Let’s start blocking off residential streets

May 6, 2014 at 6:08 pm

Several residential streets running under the UP-N Metra tracks have been blocked at one point or another due to Metra’s reconstruction of 19 bridges. One of these bridges is at Leland Ave in Ravenswood, which has been under construction for as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood – likely due to the new Metra station going there. The street here (one-way going east) has been blocked over for at least 18 months, while one side of the sidewalk remains open.

I want it to stay blocked forever.

Why? The street has been so much calmer as a result.

Just a few blocks from the busiest non-downtown Metra station and a busy Brown Line station at Damen, as well as an elementary school (and the future Lycée Français), the area is full of people walking and riding bikes at times of the day. With so little car traffic, people feel fine crossing wherever they want, or diagonally at intersections. It’s positively pleasant to ride a bicycle on Leland from Damen to Ashland because there’s so little cut-through car traffic.

The construction has created filtered permeability on the street, blocking cars from proceeding under the tracks while still allowing people walking and biking to get through. It’s clearly worked just fine for the past year and a half. Nobody’s house burned down because the fire trucks couldn’t get through. The neighborhood didn’t die; actually, we just got a new grocery store and gym a block north. And drivers are still driving.

Chicago (and many other cities) has a great street grid that gives us many options to get from A to B. In 2011, Bike Walk Lincoln Park wrote about the lack of neighborhood “bicycle boulevards” in Chicago; since then, we’ve only had one true bicycle boulevard/greenway built – the Berteau Greenway – and it doesn’t have any infrastructure in place to discourage thru car traffic. Truth is, there are a ton of streets where it would be more pleasant to walk and bike just by placing simple car traffic diverters at intersections.

Clarendon Ave in Uptown is another low-volume street that should pre-empt future thru traffic (due to a development at Montrose/Clarendon) by building traffic diverters. Image: Google.

Clarendon Ave in Uptown is another street with low car traffic that should pre-empt future thru traffic (due to a development at Montrose/Clarendon) by building traffic diverters. Image: Google.

Here on Leland, drivers know if they need to get further east or west, they need to drive to an arterial like Lawrence, or a “neighborhood arterial” like Wilson. The best part about making it harder for thru car traffic is that it still permits local traffic to get where it needs to go; longer trips are diverted to arterial roads, keeping drivers off of residential streets, opening them up to people (including families with children) who want to bike safely to the store, the park, and so on.

A traffic diverter (here, from a plan in Los Angeles) at an intersection permits thru traffic for those on bike or foot, but forces drivers to turn. Image from Aaron Kuehn on ciclavia.wordpress.com, via Bike Walk Lincoln Park.

When it comes time to resurface these streets, it should be policy to bring the entire street to the level of the curb and introduce permeable pavement/bioswales for stormwater management, making the street a sort of greenway-woonerf hybrid.

This solution isn’t one designed to get people riding bikes or walking long distances, like to work downtown, but it’s a way to make it easier to make those one- or two-mile trips by a way other than driving there. A good way to illustrate this is this graphic from Copenhagenize:

After all, if you want more people to walk and bike, design the streets to make those the most straightforward ways to go!