Uptown's Proposed Shared Street at Argyle: How ADDING Uncertainty Can Make Our Side Streets Safer


Anticipating City Made festival this weekend, when Andersenville will turn Clark between Argyle and  into an open air market and street party for two days has us wishing that some of our city’s streets could always be a little more integrated.  Anyone who’s ever attended a block party or recalls a childhood game of kickball knows the illicit thrill of being standing around in the middle of car territory.

Chicago’s Brings Shared Streets to Uptown

Much to our delight, the lines between “car space” and “people space” are going to be permanently blurred in Uptown soon, as plans go forward to turn Argyle (between Broadway and Sheridan) into a Shared Street.  Implementing the design will begin next spring.  Curbs will be removed, the area re-paved in brick and people will be encouraged to walk, stand and sit in the former car zone of the street.  Why is this a good idea?  Why would the city be shelling out $3 million to take away all the those nice safe distinctions?

After all, clarity in street layout is very reassuring.  On a busy Chicago thoroughfare it makes everyone feel safer to have bike lanes, bus lanes, parking lanes and turn lanes clearly labeled (and sometimes protected with bollards or other dividers.  Those protections and distinctions allow each individual to get where their going with as little actual attention as possible – if everyone follows the rules and stays in their lane … no one will bump (or smash) into anyone else.

Too Much “Certainty” Can Make Streets Less Safe

However, that sense of security can actually lead to less safety, rather than more, in some cases.   On side streets, a wall of parked cars on either side of a wide driving lane can give drivers a feeling of “highway” rather than “residential” behaviors and cause them to zip along too quickly and blow through pedestrian crosswalks without stopping.

Despite a four year old Must Stop law on the books, a recent Active Transit Alliance study found that only 18 percent of drivers stop for pedestrians at painted crosswalks and only 5 percent at unmarked crosswalks (where a sidewalk crosses a road).  

As drivers we all understand the desire to get from point A to point B in a hurry but neighborhood streets are not the place to rush.  Ironically all the engineered safety features of a standard urban street, posted speed limits, stop signs and curbs can give drivers a false sense of being the only folks “on the road.”  Experiments in street design have found that removing those visual cues of cars here, pedestrians here, can make all the occupants of the street more aware of each other … and safer.

pavement material

If the trappings modern street engineering are stripped away, drivers AND pedestrians become responsible for sharing a space responsibly.  Without a “green light, go” mentality, each person has to look at their environment and take in all the social cues before proceeding with caution.

Its important to note that no one is suggesting that ALL streets be shared streets.  One of the first traffic engineers to pitch the shared street idea, Hans Monderman, put it this way, “The slow network needs the fast network to work.”  In other words, some streets are designated as thoroughfares or arterial roads, and others are designated as more pedestrian friendly.  

Shared Streets at Argyle in Uptown

Chicago’s first move in the direction of Shared Streets is now officially underway.  Argyle Ave is going to be converted to a Shared Street between Broadway and Sheridan.   This area seems like a good test case for the plan – there are many other ways for cars to cross from Broadway to Sheridan and this stretch of Argyle already hosts the weekly Argyle Night Market all summer, closing off the street for neighbors and food vendors to gather in the public way.

Note that cars and trucks ARE still welcome on the street – they just need to share the way with pedestrians, bikes, and street furniture.

UPDATE: an earlier version of this post mis-attributed the renderings below to Uptown’s shared street plan when they are actually part of a proposal for a similar shared street update for an Argyle street in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  They do a great job of illustrating the main ideas (and design moves) of a shared street design, however, so feel free to check out the concepts below.

Argyle shared street rendering

Instead of the traditional distinction between driving, parking and walking areas, a new layer of brick pavers (and colored paint) will modify the spacing of the street scape and blur the lines between activities, causing everyone to go a little more cautiously and (hopefully) to share the street in harmony.

The two street sections below show the conventional layout (above) and the new proposal (below).  Check out the 37 page proposal pdf by Planning and Design Centre for all the details of Halifax’s Argyle Shared Street plan!

Argyle shared street cross section

The result, be it in Canada or Chicago: a street fair atmosphere all year round.  We’re pretty excited to see how it pans out.  What do you think?  Let us know in the comments!