New Yellow Line Stop May Lead to Congestion -

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Update 6:02 a.m. --

The road diet project was unanimously shot down last night during a village board meeting at the Skokie Public Library last night. The meeting ended around 11:15 p.m. Monday. Come back tomorrow morning for that story.

Earlier --

Skokie officials are confident enough that traffic will be siphoned off Oakton Street through downtown to prevent backups if they narrow the road to two lanes if the road diet initiative is pushed through.

But they may have a difficult situation at the east end of downtown that is part of the solution to reviving the area. The CTA Yellow Line grade crossing at Oakton Street and Skokie Boulevard is placed at a high traffic intersection. With long red lights and left-turn signals, traffic could back up even more on a narrow Oakton Street.

Skokie is counting on the new Oakton Yellow Line station to further spur employment and business development in downtown Skokie. Yet an unscientific test by Skokie Patch of how long the intersection is blocked at peaked times by lowered crossing gates showed that the re-development could be hampered by traffic congestion.

Read more: Can Downtown Skokie be a Bustling Shopping Destination?

A CTA spokesperson could not provide times that gates are typically lowered when its trains go through street-level crossings on the Yellow Line, along with the Brown Line in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood and Pink Line in Berwyn.

In this article, Patch sent out a reporter during the busiest time of the week, between 4:45 and 5:15 p.m. on a recent Friday – to detail how long the gates are lowered for passing trains and how long red lights restrict traffic flow when the gates are up.

The times the gates are lowered as trains slowly move through the construction zone for the new station, on the north side of Oakton Street, can approximate the times when trains, particularly southbound, stop at the completed station.  Lowering of the gates would be triggered before the train reaches the station for safety reasons.

Rush-hour trains run every 10 minutes

The intersection will already be blocked frequently during the weekday morning and evening rush hours. According to a published CTA schedule, Yellow Line trains run every 10 minutes southbound from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., and from 2:50 to 7:30 p.m.  Northbound trains leave the Howard station every 10 minutes from 6:16 to 9:16 a.m. and from 2:36 to 7:16 p.m.

On the date surveyed, the Oakton gates were lowered 45 seconds before a northbound train rumbled through the intersection.  When a southbound train came through seconds later, the gates were lowered for a total of two minutes, resulting in a two-block eastbound backup on Oakton Street, a block past the traffic light at LaCrosse Avenue.  If traffic flow was somewhat similar after a road diet, the backup would be longer.

Skokie officials say the completion of the Oakton station will cut down times the gates are down.

"When it's actually built, when the train crosses going northbound and is sitting in the station, the gates go up, so you don't have any delay there," said Peter Peyer, director of Community Development.  "Gates are activated when it's almost at Kostner.  It doesn't go up again until it clears Searle Parkway. But when the station is built, it clears Oakton and sits at the station; the gates are up already. You might already save time. In the current scenario, you have to wait until the train is several thousand feet north of (the intersection)."

Peyer said CTA officials have told the village the gate-down times should be "back to normal" once the station is completed. However, combined with the long red lights featured at the Skokie Boulevard - Oakton Street intersection, some adjustments may have to be made long-term between the construction of the station and the completion of the road diet program.

"Definitely, IDOT has to look at that," Peyer predicted of adjusting the signals. Since a train crossing is factored into the equation, "the ICC (Illinois Commerce Commission) has to be involved."

One-minute, 45-second red light on Oakton

The new Yellow Line intersection is an ongoing traffic choke point even without the effect of the Yellow Line. After the trains moved on, the red light holding up Oakton traffic was on for a full one minute, 20 seconds – with the gates up – before the left-turn arrow onto Skokie Boulevard flashed on. The eastbound, non-turning traffic was held up for one minute, 45 seconds before getting the green light to proceed. That time was typical for a red light without lowered gates in several surveyed sequences.

In the next sequence of signals, the eastbound green light for Oakton was on for just 35 seconds.

Another instance of trains passing in each direction near Oakton Street produced a one-minute, 15-second wait of lowered gates before the northbound train passed the intersection, and a full one-minute, 55-seconds before the gates were raised and an eastbound green light flashed.

Moving to another vantage point 1 ½ blocks east of Skokie Boulevard, facing west on Oakton Street, the green light for Oakton Street was on for one minute, compared to the red for one minute, 45 seconds. Westbound traffic backed up another block to the previous light at Knox Avenue.

3-block backup westbound on Oakton

The largest blockage and backup of the survey took place at 5:10 p.m. The gates again lowered for an oncoming northbound train. The Yellow Line cars passed and the gates then raised, but no green light flashed. Suddenly, the gates quickly lowered again to accommodate a southbound train. Traffic was blocked for a total of four minutes as the westbound backup stretched all the way back to Kenton Avenue, east of Knox Avenue.

Traditionally, some cars flee this huge backup, turning right on Kenton, Knox or Kilpatrick Avenues to snake through the residential neighborhood to get to northbound Skokie Boulevard. But if the majority of waiting vehicles continued through the intersection and tracks into a constricted section of Oakton Street, the road diet advocates, hoping for a less speedy, more controlled traffic flow, may see high levels of congestion outside of downtown Skokie.

Peyer said the long-term goal is to synchronize red lights all the way west through the road-diet area to Lincoln Avenue and Oakton Street. But it's unclear how the varying, long times of the Yellow Line gates and long red lights at Skokie Boulevard and Oakton Street can all be brought into harmony.

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18 Oct, 2011

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