Several of Chicago’s most dangerous intersections the result of diagonal streets

A new list of the most dangerous intersections in Chicago for pedestrians includes several with three streets:

The six-way intersection of Milwaukee, North and Damen avenues on the North Side is the most dangerous junction for pedestrians in Chicago, according to a list released by the advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance…

There were 43 crashes involving either a pedestrian or a bicycle at the Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection from 2006 through 2012, the highest number of any city intersection for that period, the group found…

“There are proven solutions to make crossing these intersections safer,” said Kyle Whitehead, a campaign directorat the alliance, said Tuesday. “Things as simple as improving the markings on a crosswalk or installing a pedestrian countdown signal can make a difference.”…

The three most dangerous intersections in Chicago were Milwaukee/Damen/North; Cicero and Chicago avenues on the West Side; and Halsted Street/Lincoln Avenue/Fullerton Parkway in Lincoln Park.

It makes sense that some intersections with more streets involved are more dangerous: there are more routes for vehicle traffic and pedestrians have to navigate more crosswalks while having to look in unique directions for potential danger.

Yet, I was struck by two features of these diagonal, and potentially dangerous, streets.

1. The diagonal streets have a long history preceding the efforts of Americans to impose a grid on the Midwestern landscape:

Well, it turns out that most of Chicago’s diagonal streets were originally Native American trails. No, really. Milwaukee Avenue (originally West Plank Road), for example, was once a buffalo route that led to the Chicago River. Eventually settlers moved in, kicked the Native Americans out, and started building taverns along the trail. Once there were taverns, homes and businesses cropped up and the street thrived. Sound familiar? These diagonal paths in the city (Lincoln was Little Fort Road, Elston was Lower Road, Ogden was Southwestern Plank Road) became plank toll roads, and then finally regular streets that serve as some of the major arteries of Chicago.

In other words, the diagonal streets were more direct routes between settlements.

2. Diagonal streets are one of the features of Daniel Burnham’s lauded Plan of Chicago. Such roadways cut through a grid, providing quicker access into and out of the center of the city. However, only one major diagonal was even extended as the result of Burnham’s plan: Ogden Avenue was extended to go closer to the lake. Burnham had a number of avenues intended to radiate out from his proposed Civic Center which was never constructed. (Read more in this booklet in honor of the centennial of the Burnham Plan.)

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