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Drivers Cheer Proposed Improvements to 'Nightmare' Elston Intersection

By Alisa Hauser | April 12, 2013 7:24am | Updated on April 12, 2013 8:51am

BUCKTOWN — News that the city is planning to pump millions into the reconfiguration of a dangerous and confusing intersection at Damen, Elston and Fullerton avenues in Bucktown was greeted with relief by drivers Thursday.

Angel Rodriguez, 21, a receptionist at Midtown Athletic Club, 2020 W. Fullerton Ave., said people complain daily about the intersection, and he can hear "people screaming and cars honking" from his desk.

"Only two or three cars can get between the two lights to turn. Cars are stuck in the middle if they do not turn fast enough," he said.

Christine DiMiceli, studio manager at Arts 'n Spirits, 1921 N. Damen Ave. in Bucktown, said she "avoids [the intersection] at all costs."

"Where Elston, Fullerton and Damen all come together, you get a stoplight and then 25 yards and another stoplight. Between traffic lights and strange spacing of the intersection, it's a nightmare," DiMiceli said.

Chicago Transportation Department spokesman Pete Scales said that the intersection ranked third in the city's top 10 crash intersections last year, with 50 accidents and 10 injuries.

The reconfiguration will reroute Elston Avenue to the north of the intersection and enable "greater spacing between the Fullerton and Damen intersections," according to officials.

The "new Elston" will have new protected bike lanes including 2-foot wide barriers, two new traffic signals and a new bidirectional turn lane.

Work on the intersection is expected to begin next year and bring 100 new jobs, city officials said Wednesday.

"Oncoming light has longer green" signs were posted on all sides of the six-way intersection Thursday to remind drivers that cars might be passing through even after their light has turned red.

A local taxi driver said he's been avoiding the intersection for all 20 years that he's been driving a cab in Chicago.

"I go down to Western or take Elston straight through to Ashland to avoid it," the 45-year-old driver said. "If a customer requests it, I will go through it, I have no choice, but otherwise I do not drive through it."

Christina Gale, 26, an employee at Popeye's Chicken at the heart of the intersection, said that customers complain about the traffic while at the drive-thru window.

"They tell me it takes too long for them to turn into here because it takes too long to get through the intersection," she said.

"They ask me which way to go [to avoid it], and I tell them to turn right, not to go back that way."

Gale has worked at Popeye's for two years and said that while she's been too busy working to witness an accident, she's seen and heard the ambulances after the fact.

She was relieved to hear news of the reconfiguration this week.

"It's a good idea," she said. "It's so dangerous."