Why Do Trucks Keep Getting Stuck on the Same Stretch of the L?

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More than half of all collisions in which vehicles have become stuck under Chicago Transit Authority structures citywide in the past year have occurred on the same stretch of the L on the city's West Side, an area community members have labeled "the most dangerous street in Chicago" as they call for change.

For years, Roger Romanelli of the Fulton Market Association has been documenting trucks getting stuck and torn apart under the portion of the Green Line that runs over Lake Street.

"You have here on Lake Street a 3-mile section that's the most dangerous street in Chicago. And it's probably the most dangerous street in Illinois," Romanelli said.

CTA records show that a truck, bus, or other vehicle has become stuck under a transit structure 32 times across the city since the beginning of 2020. Fifteen of those incidents – nearly half – occurred on the Green Line along Lake Street, according to the CTA. In the past year alone, that proportion is even higher – 11 of the city’s 18 total collisions have occurred along that stretch.  

The problem is not the posted clearances for the L itself, Romanelli says. It's the fact that when trucks turn, the true clearances are actually lower than what's written on the signs, because they don’t account for the structure's brackets that support the train tracks from underneath.

"That truck will get caught under the structure and ripped apart," Romanelli said.

Annette Britton grew up on the city's West Side and said she's seen more truck collisions than she can count.

"I have seen trucks try to turn these corners and shear the top of their trailer off," Britton said.

Romanelli also argues that the Green Line structure itself is in desperate need of an update, noting in particular the train’s support columns that spring from the center of the street.

“What you see here was built in 1896 – eight years before cars or trucks ever ran in Chicago,” he said.

A spokesman for the CTA said that the structure was built the way it was in that location, with the columns in the street, as a cost-saving measure in the 1890s. The CTA said the structure has been rehabbed and repaired since then, highlighting a large renovation in the 1990s and noting it’s currently in “good structural condition.”

Rehabbing an L structure would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and the CTA says other parts of the transit system have been prioritized in any plans for future infrastructure improvements.

Romanelli said the impediments affect more than the trucks themselves – they’re deterring deliveries, which is negatively impacting commerce on the city’s West Side.

“They won't let their trucks come and deliver,” he said. “That reduces the amount of businesses and jobs on the West Side.”

Romanelli and others say the city needs to put up signage explaining the hazards of turning east or west under the L due to the clearance changes.

“City Hall and the mayor need to put the signs up immediately,” Romanelli said. “They need to warn trucks, warn large trucks that they can't make their moves on Lake Street.”

The CTA deferred to the Chicago Department of Transportation for information on signage.

A CDOT spokesman said the city improved clearance on Lake Street in 2018 by lowering the roadway during a reconstruction. But the agency did not respond to multiple requests for comment on signage that would indicate lowered clearances for trucks turning east and west.

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