Street Signs & Traffic Lights

Because of the nuttiness of veering roads, odd angles, and zany-shaped lots, everybody who moves to Gladstone Park has to learn the ropes of negotiating the confusing patchwork of streets. Even so, residents who’ve lived here for years can inadvertently get turned around on local streets that travel on the bias, leaving them befuddled about where they’re heading. Visitors looking for shortcuts, in particular, find themselves weaving around in circles so that they can no longer tell whether they’re heading south, east, north or west. The city tries to help by making custom street signs with multiple road names, all of which add a touch of intrigue, if not goofiness to the community.

Chicago’s had to get creative when erecting street signs in the Gladstone Park with so many roads veering off and merging at different angles as well as “broken” off by odd-shaped tracts of land. In this case the diagonal N. Elston directly meets W. Matson, which heads off at a different angle. The two streets below (N. McVicker and N. Meade) are “broken roads” that stem off N. Matson a few lots up from this intersection to where they both curve to meet N. Indian Road, which is also on the diagonal. (To get to the southern parts of N. McVicker and N. Meade, which are cut off by another rotated section of blocks about four blocks south across N Milwaukee as the crow flies, you’d have to make at least five turns on as many different roads.) Photo by Mina.

But instead of Gladstonians letting the perplexing road geography get them down, they somehow manage to turn most of the difficulties they present into assets. Perhaps the best example of this is how the neighborhood created two welcoming parks from the challenging situation produced by the most formidable intersection in the entire community at its southern entrance at W. Foster.

The first of these arose from the tangle of criss-crossing streets from where N. Northwest Highway and N. Milwaukee diverge out from each other at different angles and traverse over W. Foster, necessitating a succession of traffic lights at each of four closely-linked corners. When the chaos spawned two tiny triangles of land in its center, the community — out of practicality or perhaps humor — made them into Gateway Parks.

After installing welcome signs and metal benches, they planted trees, flowers and groundcovers. In 2019 this eastern pocket park became the location for the Volga public art installation that recognizes the Germans from Russia’s Volga River Valley who originally settled the area, building the Dutch Colonial houses for which the neighborhood is known. A new Pace Pulse Bus Stop is on the N. Milwaukee side of this property. Drivers traveling north see the “Welcome to Gladstone Park” sign on the eastern park’s corner while drivers traveling south see a companion “Welcome to Jefferson Park” in the opposing western pocket park.

N. Milwaukee and N. Northway Highway form a “V” at the southern entrance to the Gladstone Park community to where they intersect at the cross created by W. Foster (a parallel road) and N. Central (a perpendicular road). There are four traffic lights on each successive corner, making this the trickiest and most confusing intersection in Gladstone Park. Yet the neighborhood was able to take advantage of challenging circumstances by making the two tiny green triangles that form the “hourglass” at the center into Gateway Welcome Parks. The one facing drivers going north reads “Welcome to Gladstone Park” while the one facing the opposite direction reads “Welcome to Jefferson Park.” (The brown track at the southwest is the Metra’s Union Pacific/Northwest Rail Line; the double blue byway below it is the Kennedy Expressway.) Map courtesy of Google Satellite View.

See pictures of these pocket parks, including the Volga Art Installation in Schools, Parks, Churches, & Fraternal Organizations.

Likewise, an even more acutely-angled triangle formed by the merger of N. Milwaukee and N. Elston halfway north through the neighborhood became the second of the community’s welcome parks. The tiny Chopin Plaza was renamed in 2014 to honor the Polish composer and recognize the contributions of the many Poles who settled in the area, as documented by Heather Cherone of dna info CHICAGO. It boasts three flagpoles with American, Chicago and MIA flags and its trees are decorated with lights to celebrate Gladstone Park Christmas.

So while Gladstonians may make it difficult for visitors to drive into and out of the neighborhood with its confusing sets of traffic lights at entry and exit points at W. Foster, N. Elston, N. Northwest Highway and W. Devon, they make sure that once you’re inside there are only seven sets of stoplights to impede your movements. Three of these are on N. Elston: one at the N. Austin intersection and two at its merger with N. Milwaukee. Another four are on N. Milwaukee: one at the intersection at Bryn Mawr and three at the tricky confluence where its diagonal path creates a triangle by successively crossing W. Ardmore and W. Austin (which conform to the parallel/perpendicular grid system).

Just be warned about this last: you’ll take your life in your hands if you think you can sail through the yellow at W. Ardmore and then make it through the second set of traffic lights at the differently-angled W. Austin. The author has tried it and doesn’t recommend it to anyone. Likewise she doesn’t advocate anyone willingly drive directly from one side of the neighborhood across the slanted N. Milwaukee to the other without the benefit of a traffic light since many of the connecting roads take jogs and don’t present straight paths. The City of Chicago itself has recognized the hazards of driving across N. Milwaukee at certain locations, such as at the intersections with N. Marmora and W. Huntington, by making one side or the other into one-way streets, preventing crossings entirely at those places with “do not enter” signs.

Traffic lights at the intersection where the diagonal N. Milwaukee crosses the parallel and perpendicular W. Ardmore and N. Austin in quick succession. If the first set of lights is yellow, do not think you can sail through it and the second set further down the road that is seen in the distant background. W Ardmore and N. Austin, which do conform to the grid system, themselves intersect slightly west of this point. Photo by Mina.

One of the features that has made Gladstone Park streets easier to live with is the fact that few of them are so narrow or heavily trafficked that the city has only felt forced to convert them into one-ways as it has had to do in greater numbers in neighborhoods south and east. Also, only a handful of residential roads are so congested that they have felt the need to institute the restriction of permit parking.

But what Gladstonians most love to crow about is the fact there are none of the those parking meters Chicagoans love to hate in their neighborhood, making local shopping a relative breeze.

While Chicago’s alley system and parkways also profoundly affect the functionality and beautification of Gladstone Park’s streets by restricting car travel and service trucks to the rears of its houses, they are discussed in Vintage Home Living.