Taking some rubber off the road

Group wants Chicago to close certain streets to cars

February 17, 2014

Some believe the Mag Mile should not be a drag mile.

An alternative transportation group is suggesting that the city of Chicago close certain roads downtown to cars, including Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile, so buses, pedestrians and bicyclists can roam free. The goal of the Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) is to make the urban dwelling a more attractive place to live and shop, but I am not sure this move sticks a daisy in the landscape.

Closing off major routes at the center of any city puts more stress on secondary roads, which were never designed to handle what they currently do now, let alone a rush of new traffic due to a road closure. The Chicago Department of Transportation is being a good sport about it, saying it will take the plan in consideration. Behind closed doors, they are either spitting mad or just spitting because they are laughing so hard.

The truth is, the city of Chicago, and several more just like it across the U.S., are starting to take steps to make all modes of transportation work in harmony. Chicago started a complete streets program just over a year ago, and also has a Make Way for People program, which caters more to pedestrians than those moving steel boxes.

For me, the perfect scenery is seeing a protected bike lane, bus lane, super wide sidewalks to handle loads of pedestrians, and enough space left for a light rail line and cars. This can be done. In fact, it is being done, just look at the likes of San Francisco.

I tried to round up more information from the ATA in an attempt to see from its side of the fence. However, when Executive Director Ron Burke answered he made it clear he had no time to talk to someone representing the road and bridge construction industry. I was passed on to the communications director, who said someone would be in touch. Nobody reached out.

Chicago also learned a hard lesson from banning cars on streets back in the 1970s, when State Street was only open to pedestrians and buses in an attempt to turn it into an urban strip mall. By the mid-90s the famous route was turned back over to the automobiles, and the city has not looked back. My guess is trying that idea again would not be magnificent.

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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