THE LOOP — Pedestrians were intrigued by a new crosswalk configuration installed Friday at State and Jackson streets that allows walkers to cross in any direction, even diagonally, while all traffic is stopped.
"I'm interested to see how it works," said Karl Johnson, who was walking Downtown Friday morning. "I hear they use this in Japan. Once we get used to it, it should be cool."
This pilot program is expected to continue for “at least a few months,” according to city spokesman Bill McCaffrey.
“This new all-way crossing will improve the pedestrian environment and vehicular timing at this very busy downtown intersection,” said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klien. “Chicagoans and visitors will be able to cross on foot more quickly and safely while vehicular traffic is stopped.”
This intersection was chosen due to the large number of pedestrians that use it. It's right near DePaul university’s downtown campus, the John Marshall Law School as well as many CTA stops. The city says 41,600 pedestrians cross the intersection every day versus 20,500 cars or trucks.
Klein says because there is twice as much pedestrian traffic as vehicular traffic, cars and trucks trying to turn there sometimes backed up for blocks at peak traffic times due to the many pedestrians crossing the street.
With the changes, turning is now prohibited at the intersection.
With the new configuration, there seemed to be mild confusion on the part of both pedestrians and motorists — a situation Klein and his department expected.
“It’s going to take a little time for drivers to get used to it,” admitted Klein.
The city has assigned multiple Traffic Management Aides to the intersection to help make sure the first week or so runs smoothly, McCaffrey said.
Stoplights will be timed to have three crossing cycles, said Yadollah Montazery, Assistant Director and traffic engineer for CDOT.
The first cycle allows northbound and southbound State Street traffic and pedestrians to cross Jackson, followed by a second cycle allowing east and westbound traffic and pedestrians to cross State Street.
Then there’s an all-way 35-second interval where all motor vehicles must stop while pedestrians are allowed to cross all directions, including diagonally, across the middle of the intersection. In addition, an audio recording tells pedestrians when they can cross during the all-way phase.
“This allows more throughput for pedestrians,” says Montazery. “We’re moving pedestrians much quicker and reducing conflicts with vehicles.”
The term of the pilot test is open ended, but will last a minimum of several months, according to Klein, and it could be expanded to other city intersections which have high pedestrian volumes if it goes well.
“We’re going to evaluate how well people take to it,” said Klein. “We’re going to do some on street polling and I’d like to see better vehicle throughput. I want to see if getting rid of turns and adjusting the intersection will reduce conflicts.”
CDOT says over 3,000 people every year are hit by vehicles in Chicago. In 2012, 48 pedestrians were killed in car crashes, according to the Chicago Police Department.