Officials look at ways to keep drivers from blocking intersections, causing gridlock

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CHICAGO — Many people describe rush hour traffic in Chicago as unpredictable, but what they can predict is gridlock.

“You never know if there’s going to be an accident on the road, you never know what to expect; when people slow down it’s really unpredictable,” Aviyam Jordan said.

On the surface, the problem is pretty simple: more cars lead to more traffic issues on Chicago’s roadways.

“When we’re trying to jam so many cars into a relatively small area there’s always going to be issues around congestion,” said Kyle Whitehead, Active Transportation Alliance.

But one major factor is vehicles “blocking the box.” That’s when they move into an intersection at a green light, but traffic is so backed up that they have nowhere to go when the light changes. It’s a huge problem, especially in the Loop. So now officials are looking into ways to prevent it.

“I think it’s often viewed as a traffic nuisance, but more so than that it’s a safety issue, especially for people who are walking and biking, trying to cross the street and trying to get through the street,” Whitehead said.

To keep people from blocking the box, Alderman Brendan Reilly (Ward 42) wants Chicago to start enforcing laws that make it illegal, like many other major cities.

But police say enforcing minor traffic offenses often leads to more congestion. They say education is the best weapon.

“I think it benefits everybody to get cars moved through the intersection, so then the question is, ‘what is the best way, what is the most fair way to do that?'” Whitehead said.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is working with other City departments to address the issue, saying “blocking the box” is just one of many byproducts of traffic congestion. They’re looking at the bigger picture: how to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“Longer term we need to think about redesigning our streets and how do we get more people walking biking and riding public transportation,” Whitehead said.

Later this year, CDOT plans to launch a congestion study to help understand what’s going on, and to explore new strategies for reducing traffic.


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