Street vacation requires new street direction

Direction of Traffic Near
Milwaukee-Kimball-Woodard Triangle

One condition

As I wrote yesterday (see Public meeting March 8 re: another public plaza), I support vacating the small portion of Woodard Street located between Milwaukee and Kimball Avenues on one condition:  that the direction of traffic on the surrounding streets is reconfigured.

The problem

Of particular note on the map above are the three angled streets north of Woodard Street that connect Milwaukee and Kimball Avenues, all of which are one-way streets with traffic going north(east).  This allows Milwaukee Avenue traffic to head east, but denies Kimball Avenue traffic access to the west.  Traveling south on Kimball Avenue from Belmont Avenue to Diversey Avenue, only the first street, Barry Avenue, and the last, Woodard Street, allow a connection to the west. Removing one of just two connections in vacating Woodard Street creates a problem then.


Most of Chicago’s streets were at one time two-way streets.  My understanding is that most residential streets were converted to one-way streets following the 1967 blizzard that rendered two-way traffic impossible.  The pattern logically established was that every other street would be one-way in the same direction, balanced by one-way streets in the opposite direction in between.

You can see this pattern in the north-south streets north of Woodard Street (map below).  The green lines and arrows indicate sensible traffic directions.  One goes south on Sawyer Avenue (to the east), but north on Spaulding Avenue, followed by south on Christiana Avenue.  On arterial and collector streets, designed with a wider roadway, traffic direction returns to two-way to move cars as quickly as possible.  Kimball Avenue is probably classified as a collector (for more on street classifications, see the city’s 2007 Street and Site Plan Design Standards).  The pattern then continues with traffic flowing north on Bernard Street, south on St. Louis Avenue (though St. Louis Avenue is a two-way street here), north again on Drake, and returning to two-way traffic on Central Park Avenue.

North-South Street Direction Pattern Near
Milwaukee-Kimball-Woodard Triangle

A similar logical pattern can be found in the east-west streets north and east of Woodard Street shown with the light blue lines and arrows (map below).  Where the pattern fails, however, is in the angled streets north of Woodard Street.  I think an ideal flow would be that suggested by the dark blue lines and arrows, but that would involve changes to four streets, including the east-west Wellington Avenue.

Street Direction Patterns and Patterns Interrupted
Near Milwaukee-Kimball-Woodard Triangle

Of course, neighbors object to “their” street changing direction or being the one to provide the through connection.  But these street directions have been changed over time, incremental changes thought to address a particular street’s concerns without considering the impact on the whole of the neighboring area.  For each change in street direction to accommodate neighbors’ desires for “their” street, any negative impact is pushed onto nearby streets (a similar situation exists with permit parking zones).  I’m told that there have been previous unsuccessful efforts to reconfigure the direction of these streets.  I’m also told that there is no city record of some of them even being changed to their current configuration.

New direction

With the proposed vacation of Woodard Street, now is the opportune time to take sensible action to reconfigure the street directions in a logical manner.

In order for the vacation of Woodard Street to be smoothly implemented with the least amount of disruption then, the pink lines and arrows (map above) make sense for a traffic pattern, and the traffic direction of Wisner Avenue should be changed to allow traffic to travel south(west). 

If speed is a concern for the neighbors, I believe Wisner Avenue is wide enough (photo above) to accommodate two-way traffic (whereas Allen Avenue, for example, is too narrow).  Two-way traffic in effect narrows the traffic lanes, causing drivers to navigate the road more cautiously and more slowly.

Changing the direction of Wisner Avenue will further serve the traffic egress from the strip center at the corner of Milwaukee and Wisner Avenues, allowing patrons to exit on the south end to Milwaukee Avenue to travel northwest or southeast as well as on the north end to Wisner Avenue to travel northeast toward Kimball Avenue.

[Update:  A regular reader brought to my attention that I had erred in showing the street direction of Barry Avenue east of Kimball Avenue.  I have corrected the maps above.]


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