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Protected Bike Lanes on Milwaukee a 'Top Priority' for Spring, City Says

By Alisa Hauser | March 21, 2013 12:40pm | Updated on March 21, 2013 4:05pm

WEST TOWN — Bringing two-way protected bike lanes to a nearly mile-long stretch of Milwaukee Avenue is a "top priority" for springtime construction, according to an official from the Chicago Department of Transportation.

CDOT spokesman Pete Scales confirmed Wednesday that the city was close to moving ahead with establishing protected bicycle lanes on an .85 mile stretch of Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston Avenue. 

Scales said that connecting Milwaukee — identified as a "Spoke Route" in the city's 2020 "Streets for Cycling" Plan — to existing barrier-protected bicycle lanes on Kinzie is expected to begin in May at a cost of $1.1 million.

The majority of the $1.1 million will be used for street resurfacing, Scales said,

According to CDOT, 40 percent of traffic on Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston during peak hours in 2012 was from cyclists.

Statistics from that same stretch of road from 2006-2010 reveal that bicycles and pedestrians were involved in two-thirds of crashes that resulted in injuries.

Improvements will begin with a resurfacing of Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston, followed by painting wider bicycle lanes on both sides of the road and installing "plastic poles or actual buffers depending on the needs of the street," Scales said.

Currently, there are "simple stripes" on Milwaukee, which will be widened by two feet to create more of a buffer between bikes, parking lanes and motorized traffic, Scales said.

Parking spaces and some loading zones will be removed or "rearranged" on some portions of the west side of Milwaukee to allow for the widening of the bike lanes, though "exact parking consolidation plans" have not been finalized, Scales said.

CDOT will fund the majority of the costs though $250,000 that will come from tax increment financing in the River West TIF district, Scales said.

While a community meeting to unveil the designs is planned for mid-April, CDOT has been "doing a ton of outreach" with businesses and working with neighborhood groups, the West Town Chamber of Commerce, residents and Ald. Walter Burnett's (27th) office, Scales said.

Scales described the feedback as "mainly positive."

Chris Dunstatter, 42, owner of 694 Wine & Spirits at 694 N. Milwaukee Ave., said that his business will be losing street side parking in front of his shop as well as a loading zone.

Dunstatter said the changes are "perfectly fine" because he's in the process of applying for a street side permit and hopes to have a sidewalk cafe in front of his shop that would not be possible with cars and buses parked in front of it.

"It's cool because we like the Naked Bike Ride and Critical Mass when they come by. We have no problem with it at all," Dunstatter said.

Though Chicago Silk Screening, at 882 N. Milwaukee Ave. just north of Elston, will not be affected by the protected lanes, plant manager Allen Shust, 66, said that he's concerned that Milwaukee south of Elston is "too congested" and may not be wide enough to fit protected bike lanes on both sides of the street.

"Not only that, the CTA has started to run double buses on Milwaukee.  It could be an accident waiting to happen," Shust said.

Kace Wakem, a representative from the West Town Chamber of Commerce's Special Service Area district, said her group does not have a formal position on the protected bike lanes. However, a meeting took place Sept. 26 where "business owners expressed concerns about loading zones and parking being taken away," she said.

Reggie Stewart, a spokesman for Burnett's office, said the alderman met with CDOT last week and  "supports the plan as long as it's a compromise for the residents, businesses and the bikers."

Meanwhile, CDOT and bike activists see the expansion of protected lanes as a step toward improved safety and have gathered more than 1,900 names on a petition calling for protected lanes on Milwaukee.

The Active Transportation Alliance launched the petition in response to the Illinois Department of Transportation's recent decision to halt plans for further protected bike lanes on state-run roads. 

Milwaukee Avenue is a city-run road.