DOWNTOWN — The city put up flexible posts in an attempt to control drivers after a bicyclist was killed there in March — but drivers are just going around the posts.
Flexible posts were put up last week at DuSable Lake Shore and Balbo drives to stop drivers from entering the turn lane but then going straight — the maneuver that led to a driver hitting and killing bicyclist Gerardo Marciales as he went through the crosswalk. But locals said drivers are just ignoring the posts and running red lights at the busy intersection.
Drivers use the maneuver to ignore a red light and continue straight.
Jeremy Frisch, a Lakeview resident who often bikes the Lakefront Trail, said he’s followed news about the intersection and took a camera with when he went to see the posts last week. It only took five minutes before he saw a driver go around the flexible posts, he said.
“The first time I saw it, even though I was kind of expecting it, I was still surprised,” he said. “It was always clear drivers were running a red light even without the infrastructure, but just seeing it there and seeing the cars go around it so easily — I was just like, ‘Wow, that was a waste of time.’”
Frisch said it seems like “something more than plastic bollards and paint” is needed to regulate drivers and protect pedestrians at the intersection.
Susan Hofer, a spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said in a statement the agency is “aware of the continuing dangerous red light running taking place” and has contacted police to help with enforcement.
CDOT will next coordinate with the state’s transportation department to make plans for a “concrete version of the design” by the end of this year, Hofer said.
The left turn violation is problematic, Frisch said, but there’s another issue: Drivers stop in and block the crosswalk on the busy road, which the flexible posts do nothing to prevent.
“I’m glad the city did something, because a lot of times they don’t do anything, but what they did is clearly not working,” Frisch said.
Cyclists have taken action to try to make the intersection safer. Bike Lane Uprising and other supporters put up a ghost bike at the spot to honor Marciales and bring awareness to the dangers there.
People who scan a QR code attached to the ghost bike are sent to an Action Network campaign sponsored by Better Streets Chicago. The site automatically creates a letter for the person viewing it to send to CDOT and Illinois Department of Transportation leaders, calling on them to “immediately fix the intersection.”
“We demand a raised pedestrian island that blocks drivers from going straight through the left turn lane and endangering the thousands of people who cross the area on foot and by bike,” the campaign states. “Anything less than durable materials that prevent drivers from illegally going straight through the left turn signal is an injustice.”
Bicyclists also did their own guerilla-style traffic study of the intersection on April 21 to document how drivers use the left turn lane to ignore the red light and continue straight, posing a threat to pedestrians and bicyclists.
They recorded hundreds of drivers committing the offense, and some were threatened by drivers, organizers said. Bike Lane Uprising organizers, who put together the study, are reviewing the findings and plan to send them to officials to highlight the dangers.
Bicycle and pedestrian advocates also warned the city years ago about how drivers were using the illegal maneuver on DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
“It’s just incredibly disappointing that it takes Gerardo dying to to get anything done, and it still took two months,” Frisch said. “And it’s not like the city can claim that they didn’t know about it.”
Bicyclists and pedestrians have to take tunnels — which are sometimes inaccessible — or go through crosswalks in the path of drivers on busy DuSable Lake Shore Drive to get to and from the lakeshore and the popular Lakefront Trail.
Over the years, the major road has seen a number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed. Among the most recent victims are Marciales and bicyclist Adé Hogue, who was killed in October when a driver hit him at Grand Avenue.
Some locals have advocated for the construction of a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over Lake Shore Drive, like those CDOT is building on the South Side to improve access to the lakefront.
But Courtney Cobbs, co-founder of Better Streets Chicago, said the group’s organizers don’t see a Downtown-area bridge “happening anytime soon” and worry it would send the wrong message.
“It would just be like a consolation,” Cobbs said. “’Sorry, we can’t do anything better — we just can’t control the cars, we can’t make it safe for you. So, we’re just going to build a tunnel or a bridge.’”
Others have called for officials to install a speed or red light camera at the intersection.
“Drivers have learned that there’s no risk of being caught running a red light,” Frisch said. He “much prefers self-enforcing infrastructure over enforcement” because he thinks “ultimately, [self-enforcing infrastructure] is going to have the biggest impact.”
City data and research has shown a reduction in crashes at intersections where a red-light camera is installed. A 2017 Northwestern University study found other safety measures — like creating a physical median or putting up a “no turn on red sign” — decreased the number of violations recorded by the cameras, and drivers gradually adopted safer behaviors and violations fell over time.
CDOT and IDOT representatives said they are not aware of any plans to put a camera at the intersection.
Cobbs said they hope further changes come quickly to the intersection.
“It shouldn’t take a long time to put some metal posts where the plastic posts are,” Cobbs said. “I’m not sure why those weren’t used. … I would love some transparency and like an actual conversation with CDOT.
“No one is being held accountable. People know that they can do this and there won’t be any consequences.”
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