Chicago residents fight to slow traffic on block
If Albany Avenue project is successful, other blocks may follow, city official says
By Chris McNamara Special to the Tribune
January 13, 2010
From the porch of Julie Dworkin's Logan Square home, Albany Avenue looks cozy and inviting.
Trees and tidy two-flats line the wide, one-way street. A snow-covered bench is nestled on the parkway in front of the home she shares with husband John Edel and their two young kids.
But walk a few yards south -- around the bend in the 2400 block of North Albany Avenues -- and you see traffic-clogged Fullerton Avenue. Stroll north, around another bend, and you see congested Kedzie Boulevard. To bypass the busy Fullerton-Kedzie intersection, cars barrel down her block, ignoring the 30 mph speed limit.
That's why Dworkin and her neighbors have adopted the role of civil engineers for their small strip of the city. They came up with the Albany Home Zone Project (albanyhomezone.org) in the hopes of calming traffic by redesigning their street.
"The feeling (among neighbors) is that cars go too fast down our street. We wanted to do something about it," said Dworkin, 39, a policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
"No one is losing their rights to the block; just the right to go down the block faster than they should," said Rob Sadowsky, of the Active Transportation Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports the residents' efforts. The alliance, formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, promotes walking, biking and mass transit.
The idea for the Albany project was borrowed from the European concept of home zones, where pedestrians, bicyclists and cars all share the same well-designed street space.
One element of the project is construction of chicanes, curbs that protrude into the road, forcing motorists to slow down and swerve around them. Another is creating "bump outs" at spots where alleys meet Albany, again forcing motorists to slow down. A third element is changing the parking system from parallel lines hugging the curbs to diagonal spaces that will narrow the street.
Though Chicagoans can't just rent steamrollers and redesign their blocks, "we're pretty open to creative ideas. And we saw this as a way to create tools for communities to create safer streets," said Brian Steele, spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Steele said there is no official approval process for the changes but the Department of Transportation created the design for the street based on the residents' suggestions and formulated cost estimates. It also is exploring green elements for the redesign, such as permeable pavement that enables water to reach the earth beneath the street, Steele said.
The block's residents overwhelmingly support the project, though there have been concerns about whether there still would be enough parking spaces.
"Traffic-calming is important, but at the end of the day people want to park in front of their house, so we have to balance those goals," said Ald. Rey Colon, 35th. The current plan has just one space being squeezed out by the diagonal slots. Colon has agreed to cover the estimated $125,000 price tag out of funds he receives for neighborhood projects. Dworkin said she envisions other advantages beyond slowing cars. She believes the redesigned parking spaces will offer children more room to play.
"We're looking forward to the changes," said Lisa Phillips, who lives near Dworkin. "Even before I had a child, I was concerned about the speed of the drivers."
Steele said the Albany Avenue project will not be like the home zones initiated in Europe -- residential areas where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars. Nor is this project the first of its kind in the city. The 1500 block of West Elmdale Avenue has elements similar to those proposed for Albany, though not as extensive.
But Albany residents are determined to see it through, and Steele said the project could be completed this year.
"This concept is the brainchild of the people living on that block," Colon said. "I'm interested in more active living within my ward, making the neighborhood more pedestrian-friendly, increasing cycling and running trails.
"I also want to make sure the money is well-spent," he said. "We're not just appeasing the people who want to make something of their block, but to be an example within the city of creative ways we can calm traffic and allow neighbors to reclaim public space."
Steele said that if the Albany project proves successful, it is likely more blocks will follow.