Sometimes it’s impossible to determine the rationale of an urban infrastructure decision simply by looking at it, even though this blog has made it a habit of attempting to do so. I am totally at a loss for what might have prompted the City of Chicago to install this impediment at the intersection of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue:
This is, in fact, the first time I’ve seen such pedestrian obstructions in the United States. I recall seeing it a few times in London to prevent jaywalking, but there, as in this country, it is usually a relic from an era in which cities were trying to prevent any external influence from disrupting the flow of traffic. By and large, the more pedestrian scaled cities are far more likely these days to introduce traffic calming devices that force motorists to recognize the presence of persons on foot. And they are removing these installations more often than they are retaining them. All these chained barricades do is protect cars from the nuisance of pedestrians intruding on their periphery. Is this really the goal of the City of Chicago, particularly when this crosswalk provides direct access to one of the city’s preeminent attractions in Millennium Park?
One might expect such a measure, with copious pedestrian obstructions, implemented in a more automobile oriented city such as Indianapolis, where fellow blogger Urban Indy recently recognized a streetscape plan that would shrink the sidewalk portion at intersections, thereby increasing the turning radii that will allow cars to zip into a right turn without having to reduce their speed significantly. But Indianapolis does not fence off its crosswalks. This picture, taken in September of 2009, did not appear to be a temporary installation, and I did not have the time to visually survey the intersection in full; maybe I could have deduced a justification for a crossing barrier here. Offhand, though, I cannot determine any reason why a city remotely interested in pedestrianism would have one of these, much as I would try to approach this from a balanced perspective. By closely scrutinizing, it even appears that there remains a bit of residual “scarring” from the old crosswalk lines.
Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to why Chicago would still have something like this? To me it is a testament to the fact that, perhaps even at a global level, we still have a long way to go before we have extirpated the frivolous pedestrian obstructions to our urban infrastructure. And then we have an even greater hurdle to overcome when it comes to public works investments that harm pedestrians but accrue measurable benefits to cars; all too often the motorists still win without even having to flex any political muscle.