Como abultada cintura, las calles de Chicago han engordado a lo largo de los años, creciendo a lo ancho entre las guarniciones de las banquetas para acomodar cada vez mas vehiculos.
Con el ancho adicional, los peligros relacionados con el trafico crecieron exponencialmente tambien, en especial para los peatones y pasajeros del metro y transporte publico, en su intento de cruzar calles con mucho transito y para los ciclistas compartiendo la calle con autos y camiones. En tanto que las banquetas, han sido frecuentemente angostadas para acomodar mas carriles.
El desafortunado resultado es que la alta prioridad puesta en acomodar mas autos en la calle, privilegiandolos por encima de los otros medios de transporte ha resultado contarproducente. Los carriles extra, en el mejor de los casos, han producido alivio de corto plazo en el fluo del trafico,debido al siempre creciente numero de vehiculos.
But a more inclusive approach to traffic management is starting to take root here, as city transportation officials prepare to launch the largest local experiment of its kind to slim down streets.
It's called a "road diet." The battle of the bulge will be waged on an approximately one-mile stretch of Lawrence Avenue in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.
The existing four lanes on Lawrence (two lanes in each direction) between Western and Ashland avenues will be trimmed to three vehicle lanes — a single lane in each direction with a center continuous left-turn lane, according to the design under way at the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Removing one lane in each direction will make room for wider sidewalks to foster a more welcoming experience for pedestrians. In addition, a designated bike lane in each direction will be striped. In-street islands will be built along crosswalks to create a safe haven for people crossing streets. Other amenities will be added, including more than 150 trees, better lighting, benches and even enough space for sidewalk cafes, officials said.
It creates a picture of a place where people would want to shop and enjoy a good meal, instead of dart through as fast as possible, and a possible template for similar projects elsewhere in the city, officials said.
"The changes planned for Lawrence will help the development of more street life and make that section a place that pedestrians want to be," said Luann Hamilton, a deputy transportation commissioner responsible for creating new projects. "Now Lawrence has a cold feel to it, unlike the atmosphere around Lincoln Square where Lawrence intersects Western."
Construction of the new streetscape could begin as early as next year, pending funding from the city, state and federal governments, officials said.
Elements of the road-diet concept have been used at about 10 other locations across the city, mainly on neighborhood streets rather than a major arterial such as Lawrence. Previous projects included Palmer Square from Humboldt Boulevard to Kedzie Avenue and Hoyne Avenue from Huron Street to Chicago Avenue. The ongoing Congress Parkway streetscape project downtown will remove a traffic lane on Congress between State and Clark streets and reduce existing lane widths, according to CDOT.
Road diets are attracting attention in the suburbs too. Skokie is studying a proposal to reduce a portion of Oakton Street in the village's downtown to three lanes in order to widen sidewalks and revitalize the area economically.
The long-range plan is to extend the road diet on Lawrence as far west as the Chicago River, at a preliminary construction estimate exceeding $12 million, city officials said. Lawrence is currently one lane in each direction, with separate bike lanes, west of Western and east of Ashland. For now, the revamp will put the one-mile section of Lawrence in sync with the other segments to the east and west.
The deteriorated and interrupted sections of sidewalk on Lawrence today may explain why pedestrians tend to stay away and, in turn, why the avenue appears rundown and lacks the array of restaurants and European-style cafes, specialty stores, public squares, outdoor music festivals, a farmers market and, in general, the cosmopolitan atmosphere that exists nearby at bustling Lincoln Square.
"We get so many concerns from businesses and residents that Lawrence Avenue is dangerous for pedestrians," said Melissa Flynn, executive director of the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce. "It's just not a nice experience to walk there and explore."
Ald. Eugene Schulter, 47th, who pushed for the road-diet project on Lawrence, said: "Over the years we had many car accidents, many people getting hurt. It was no small challenge to get the bureaucrats to look at this and forge a plan to make the neighborhood more pedestrian-oriented."
However, reconfiguring Lawrence, which handles more than 26,000 vehicles a day on average, will reduce capacity, according to city officials, who are working on ideas to minimize the impact.
Among the drawbacks, CDOT estimates, could be an increase in travel times by as much as nine minutes at peak commuting hours on Lawrence between Ashland and Western. Officials also anticipate additional delays for drivers turning onto or off of Lawrence, as well as crossing Lawrence, because of longer lines of vehicles at traffic signals.
But there are pluses too. The extra mile of designated bike lane in each direction on Lawrence would complete a five-mile link from the CTA Blue Line along the Kennedy Expressway to the Lake Michigan shoreline, officials said.
Transit riders also would benefit from the improved focus on pedestrians, officials said. The section of Lawrence is served by about a half-dozen CTA bus routes, and it connects with the CTA Brown Line and the Metra Union Pacific North line.
The city has used tax-increment financing, or TIF, funds to pay for the preliminary design. More funding is needed to complete the final design and start construction, according to CDOT.
Road diets reducing the number of lanes on arterial streets have been used successfully in other countries and some U.S. cities, from New York to Seattle. They have sometimes resulted in lower accident rates and fewer problems involving speeding violations, authorities said.
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Al ensanchar las calles les a salido el tiro por la culata, la mejora temporal en el flujo del trafico dura poco y las consecuencias de mas congestionamiento permanecen. Chicago ha decidido pone a dieta alguna calles haciendolas mas angostas para disminuir su capacidad de recibir auto, y por ello mas amigables al peaton, mas seguras y menos congestionadas.