Why is there a wall at this intersection in Chicago?
January 25, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

At what should be the three-way intersection of Paulina St. and W. Rosehill Dr. in western Edgewater in Chicago, there is a cement wall (looking north, looking south) that prevents you from turning from one of these streets onto the other, turning Paulina into a dead end. Why?

(Paulina picks back up again at Bryn Mawr, where there is a normal T intersection.)

Slightly to the west on the same block, there is an alley that is also terminated in a similar way with a metal fence.

I haven't seen this anywhere else in Chicago and I'm curious when and why this street and alley were blocked off. I've always wondered if it had to do with preserving some kind of line of racial or class segregation. Or perhaps it was just a traffic-calming measure—but if so, there are many, many neighborhoods in Chicago where people complain about through traffic on residential streets, and I'm curious how this instance came to be treated so differently than others.

(Inspired by the discussion in this thread about streets designed to make it difficult to drive between very proximate places—common in the suburbs, but not in the city.)
posted by enn to Law & Government (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd imagine it has something to do with controlling traffic flow to/from Rosehill Cemetery, especially large funeral processions.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:15 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

there are many, many neighborhoods in Chicago where people complain about through traffic on residential streets

There are also many, many streets that have barriers up like this. There's one near where I used to live in Irving Park, there's one near where I live now in Little Village. They are, near as I can tell, for traffic thwartage.

They're more common than you think.
posted by phunniemee at 9:16 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in Andersonville, there's a lot of that to prevent people from cutting through the more "residential" streets: off the top of my head, there's a similar concrete block where farragut meets ravenswood west of the train tracks.

If I had to take a wild-ass guess, back when Emanuel (and before that Blago) was our congressman, he lived a couple blocks west of Ravenswood in Edgwater/Bomanville, I'd imagine they were both pretty good at getting things muscled through city government.
posted by Oktober at 9:16 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live on a street that was blocked off from a major thoroughfare like this, but there was room to build a cul-de-sac to terminate the smaller street.

My hunch is that the wall helps show that the street terminates when it's dark (or there's snowfall on the ground) and you can't see that the road ends. Otherwise drivers and snowplows would just barrel through the pavement and wreck the new parkway on the other side.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:21 AM on January 25, 2013

The wall prevents you from turning from one of these streets onto the other, turning Paulina into a dead end.

See, there, you answered your own question! They intentionally turned Paulina into a cul-de-sac in order to reduce traffic on the street and to prevent accidents at the intersection. The ultimate traffic calming device - shutting off access.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:23 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

This doesn't look like a particularly old wall. Hard to say to say exactly the reason the wall is there, but it is 100% for traffic calming purposes. I suspect last time major maintenance was done, the residents on Rosehill got their Alderman to request a barrier that would decrease car traffic volumes (note there is no access restriction for peds). Although I doubt there have been many crashes there, if there were a lot families living around the intersection, it might be to create safer streets for kids, and since Paulina ends there anyway, there is little disruption to the network. You could probably email CDOT and find out.
posted by voiceofreason at 9:28 AM on January 25, 2013

Oak Park is like this. It prevents the scary black and Latino people from getting in.
posted by desjardins at 9:39 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a civil engineer and issues like this crop up all the time. When viewed in isolation that intersection is fine and no reason to block it off. However when you zoom out a little you see lots of problems why you wouldn't want to introduce more traffic onto rosehill (and why paulina shouldn't be a through st). Both ends of rosehill are funky, offset non perpendicular intersections and one more access point on rosehill isn't going to help anything and might cause more problems (I don't know the traffic patterns here, and that does matter). Paulina is a short residential street that also has a funky intersection with Ridge (the arterial st) and it is well positioned for people to turn off rosehill and avoid possibly congested intersection at each end. That would put lots of high speed, non local traffic onto paulina and cause problems and destroy the neighborhood cohesiveness and really mess with peoples quality of life and walk-ability. So put up a barrier and MAKE the traffic go where it should and leave the neighborhood in peace.

Happens all the time and has very little to do with melanin content of the drivers or neighborhood-although the neighborhoods ability to get these things actually installed sometimes DOES have to do with melanin content.
posted by bartonlong at 9:55 AM on January 25, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Ah, this was a political set-to during the Daley II years:

Mayor Richard Daley's ambitious crime-fighting plan to build up to 500 cul-de-sacs a year and block off side streets in every neighborhood fizzled Tuesday when the administration said it might construct 20 of the barriers this year....

Daley hoped the cul-de-sacs would cut down on drive-by shootings and other street crime....

The mayor wanted neighborhoods with one way in and one way out. He considered simple cul-de-sacs, and went so far as to suggest iron gates and walls. He used as a model Dearborn Park, an upscale walled-in development in the South Loop with controlled access, where outsiders are quickly spotted.

Daley hoped his plan would help form smaller, more closely knit communities, where children could play in the street without fear of speeding cars and gang shootings. He wanted side streets blocked off so rapists couldn't travel 20 blocks in search of victims....

His critics said Daley's way of thinking suggested a fortress mentality inconsistent with Chicago's design as a city of interconnected neighborhoods. -- Chicago Tribune, 1993

Of note: throughout 1993, the Trib ran a series called Killing Our Children, in which they ran a full story on every juvenile homicide that took place during the year. There was a sense of desperation about drive-by shootings in particular. The final toll for 1993 was 63 children, a goodly number of them simply bystanders fatally wounded by stray bullets intended for someone else.

Anyway, the other thing you need to know about Chicago is that in the neighborhoods, aldermen/alderwomen have nearly mayoral powers, which have been reduced over the years and are largely symbolic, but not entirely gone. If an alder wants a cul-de-sac, there's a good chance they'll just get it. So things like this all trace back to clout, a word that originated in Chicago politics.
posted by dhartung at 10:15 AM on January 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Happens all the time and has very little to do with melanin content of the drivers or neighborhood-although the neighborhoods ability to get these things actually installed sometimes DOES have to do with melanin content.

Sometimes it hinders their ability to get one removed. Works for highways in urban areas too.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:18 AM on January 25, 2013

Best answer: These culs-de-sac are also found in Beverly, within city limits, though the neighborhood's pretty suburban as city neighborhoods go: over half the side streets on the north side of 95th between Ashland and Western are blocked by culs-de-sac. I haven't looked at all of them, but it appears they all block car traffic but permit pedestrian traffic (and are slightly less stark than the example you had).

It seems that these were also the subject of much controversy as well -- the expected traffic-or-racism debate.
posted by andrewesque at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2013

Best answer: I just drove through this exact area today (and everyday, actually). I imagine it's to prevent people who want to turn left from Ashland to Ridge (aka "Me") from going through the residential areas during rush hour instead of having to wait 10 goddamn minutes to go 100 yards in the clusterfuck that is the Ashland/Clark/Ridge intersection nearby.
posted by RabbleRabble at 11:51 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I concur with RabbleRabble, and don't relish my own memories of the traffic hell that is Ridge between at least Devon and Hollywood/Bryn Mawr, when it funnels into Lake Shore Drive. You'll notice Thorndale is one-way feeding into Clark, likely for exactly the same reason.
posted by dhartung at 3:58 PM on January 25, 2013

I concur with desjardins and dhartung. You find these things in areas where you have nice neighborhoods with "undesirable elements" nearby. The Beverly people were thrilled to have them installed, because "those people" were causing the pearl-clutchers to get the faints.

If they simply didn't want drivers using the streets as bypasses, they can just install the traffic calming mountains. Or "no right turn 7am-9am, 4pm-6pm" signs.

The neighborhood that I grew up in, West "don't call us Mt. Greenwood" Beverly, is currently up in arms because black people funerals are clogging up traffic on 115th street, and because "they" like to shoot their guns at funerals. (Their words, not mine) There were literally strangers coming up to my dad's door and asking for him to sign racist petitions. They actually got the cemetery to start installing an access road on the other side of the cemetery on 119th street.

One could be charitable and say it isn't color as much as it is socio-economic status, but it sure seems to correlate.
posted by gjc at 6:50 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These types of walls are effect examples of an implementation of the "arsenal of exclusion". Many of its precepts are described in this episode of the (great!) podcast 99% Invisible, including an example specific to the closing off of street access in a particular neighborhood to prevent undesirable (read: poor) people from getting access.

Some if the other tools in the arsenal are detailed in this Esquire article.
posted by anildash at 9:14 PM on January 26, 2013

As a data point, my street-- also in Edgewater-- came very, very close to turning into a cul-de-sac a couple of years ago. The block's goal was to close off traffic from Clark Street, as we have a ton of kids in the neighborhood and a shocking number of high-speed jerkwads who race down our street to get from Clark to Broadway. My understanding was that the implementation would have been very similar to this.
posted by eamondaly at 7:57 PM on January 29, 2013

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