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Wicker Park Group Balks at Ditching Parking for Bike Lanes on Milwaukee

By Alisa Hauser | April 10, 2013 11:35am

WICKER PARK — Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park gets plenty of bike traffic, but one influential neighborhood group says the city shouldn't add protected bike lanes on the street at the expense of parking spots.

Members of the Wicker Park Committee recently voted 15-8 against adding protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Division Street and North Avenue, group president Teddy Varndell said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) had asked the group to take the advisory vote on installing the protected lanes, which would use physical barriers to separate bikers from traffic and would require the elimination of street parking on one or both sides of the street.

Milwaukee now has white bike lane pavement markings between Division and North but no buffers or barriers between cyclists and cars.

Ed Tamminga, the committee's membership chairman, said as a biker he appreciates the city's efforts to promote cycling, but eliminating parking would not serve merchants well.

"They need to find a way to get the bike lanes and the cars to coexist. Most folks end up having a biker friend that has been injured. I would like to see some serious fines for 'dooring' bikers, maybe a $1,000 fine to get people to look out their rearview mirror before they open their door."

Lee Crandell, campaign manager for the Active Transportation Alliance cyclist advocacy group, said the city's Streets for Cycling 2020 Plan calls for studying protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Elston Avenue and Devon Avenue.

By the end of 2020, the plan would like Milwaukee to be one of a half dozen "spoke routes" into downtown, Crandell said.

"It doesn't mean the city has a plan or a drawing board. We'd just like to see the process moving forward," Crandell said.

While the Chicago Department of Transportation is moving ahead with building protected lanes on an .85-mile stretch of Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston in West Town this summer, department spokesman Pete Scales said Tuesday the stretch of Milwaukee in Wicker Park "is not as wide as it is farther south," and it might not be feasible to put bike lanes in there.

"We’re going to be evaluating it as we repave Milwaukee" this summer, Scales said.

The Active Transportation Alliance has collected 2,400 online signatures in support of the protected lanes on Milwaukee.

While Crandell said protected bike lanes are good for merchants and cited a November study in which retailers on 9th Avenue in New York City reported a 49 percent increase in sales after protected bike lanes were installed, area business owners expressed concern.

"It would kill the merchants. For the sake of bikes you're disturbing vehicle and pedestrian traffic.  What are you going to do, walk a block and a half to cross the street? ... Why don't we create a second level bike lane that goes over the streets like the "L" tracks?" said Kevin O'Donnell, owner of Pint Bar, 1547 N. Milwaukee Ave.

O'Donnell, who has owned Pint for nine years, said parking is already tough on Milwaukee, "a corridor rich with retail and restaurants."

Waguespack and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) are among 15 alderman who have supported the Active Transportation Alliance's Neighborhood Bikeways Campaign, which seeks to bring 100 miles of protected bike lanes to the city by 2015.

Waguespack spokesman Paul Sajovec said there's no formal proposal yet for the protected bike lanes in Wicker Park, and said the Wicker Park Committee's vote was the alderman's first attempt to get feedback.

Sajovec said Waguespack supports protected lanes where appropriate, but "if you drastically reduce the number of on-street parking there will be pressure to have off-street parking," which would take away land that otherwise could be developed.

"It's fair to say there's a concern that's what required to achieve protected lanes is eliminating 50 percent of on-street parking, and is that tradeoff a good one? We're trying to dip toes in the water and figure out whether or not there's support for significant reductions in on-street parking," Sajovec said.