Crossing Distances

December 22, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Snow gives us a great opportunity to view people’s desire paths without having to set up a camera or sit and observe. Instead, the evidence is still there long after the person has left their mark! Here’s an example where I often walk my dog:

Lawrence and Dover channelized turns.

In the “wintry mix” you can clearly see where people have been walking to cross Dover. Instead of walk up to the actual crosswalk, most people just cut through to cross. Here’s a street view image, which is clearer:


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This design for the streets in the Sheridan Park neighborhood (Uptown) is terrible. It creates channelized turns that drivers can take at high speed, and drivers often illegally park too close to the curb on Lawrence, eliminating a good sight line and making pedestrians invisible to drivers turning off Lawrence. The planting triangle is nice, but it’s nothing that can’t be done with curb extensions.

It’s pretty obvious why people are crossing “illegally” to avoid walking out to Lawrence.

Crossing distances are really a pain for pedestrians. I usually think of six-way intersections in Chicago as the worst I experience on a daily basis, but there are countless other examples. A particularly harrowing example 8-year-old Noshat Nahian who was killed on Friday by an unlicensed truck driver while crossing this Queens intersection:


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That’s a long crossing distance. There is a lot that can be done to make crossing distances shorter, even on wide streets.

On many residential streets, crossing shouldn’t take more than a few strides, even for children. I saw this image on Twitter earlier, which reminded me of the short crossing distances of many Parisian neighborhoods:

When you go down to street-level, you notice the short crossing distances:


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It is precisely that sort of tight meandering that Parisian drivers have to do which makes these streets safer to walk on. The open-air areas like this are also nice in comparison to the very narrow sidewalks in the surrounding neighborhood. Of course, this is not common everywhere, like crossing the Haussmannien boulevards:


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But even in Chicago, our residential street crossing distances are too wide:


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This intersection could definitely use curb bumpouts to reduce the crossing distance. With the upcoming Leland greenway project, I hope it does.

Once again using snow, we can see that drivers only use a small portion of the intersection to drive on. With the street parallel to my stance (Hermitage) being a one-way, drivers cannot turn onto it anyway, meaning a huge portion of the intersection is wasted pavement that could be given to pedestrians, or bioswales (which would be great since this intersection and many others nearby often flood).

Leland Hermitage-01

A quick rendering of what could be done without impacting motor vehicle traffic at all. This could be done at hundreds of residential intersections, and even some non-residential intersections.

Finally, I recently took a look at the redevelopment plans for Children’s Memorial Hospital at Fullerton/Halsted/Lincoln. In addition to the increased parking capacity touted as a benefit, the plan doesn’t make any provisions for traffic calming. Instead, it replaces stop signs at many neighborhood intersections at its border with traffic lights. Crosswalks will be repainted, but nothing will be done to shorten the crossing distances:


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They’re not the worst in the city, but crossing (and riding a bike) here is far from enjoyable. The plan will do nothing to shorten the crossing distance or calm down the intersection in general:

Capture d’écran 2013-12-22 à 10.53.49 PM

It’s a bit beyond the scope of this post, but I bet a few minds could get together and find a way to tame this beast of an intersection and make it friendlier for people on foot. After all, there were 25 crashes involving pedestrians (and 19 with bikes) between 2005-11:

From the Chicago Crash Browser.

From the Chicago Crash Browser.

If you want to attend the community meeting about this redevelopment and suggest better traffic calming (hint hint), the meeting will take place Tuesday, 14 January at 6:30 pm at the DePaul Student Center, 2250 N Sheffield Ave.

We have a lot of work to do to tighten the crossing distances at many intersections, which not only reduce the amount of time pedestrians cross the street, but also make them more visible to drivers who must stop to let pedestrians cross. Are there any candidates you can think of right now?