LOGAN SQUARE — In the early 1900s, Logan Square was in the middle of a transformation. After years of existing only as a residential area, the center of the neighborhood had become a lively shopping and transit hub.
In response to the shift, local official Tomaz Deuther convinced the city to build a traffic circle around the Illinois Centennial Monument in 1927, a way to divert traffic around the square rather than have travelers go through it.
“The way we used it had changed. Given that, we adapted,” said Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation.
More than 90 years later, the city is planning to overhaul the traffic circle Deuther designed after decades of crashes and near-crashes in and around the intersection.
The overhaul, first reported by Block Club last week, calls for rerouting Kedzie Avenue to create a plaza adjacent to the Logan Square Blue line station, rerouting Milwaukee Avenue around the square rather than through it and converting the roadways around the square to two-way traffic. Construction is expected to begin next year.
With the overhaul finally taking shape after years of planning, Block Club took a look back at the history of the traffic circle, an intersection that has come to define Logan Square.
The center of Logan Square looked very different in the early 1900s.
The square was one part of Logan Square’s boulevard system, which was tied to a larger system of parks and boulevards across the city, many of them designed by famous skyscraper architect William Le Baron Jenney. Without cars filling the streets, people got around via horses and horse-drawn carriages.
In the ensuing years, a wave of construction brought new people to the Logan Square area.
By the 1920s, as cars hit the roads in large numbers, “things [got] really bad” on the roads, Schneider said. Drivers kept hitting traffic signals and breaking them, and it got to the point where officials put up signs urging drivers to slow down.
“The worst stretch of the entire system [was] Logan Square,” Schneider said. “You’ve got the busy business district, the train line, lots of people coming and going at a time. It was very confusing for motorists.”
For several years, the group overseeing the area, the West Chicago Park Commission, struggled to make roads around the square safer with the addition of cars. It wasn’t until Deuther, the secretary of a local chamber of commerce-type group, proposed a new design that commission officials took action, Schneider said.
Deuther’s plan — to create a traffic circle around the monument — was green-lit along with many other plans to improve boulevards across the city.
Today, the Logan Square traffic circle is a rarity in a city ruled by the grid system, said Joe Schwieterman, a Chicago transportation expert and professor at DePaul University.
The city took over the boulevards in the 1950s, Schneider said, leaving the Logan Square circle an outlier. That outmoded design could be one reason the intersection sees so many crashes and near-crashes.
“We have a real pedestrian fatality problem in our city. This could contribute to a safer pedestrian life,” Schwieterman said of the city’s plan.
‘Just Because We’re Used To A Bad Design Doesn’t Mean We Should Accept It’
The Logan Square traffic circle has changed since 1927, but not much.
Southbound travelers on Kedzie Avenue used to have to make a right turn at the square, but now it’s a bend, which creates an “inherent conflict” for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, Schneider said.
In the late 1960s, some buildings off the square were demolished to make way for the Logan Square Blue Line station, which shifted Kedzie Avenue to the west, Schneider said.
But arguably the biggest pain point — that Milwaukee Avenue cuts right through the traffic circle — has never changed.
For decades, residents have complained about navigating the dangerous intersection, an experience a resident once likened to “running with the bulls.” Community groups like Schneider’s Logan Square Preservation have long pushed for improvements.
Between 2011 and 2015, the circle saw 121 crashes, according to Chicago Department of Transportation data. In 2016 alone — the most recent year data is available — the circle saw 34 crashes, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The data only includes reported crashes, not the many near-misses seen daily in the area.
With the redesign, the city’s main goal is to make the intersection safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. In recent years, Logan Square’s Milwaukee Avenue has become one of the city’s main bike thoroughfares.
Some would argue that, just like in 1927, the neighborhood has outgrown its infrastructure.
“We’ve been using the square a long time,” Schneider said. “We’re all used to it, but just because we’re used to a bad design doesn’t mean we should accept it.”
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