Why do communities allow charities to collect money by standing at intersections?

I live near a suburban intersection that regularly has people from charities standing at the stop signs to collect money. I suspect the suburb is willing to let this happen for two reasons:

  1. It is good for the city to allow local charities to be out in the community. This helps build good relationships between everyone. The charities then help people in the community.
  2. The strategy is effective. The people collecting money are in direct eye contact with possible donors. As people come to a stop, they feel obligated to drop some change into the bucket or jug. While this method likely does not lead to large sums of money being donated by a single person, it can add up quickly.

On the other hand, this is an odd way to collect money for a few reasons:

  1. Suburban drivers just want to get through the intersection, not be slowed down. Even if they do not give money and have an interaction with the person standing there, they have to be more careful with a person in the roadway.
  2. Many drivers would respond much more negatively if another party was collecting money or soliciting people at this same spot. Many communities have homeless or jobless people sitting at intersections looking for help or people selling items or services (like squeegeing a windshield without the driver asking for it).
  3. Having people stand in the roadway is generally not a good idea given the lack of attention paid to pedestrians.

Perhaps communities try to balance these two sides by only offering limited numbers of opportunities for charities to do this (it can’t happen every week, for example) or limiting activity to certain intersections where drivers are going slower and traffic is not impeded as much.

On the whole, this particular method is unusual and maybe only certain charities can get away with it with limited exposure to drivers.

Forget smart cars; we should at least have smart traffic lights everywhere

Getting to the point where most or all American drivers have safe and reliable driverless cars will take time. In the meantime, why don’t we have smart traffic lights or at least every traffic light operating with sensors?

There are several intersections near my house and work that clearly do not have sensors. You pull up in your vehicle and regardless of time of day or how many others want to go the same way as you do, you will wait a full light cycle. Some of these lights are one to one and a half minutes long. Sometimes this makes sense: one road clearly has more cars. Yet, often this full period passes with few to no cars going through the light.

But, let’s go further. I’ve also run into situations where the sensors might just be too sensitive. This occurs particularly between 9 PM and 5 AM when traffic is light on major roads. A single vehicle wanting to turn onto the major road can stop traffic. If you have a few of these on a single trip, this can be frustrating. Why not have coordinated light signals along major corridors? Cities and suburbs do not necessarily have to go to full-blown smart systems that hope to coordinate all traffic; even just doing this on a few main roads with significant amounts of traffic could help ease congestion.

Perhaps one issue is cost: what municipalities or other governments (depending on who has jurisdiction over the road) want to spend money on sensors and devices? One of the supposed benefits of driverless cars is that they will allow for more flowing traffic through coordination across vehicles. However, in that scenario the cost of less congestion is pushed to the car owners who have to purchase such a vehicle. Sensors at major intersections or at all intersections would not require anything or much from drivers. Yet, I bet you could make an argument that putting money into better intersections will be a cost savings in the long run with less time spent in traffic.

Is the Naperville diamond interchange working?

The relatively rare concept of a diamond interchange opened at the Naperville intersection of I-88 and Route 59 in September 2015. Was the effort to reconstruct the interchange worth it?

The short answer: there has not been an official pronouncement. Proponents suggested the design has several advantages: fewer accidents since drivers are not making left turns onto or off of highway ramps, improved efficiency since cars can merge onto ramps on red lights, and less space needed. Here some pieces of evidence regarding the matter:

The Illinois Tollway is constructing another diamond interchange at I-90 and Elmhurst Road. Would they do this if their first attempt was unsuccessful?

Crashes at the intersection were down between 2015 (73) and 2016 (53).

-Since it is a busy intersection – over 180,000 vehicles a day – wouldn’t drivers and officials gone public if there were major issues with the new design? Some drivers still thought it odd as of April 2016 but Naperville issues said they were pleased.

According to DivergingDiamond.com, there are a number of diamond interchanges in the planning or construction stages across the United States.

The evidence seems to suggest the diamond interchange in Naperville is working. It still may be worthwhile to see when officials are willing to take credit or take a victory lap for their decision.


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.)

Building intricate intersections to help drivers avoid accidents

Here is a quick look at some “intricate” intersection designs that are intended to help drivers avoid accidents. These go beyond the “Michigan Left” to the “Jughandle,” the “Superstreet,” and the “Diverging Diamond.”

Here is a little explanation of the difficulty these intersections face:

As you can imagine, these designs are not an easy sell. “It’s a two-fold sale that has to happen,” Sangster tells us. “We’re not going to build these if they’re not safe. We’re also not going to build them if they don’t work better.”

I wonder if the better question is how drivers would react to them. People tend not to like change in their predictable roads. Of course, with repeated exposure people will get better at handling these kinds of intersections and eventually they become normal. (Having some extended experience with the Michigan Left as well as a roundabout, I can attest that they seem strange at first but become second nature pretty quickly.) I could even imagine a situation where a local community comes to regard their “intricate” intersection as a badge of honor, particularly if the intersection is much safer.

There are also cost and construction concerns with these new intersections. Check out an article about a 2010 proposal for a diverging diamond to be installed at Route 59 and I-88 in Naperville that suggests American engineers have been reluctant to be some of the first to spend the money for such intersections.

Mapping Chicago by taking a photo at every major intersection

Planner Neil Freeman found an interesting way to map Chicago: take a photo of every major intersection. A post on Atlantic Cities describes the map:

Freeman’s first project, called “Chicago mile by mile,” created an unconventional city map of the city based on 212 photos of strategic “mile” intersections. It was inspired by Chicago’s unique grid system, in which every eight blocks measures a full mile, and the city’s corresponding address system, which advances (for the most part) in increments of 800. If you begin at the zero-points of Madison and State streets and go west a mile, for example, you’ll reach the corner of Halsted Street at 800 W Madison Street.

“This arbitrary address system ends up defining what it means to live in Chicago,” he says. “These arbitrary systems that end up underlying our built environment of our daily life are really intriguing to me.”

On the webpage with the map, here is how Freeman describes the map:


Chicago mile by mile

Neil Freeman, 2002
213 color photographs
114 x 104 inches

These photographs maps Chicago’s uncomprimising street grid into 212 4″x6″ snapshots. The photographs document every intersection of mile streets, major roads on section lines. The entire city is traversed by this network of arterials. Photographs were taken in January 2002.

It would take a while to look at the thumbnails of all the photographs. However, I think doing so might start to reveal patterns. In other words, are the major intersection on the North Side more alike or different from major intersections on the South Side? Are there patterns across all intersections? I suspect there may be as these major intersections would tend to attract certain kinds of functions and organizations.

Extending this project in three possible ways could also add a lot of information. One way to expand this would be to start filling in more of the intersections between these major ones. A second way would be to track these intersections over time. If Freeman took all of these photographs again in 2012, how much would have changed? A third way would be to collect data on how people experience and visual these intersections and compare this to the photographs. How exactly do residents and visitors perceive these intersections?

Thoughts on plowing intersections, runs on bread, having places to turn around on major roads (like LSD), and more

Now that the Groundhog Day Blizzard of 2011 has stopped (though arctic wind chills are next), I have a few thoughts about the storm:

1. I drove home yesterday at about 4:45 PM. The roads weren’t too bad and the traffic was light – I assume this meant many people went home earlier. But there a problem in this sort of weather and any snow that always pops up: intersections that are difficult to move through. The roads can be quite passable but then everything bottles up at slushy intersections where people can’t start quickly and have great difficulty in turning. Someone needs to figure out a way to solve this problem. Would it be better to close an intersection for a minute or two so plows could do diagonal runs through the intersection square to clear snow? Are there people concerned about the science of plowing?

2. Why there was a run on bread in times like this is an interesting question to ponder. There are a lot of food one could buy before a storm hits that would be better in bread in that it would last longer and be more fulfilling. When did runs on bread begin and why do people still do this?

3. One of the stories in Chicago was the people who got stuck on in northbound traffic on Lake Shore Drive for hours. Why doesn’t every main road, particularly highways, have a certain number of points where people could turn around if a situation like this (or even a major crash in regular conditions) occurs? Lake Shore Drive has a number of exits in this area but those were blocked with crashes as well. Concrete barriers are helpful in separating traffic but this is an issue that someone should solve.

4. The warnings the police and state officials were giving overnight and this morning were intriguing that they must have to give these warnings because there are people who go out driving in such conditions when they don’t have to. This morning, one official suggested that if people wanted to go out, they needed to consider whether they were willing to risk their lives. This seems like common sense – but perhaps it is not.

5. When I woke up at 7:30 AM, the street in our residential subdivision wasn’t bad – perhaps 5-6 inches of snow. By 12:30 PM, a plow had done several runs on the street and it was clear. I was tempted to go drive and see what everything looks like but see point #4 above.

6. The blizzard is over – the total snowfall was the third biggest storm in Chicago history. Now it is time for the bitter cold. In the grand scheme of things, is the extreme cold more dangerous to more people than the blizzard conditions and the snow?