Imagine my surprise this past Friday when I took one of my urban hikes through my downtown Chicago neighborhood and walked right into what may be the most unnecessarily dangerous pedestrian crossing in town.
I was heading down the lakefront from Marina City towards the (allegedly contemporary) Adler Planetarium, a path which passes by the Shedd Aquarium shortly before a sharp turn east sets you on Solidarity Drive for that quarter-mile scenic stroll down the embankment towards artificially starry skies.
Recent Chicago Department of Transportation reconstruction in the vicinity of Solidarity Drive has made the area a bit less convenient in recent months, with frequent road and crosswalk closures. But through it all, one critical north-south crossing across Solidarity has been maintained to make sure Museum Campus visitors --mostly families with school and stroller-age children--have access to the Adler.
At least until now. On Friday, I found that last remaining crossing closed. I asked a construction worker about it. He told me, "The DOT doesn't want pedestrians interfering with cars anymore and we can't do anything about it."
(Area Map: "O" marks the spot: location of the dangerous pedestrian crossing at Museum Campus, the intersection of South Museum Park Drive and East Solidarity Drive.)
The detour that replaces the now-closed, 20-second/20-foot crosswalk? A 20-minute/more than half-mile hike from the family/stroller exit of the Shedd (oh irony), counter-clockwise down Museum Campus Drive all the way to Soldier Field to the nearest open ped crossing, and then all the way back up.
I kid you not. Speaking of kids, for CDOT to think kids and toddlers in strollers would be walked by their families so far out of their way instead of their parents finding some other strategy to get across is imbecilic on the face of it.
(Photo: See anything wrong with this picture? I have 114 others just like it.)
And, of course, that's just what the families are doing. Lots of them. On Friday afternoon, I stood at the closed crosswalk and watched more than 100 people wade out into the middle of oncoming two-way traffic on Solidarity Drive from the north and walk 30 feet down the middle of the street to get to the nearest available south sidewalk.
Making matters worse, for the entire 30-foot walk down Solidarity Drive, construction barriers and temporary fencing prevent any access whatsoever to the sidewalks on either side of the street, and (you know there had to be an and here, right?) eastbound traffic--including on Friday lots of buses, dump trucks, and cement mixers--comes flying around a blind corner after a stop sign--directly towards families crossing the street. Take a look at what I mean:
(Close-up Graphic: Follow the yellow line from the Shedd Aquarium's family/stroller exit to the Adler Planetarium...via a 30-foot walk down the middle of a two-way street with no shoulders or sidewalk access. Whatsoever.)
Of course, the families need not be attempting to make the crossing. On the other hand, if you were a tired parent dragging a few screaming kids around Chicago all day, would you seriously consider taking an extra 20-minute walk in the sun instead of finding a way across the two lanes of traffic directly in front of you?
I didn't just watch all those people wade into traffic. I stuck around for 90 minutes, pulled out my iPhone, and took 115 photos of them dodging traffic thanks to this oh-so-boneheaded detour decision of CDOT's.
And then I made some calls to people I thought could help someone or someone's child from getting killed at this crossing. Silly me. Here's who I spoke with and here's how much help they turned out to be:
- 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti's Office: First I tried to contact 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti (the only Chicago alderman I ever refused to serve birthday cake). But 20 minutes of repeatedly calling the Ward and City Hall offices never yielded a live person. So I left a message and moved on.
- The Chicago Police Department: I next called the CPD to report the ongoing dangerous crossing issue. The dispatcher said they'd send a car to investigate. I waited half an hour for a car to arrive, but one never did.
- All Mainstream TV News Desks: Amazed that neither Fioretti's office nor the CPD were of any help, being a media relations insider I pulled my phone back out and explained the problem--and the availability of heart-stopping B-roll footage--to the TV news desks of WBBM CBS 2, WMAQ NBC 5, WLS ABC 7, WGN 9, and WFLD Fox 32. They all yawned.
- The Bob Fioretti Call-Back: While I was calling the news stations, a woman from Fioretti's Ward office called me back. I told her I was watching waves of families wade into oncoming traffic. She told me, "We'll make some calls and let you know why that's happening." My inside voice called her a moron while my outside voice underscored the immediacy of the problem--and the fact that I'd just called every TV station in Chicago explaining the issue and telling them Fioretti's office hadn't even picked up the phone. Her next response: "I guess we can call the police and CDOT." You think? I told her I'd wait until they arrived.
- The CPD Drive-By: Except, arrive and investigate the situation isn't quite what the CPD did. Fly through the intersection in a marked car (see my photos, below) and then immediately leave would be a better way to put it.
- The WLS ABC 7 Live Truck Sit-and-Shrug: Before I became unfortunate enough to actually see some family get flattened by a cement mixer, I finally decided to head down Solidarity Drive to catch the 146 bus back home and deal with my developing sunburn. That's when I saw a WLS live truck near the Adler taking skyline shots. I walked over and showed the field producer the 115 photos I'd already taken and implored him to shoot some B roll. He shrugged.
I guess dangerous pedestrian crossings in Chicago aren't big news unless someone's parent or child actually dies in them. If that eventually happens at this Museum Campus crossing, you can decide for yourself where to place the blame.
You can also decide for yourself how dangerous you feel the crossing is: I invite you to view the slideshow below (or click through to my full flickr photoset) of those 115 photos of families wending their way across this hazardous and totally unnecessary crossing.
At least that's my unofficial opinion about the crossing. But what do I know? I'm no CDOT planner, CPD officer, or local alderman. I was just one of the people trying to cross the street.
Alive, that is.