedgwick needs improvements

by Michelle Stenzel

Bike Walk Lincoln Park undertook our fourth and final “Intersection Evaluation” recently, this time at the junction of North Avenue and Sedgwick Street, on the southern border of Lincoln Park and the 43rd ward. During these evaluations, co-leader Michael Reynolds and I (and anyone else who join us!) observe the current conditions and make recommendations to improve the intersection for people walking, riding bikes, and taking public transit.
The intersection of North Avenue and Sedgwick Street is a busy with people using many modes of transportation. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)

North and Sedgwick is a busy and important intersection for many people living, working or studying in the area.  (more -->)

North Avenue is an 84-foot wide street with four moving lanes (plus  two parking/turning lanes, and a median with brick planters) that carries heavy amounts of motor vehicle traffic and is under the jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Transportation because it’s a state route. The North Avenue CTA bus #72 is a major east-west transit route with approximately 370 passengers per day getting on or off the bus at this intersection.
People use the crosswalks to traverse North Avenue, a distance of 84 feet. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Sedgwick is a narrower secondary street that is 50 feet wide at the intersection. From Monday through Friday, the #11 Sedgwick bus stops here, and about 230 bus riders per day alight or disembark. 

The Sedgwick L stop for the Brown and Purple lines is about 50 yards to the south, with approximately 3,600 riders per weekday using the station, and 2,400 on weekends. This is the main L stop for the northern portion of Old Town, and the southeast portion of Lincoln Park.
A Divvy bike stand is ready to get transit passengers the last mile to their destination under the Sedgwick L stop.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
There is a Divvy station in front of the L station, as well as numerous bike racks with personal vehicles locked to them. Neither North Avenue nor Sedgwick has any bike lanes. Nevertheless, both streets are used quite frequently by people on bicycles, although a number of riders choose to use the sidewalk along North Avenue due to treacherous bicycling conditions.

Both streets have a number of eateries, bars, shops and service companies nearby. 

LaSalle Language Academy, a public magnet school for Kindergarten through 8th grade, is two blocks to the north of the intersection, and many students cross through the intersection, with or without caregivers, to access the L stop or to walk to residential areas to the south.

Current favorable conditions:

There are already marked crosswalks on all four legs of the intersection. 

There are countdown timers on each pole, allowing people to know how much time they have left to  cross. 

The time allowed for pedestrians crossing Sedgwick is 33 seconds, which is sufficient to safely cross 50 feet of roadway, even at a moderately slow pace.
There are ramps and crosswalks already in place, but not yet up to standards. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
There are ramps at each corner to allow access for people with mobility issues.

There are signs on all four corners that advise drivers that no turn on red is allowed from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM. This discourages drivers from blocking the crosswalk while pedestrians have a Walk signal, at least during the busiest times of day.

There are speed limit signs on North and on Sedgwick advising drivers that the limit is 20 MPH on school days when children are present. 

The sidewalks leading to and away from the intersection are fairly wide, in good condition and have been largely kept free of clutter.

Current unfavorable conditions:

The four crosswalks are still marked in the old-style “two skinny lines” pattern, instead of the more visible international  “zebra” or “ladder” style. This is especially surprising, given that there was apparently major work done to the intersection that required partial re-paving, and yet the old “two skinny lines” was repainted, instead of adhering to the city’s new standards.

This next unfavorable condition is probably the most important factor that must be addressed: The time allowed for pedestrians to cross the 84-feet wide expanse of North Avenue is only 24 seconds. The bare minimum rate that must be given per national standards is 1 second to cover 3.5 feet. That’s the walking rate that can be maintained by a fairly healthy citizen. Even for them, the 24 seconds is only enough time if they depart the curb the moment the walk signal appears. If someone arrives just 2-3 seconds later and begins to cross, they must visibly speed up from a moderate pace to arrive on the other side in time. 

Seeing people run across North Avenue is a common sight, given that they only have at most 24 seconds to cross six  lanes plus a median. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
For anyone who simply does not and cannot move at a moderate pace – a senior citizen, perhaps, or a parent walking with a young child --  this short interval allowed for crossing is a big problem. Either they only make it half way across and then have to perch on a narrow island while cars whip by at 40 mph while they wait for the next signal phase, or they simply can not ever cross at this spot.  For an important intersection like this to be a difficulty or even a complete barrier for people getting to where they need to go, is absolutely unacceptable.

Another unfavorable condition is that the ramps at the corners don’t have the ADA-compliant tactile strips that help visually impaired people navigate the intersection.

There are tree branches and bushes blocking the speed limit signs and the No Turn on Red signs from drivers’ view.

Drivers speed through the intersection on both sides. On Sedgwick, drivers who know that it’s a short green light speed up to make it through before the yellow or red appears. On North Avenue, the wide lanes, huge roadway expanse in general, and lack of any other traffic signals between Wells and Larrabee encourages drivers to “step on it”. Although the default speed limit is 30 mph, drivers regularly exceed the limit and often blow through red lights, especially in the morning rush hour as they set their sights on getting to Interstate 90/94. Unfortunately, there is no red-light camera here, nor is there any plan to have a speed camera installed nearby. We have not noticed enforcement by police officers, and don’t know of any data on citations issued here.

Many people on foot cross Sedgwick immediately underneath the L tracks, in front of the station, to access the L or the Divvy bikes, but there is no marked crosswalk to help them cross safely.

Recommendations – Relatively easy fixes

We suggest these improvements be made as soon as possible:

1/ Add international-style crosswalk markings to bring them up to the current standard, thereby increasing the visibility of the crosswalks.

2/ Increase the amount of time given to pedestrians to cross North Avenue. The additional time should be enough to allow safe crossing for anyone walking at a moderately slow rate.

3/ Add Leading Pedestrian Intervals for both North Avenue and Sedgwick. This traffic signal feature gives the pedestrians the Walk signal 2-3 seconds before the motor vehicle drivers are given their green light, to allow pedestrians a head start in the crosswalk before turning motor vehicle drivers try to cut them off. 

4/ Add tactile features to the ramps to bring them up to standard and assist sight-impaired pedestrians.

The No Turn on Red sign on this pole is completely obstructed as a driver on North Ave approaches the intersection.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
5/ Cut back all trees and bushes to allow existing signage to be visible to drivers.

6/ Place a temporary digital speed limit feedback sign on North Avenue (“The speed limit is 30/Your speed is X”) to alert drivers to the existing speed limit, and to encourage them to drive within it.

Recommendations – For the medium-term or longer-term

We suggest that these improvements be evaluated and implemented if possible:

1/ Bumpouts can be placed at the intersection corners in order to shorten the distance that pedestrians are in the street. Of the eight possible places for bumpouts at this intersection, five are free of bus stops and could well be candidates for this pro-pedestrian tool. We especially encourage their placement to shorten the distance to cross North Avenue.

2/ Add a new crosswalk underneath the L tracks on Sedgwick, along with bumpouts, lighting at night, and an in-street “Stop for Pedestrians” sign. Elevation of the crosswalk (to make it like a flattened speed bump) would be ideal.

3/ Install a red-light camera or speed enforcement camera to discourage red-light running and speeding.

As for improving conditions for bicyclists, given that neither North nor Sedgwick are on the Streets for Cycling 2020 plan for upgrades, it’s unlikely that there will be any major facilities added like marked bike lanes of any kind in the near future. However, we believe that many of the improvements we’re suggesting will have the effect of calming motor vehicle traffic and thereby making the intersection somewhat better for people on bikes.

We have submitted our list of recommendations to Alderman Michele Smith, via this letter. Ald. Smith and her staff have indicated that our input is appreciated and considered when planning infrastructure spending in the ward. We look forward to seeing some of these changes made and will report further when that happens.

(No one was able to join us in person to help with this evaluation, but we'd like to thank Ryan Wallace for providing his as-always useful written input.)

What do you think of the recommendations? Did we miss anything? Comments below, or tweet us @BikeWalkLP, or e-mail us (Michelle Stenzel and Michael Reynolds) at


  1. Unfortunately there isn't any traffic data for this part of North Ave, but near Clybourn there are about 28,000 cars daily. It's a busy street so my initial thought ("road diet!") would not work. To make it worse it's an IDOT road!

    One of my favorite pizza places is on Sedgwick near the L stop and I like these recommendations. I've always noticed that this area of North Ave seems disconnected from the other vibrant parts to the west. It's bizarre because there are a few commercial corridors that radiate from or are on North Ave (Wicker Park, for example), but it's such an inhospitable street.

    Also I think it would help if a bike route to get over the river were signed to discourage people from using North Ave. I only recently discovered Cortlandt as a way to get between Wicker Park and Lincoln Park, which is a decent route, but not signed.

    1. Shaun, thanks for your thoughts. I noticed recently that North Avenue from Western all the way to Ashland only has two moving lanes each way, and a daily traffic count of 24,000, and it seems to work just fine. That's where North Ave narrows, and is the only stretch of North that feels urban and human-scaled, with storefronts lining the sidewalk, not set back into mini-malls like they are at Sedgwick, and further west in Lincoln Park. -MS