New rules for downtown intersections?

June 13, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Those crosswalks are already in place in several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle.

Traffic officials are trying to come up with safer ways to move traffic in the city at diagonal crosswalks. They also want to improve the environment for vehicles and bikes as well.

The plan is to cut back on Chicago intersections where motorists can turn right on a red light, get rid of unnecessary left turns on red, and create a 'pedestrian scramble' at intersections where the light in all directions stays red for 14 seconds every other light cycle so pedestrians can cross.

"We're looking at a couple concepts. One is called a pedestrian scramble. That's where the light stays red for vehicles, but pedestrians are allowed to cross in any direction in the intersection. We're also looking at possibly eliminating right or left turns along certain thoroughfares," said Brian Steele, Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson.

The plan also calls to create more narrow streets and slower speed limits.

"We're looking at a couple thoroughfares in Chicago where we slim the vehicular lane and widen the area for pedestrians and bicycles. We actually just started on a project last week on Kinzie Street with a protected bike lane," said Steele.

Professor Joe Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University, does not agree with the proposal to restructure downtown Chicago intersections.

"The downtown grid works. It functions. It is a delicate situation with pedestrians and motorists. There is some risk here. These kind of innovations can make downtown more pedestrian friendly, that's a good thing. But when traffic doesn't move you get pent-up frustration, you get backups. It could make the Loop less attractive for commerce," said Prof. Schwieterman.

Pedestrians and drivers had different opinions about the proposal.

"Whatever they do for the pedestrians to help the pedestrians would be better ," said driver Melana Luzuriaga.

"As a pedestrian, I think it would be great. As a driver, I'm not quite sure though. But that's why I don't drive downtown in the first place," said Samuel Gonzales, pedestrian.

"I've noticed since I moved to Chicago that some people here are cavalier with their stops at the stoplight and it makes me stop in my tracks and get worried," said Alex Gease, pedestrian.

"I think it's a good idea. I mean, there's a lot of traffic in Chicago," said Tracy Flynn, pedestrian.

Transportation officials say that there is an average of 3,000 crashes and 40 to 50 fatalities at intersections annually in Chicago. They say that the costs to improve dangerous intersections would be minimal and they hope that the proposal will be accepted and can go into effect by the end of the year.

Officials will follow up with an education campaign to remind people of their responsibilities.

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