13 March 2008

Extremely local news: Ped-head

I've encountered a curious phenomenon in my neighborhood: the opposite of car-head. Normally I'd be jumping for joy, but the "ped-head" is so extreme that people seem to be forgetting that bicycles are vehicles and their place is on the street with the motor traffic.* What applies to drivers applies equally to us; measures to protect and convenience pedestrians don't automatically improve the conditions for bicyclists.

There's a lively local discussion lately about the possibility of opening up 57th St. to westbound traffic between Stony Island Ave. and Lake Park Ave. (See On the Pavement: Flow is a Good Thing in Hyde Park Progress.) Most of the opposition to this idea stems from the fear that a huge increase in motor vehicle traffic will result, creating a dangerously unsafe environment for pedestrians on or crossing 57th. Such fear is understandable, but whether or not it is justified is another matter. So to that end, CDOT has proposed installing stop signs and crosswalks at 57th and Lake Park as a "traffic calming" measure.

What a great idea! In fact, why aren't such things in place there already? I'm sick of those rude, arrogant, a-hole pedestrians flouting the law and jaywalking. You have to swerve to avoid them, and then they have the nerve to yell at you for almost hitting them. They also block traffic by sauntering across the street at a long diagonal. Those darned pedestrians, they think they own the streets here in Chicago. Pedestrians belong on the SIDEWALK, and they need to obey the Rules of the Road!

(Oh gosh, that felt good. There are few things more infuriating than the subtle irony of a jaywalker's glare.)

Anyway, CDOT has also presented data (mmm, data) on traffic flow patterns indicating that (1) westbound traffic won't increase enough to create a significant hazard for pedestrians (or at least no more hazard than there already is right now) and (2) traffic will increase enough for the resulting congestion to slow it all down, which is actually safer for pedestrians. But some folks still aren't convinced, so Richard Gill at Hyde Park Progress posted some more details provided by CDOT at a meeting held this morning (yes, I know, I should have gone):
Opening Up About 57th Street
"The engineers repeated that, on a local street like 57th that has heavy pedestrian traffic and a mix of uses, congestion is actually an enhancer of safety. Traffic moves slower, drivers are more alert, and the street activity slows traffic down - things such as cars parking, delivery trucks stopping. Notably, they said that when traffic calming measures are installed, the intent is to mimic the effects of congestion. They said 57th Street already has some congestion; some additional congestion would make the street more pedestrian-friendly.

"Additionally, the engineers said that speeding and accidents involving pedestrians are more prevalent on uncongested streets and one-way streets. Their other remarks included:
- Truck traffic is not an issue, because of the low clearance at the railroad bridge.
- 57th Street is slow and is not a route of choice to/from the Dan Ryan
- With the change, there would be less traffic in front of Bret Harte elementary school, and significantly less traffic there at peak times
- First responders, who need to drive fast, already prefer not to use 57th Street, because of the exiting congestion, and would continue to prefer other routes
- With the change, there would be less traffic queuing on southbound Lake Park at 57th Street."

Well, let's see. CDOT has addressed specific concerns about every conceivable form of traffic except one. Can you guess what it is? I did right away, and grew a smidgen concerned. All this fuss about about how cars, trucks, and emergency vehicles are going to affect the safety of pedestrians, how opening the street to motor traffic will be a boon to local businesses, how much easier it will be for restaurants on 57th to exploit the throngs of hungry tourists at the Museum of Science and Industry--and absolutely no mention of the fact that a convenient off-street path through Jackson Park links 57th St. to the most popular multi-use trail in the city.

There will be bikes.

And people are going to freak out, because that's what both drivers and pedestrians do whenever they see more than two bikes zipping down the street at one time.

Nobody appears to have anticipated an increase of bike traffic along with motor traffic. (There already is some amount of westbound bike traffic along that stretch, but making it legal will definitely increase its popularity.) Nobody is even mentioning bicycles. What are we, chopped liver? The bike traffic along 57th is already so busy that on a beautiful spring or fall day (students, remember) it's like watching dragonflies. (Oh, how it warms my heart.) Opening a direct route from the Lakefront Path will make it even busier.

And the ped-headed folks in the neighborhood are going to act like they never saw it coming when the bikes start rolling westbound under the viaduct--and possibly right through the new stop sign at Lake Park. I don't condone it, but it will happen nonetheless. We're about to swap jaywalkers for two-wheeled stop-sign-runners. But even the polite law-abiding cyclists (which is most of us, most of the time, I assure you) will still contribute to (and benefit from) the increased congestion on 57th.

A little acknowledgment from CDOT would have been nice...

*I shouldn't have to remind everyone, but I will anyway: Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is illegal in the City of Chicago. (See Section 9-52-020 and 9-52-021 of the Chicago Municipal Code. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation keeps a list of bike-specific city laws here.)

In other news, this.


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