Milwaukee Avenue Bike Lane Plans: 'Nobody Wants This,' Neighbor Says

By Heather Cherone on July 3, 2014 8:00am 

Slideshow
  The three proposals unveiled Wednesday aim to improve safety along Milwaukee Avenue, proponents said.
Plans Revealed for Bike Lanes
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JEFFERSON PARK — Proposals to remove a lane of traffic in each direction along Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park — which proponents said would improve traffic flow and reduce crashes — drew an angry response from several hundred people Wednesday evening.

Two of three proposals for Milwaukee between Lawrence and Elston avenues unveiled by city officials Wednesday at a community meeting would reduce the street from four to two lanes in an effort to slow traffic to make the road safer for pedestrians, cyclists and those using public transportation.

But opponents said narrowing Milwaukee would snarl traffic and hurt neighborhood businesses in an area that has struggled for years to fill empty storefronts.

"Nobody wants this," said Henry Bowman, 42, who lives near Milwaukee and Austin avenues in Gladstone Park. "It is being rammed down our throats."

Heather Cherone explains why some residents are so upset with the plan:

But others said new buffered or protected bike lanes were needed to bring new life to both the Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park business districts.

"There are a lot of reasons to go up to Gladstone Park," said Joe Sislow, who often bikes to and from his Portage Park home. "I would love to be able to ride up there and not have to drive."

The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to spend $1.5 million along this stretch of road, which about 20,000 drivers use every day. Eighty percent of the project is being paid for by federal grants.

Another community meeting will take place later this summer once the project is finalized, with construction scheduled to be completed in 2015, officials said.

Milwaukee between Lawrence Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway is already two lanes, which limits potential changes there.

Along that stretch, plans call for rush-hour parking bans to be lifted and painted buffered bike lanes between Higgins and Gale avenues. Additional turning lanes, coordinated traffic signals and a pedestrian refuge island at the Jefferson Park Transit Center are also part of the proposal.

Attendees at the meeting were asked to weigh in on three options for Milwaukee between the Kennedy  and Elston Avenue. 

• Option A would keep two lanes of travel in each direction along Milwaukee and expand the white buffered bike-lane pavement markings between Lawrence and Elston by reducing the center turn lane.

• Option B would eliminate one lane of travel in each direction while expanding the buffered bike lanes.

• Option C would eliminate one lane of travel in each direction and create bike lanes protected from traffic by a parking lane as well as islands for people waiting for CTA buses.

Option A would have no measurable impact on vehicle safety along Milwaukee, and only a "minor positive" impact on pedestrian safety and bicyclists' safety and comfort, according to a city analysis. The only "negative impact" it would have would be the reduction in the width of the center turning lane, the analysis said.

Option B would have a "negative impact" on the capacity of the street, but have a "positive impact" on pedestrian safety, bicyclists' safety and comfort as well as vehicle safety, the analysis said.

Option C would have a "major positive impact" on bicycle safety and comfort as well as a "positive impact" on pedestrian and vehicle safety, the analysis said.

It would also have a "major negative impact" on the number of on-street parking spaces, reducing them by 20 percent, according to city officials. The proposal would also have a "minor negative impact" on the width of the center turning lane as well as the capacity of the road.

Eliminating one lane of traffic in each direction would only slightly increase travel times for drivers, according to a city study.

All three options include coordinated traffic lights, more high-visibility and shortened crosswalks along Milwaukee, as well as pedestrian refuge islands that would give those on foot a safe place to wait if they are unable to make it all the way across the street. 

After viewing a 15-minute presentation and several exhibits, Chris Gurney, 57, who lives near Austin and Foster avenues, said she was more opposed to the project than she was before the meeting.

"We hate it," Gurney said, referring to her friends and family. "They should leave the four lanes alone. I don't think the bike lanes should be on Milwaukee Avenue at all."

But Tony Assimos, who bikes to work Downtown every day from Jefferson Park, said he thought the divide was generational, with younger people more comfortable with the concept of bicycles being used as transportation, not just for fun.

"There are a lot of angry people here," Assimos said, shaking his head. "The idea is not just to help bikers, but to make it safer for everyone. It is dangerous out there."

From 2008 to 2012, there were 910 crashes on the stretch of Milwaukee. More than 40 percent of the crashes that resulted in an injury involved a bicyclist or a pedestrian, according to a city study.

In addition, a traffic study conducted by city engineers found that 75 percent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit and 14 percent went faster than 40 mph.

Ald. John Arena (45th) said he had not decided which proposal to support, but said residents should have more choices in how they travel, whether by car, bike or by foot — a key goal of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Complete Streets project. The project is designed to "ensure that everyone — pedestrians, transit users, bicyclists and motorists — can travel safely and comfortably along and across a street," according to the city.

"I want to craft a solution to address the problems that I know we have," Arena said. "We need a holistic approach."

Reducing the speed of cars along Milwaukee to "reasonable levels" will encourage people to shop locally by allowing businesses to have greater visibility and making pedestrians more comfortable, Arena said.

"We have an awful lot of roadway here," Arena said. "We can share it."

Arena, who spent nearly three hours discussing the proposals at the meeting, was harshly criticized by some of those in attendance. Several shouted at him to drop plans to run for re-election next year, and lobbed personal attacks at him.

Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido and Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce President Dave Wians presented city officials with what they said were petitions signed by more than 4,000 people opposed to the proposal to reduce the number of lanes along Milwaukee.

Garrido, who narrowly lost to Arena in the last election and is challenging him again in next year's election, said there were other ways to reduce cars' speed along Milwaukee than eliminating traffic lanes.

Wians said the proposals were a misguided effort to turn Gladstone Park into Wicker Park.

"This area is on the upswing," Wians said. "A lot of good things are going on. We don't need this."

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