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Residents Not Happy with Plan to Ditch Parking for Protected Bike Lanes

By Alisa Hauser | May 1, 2013 12:05pm

RIVER WEST — Residents and business owners in the River West neighborhood worried about parking as designs for two-way protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue were presented on Tuesday.

A series of renderings for Milwaukee Avenue between Kinzie and Elston revealed that installing the lanes result in removing parking spots and loading zones, shrinking travel lanes shared by cars and buses, and reducing the width of remaining parking spots.

The near one-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue — a busy stretch of road that sees 500 cyclists per hour on average — will lose 50 percent of its on-street parking, according to David Smith, a planner who was contracted by the city to manage CDOT's Bikeways project. The project seeks to build 100 miles of protected bike lanes by 2015.

Smith said 55 to 60 spaces will be eliminated while 50 to 55 new spaces could be potentially found on side streets off of Milwaukee Avenue.

Options to find new parking included changing a side street from two-way to one-way for the propose of creating 10 new parking spots. 

On Erie Street between Milwaukee and Halsted, Smith said permit parking is "underutilized" and they could "modify residential permit parking to increase access to 25 spots."

"Our goal is to lose almost no parking for cars," Smith said.

Later in the meeting, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) Ward told attendees that, "They can't just take out permit parking. We'll need to discuss."

Nine of the spaces targeted for removal are metered spaces that would have to be relocated elsewhere in the 27th ward, Burnett said.

Resident John Bosca brought up an area of Hubbard Street off Milwaukee Avenue that planners say would provide off-street parking. Under a plan announced this week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, that area's meters, which now have to be fed until 9 p.m., will now have to be fed until midnight.

"I'm worried about the restaurants and bars and their customers," Bosca said.

The owner of a business on Milwaukee Avenue between Huron and Erie Streets said that his employees "already can't find a place to park" on Milwaukee and use side streets, which he said will become even more difficult to park on.

In the proposed plan, most of the nearly one mile stretch will have a curbside bike lane next to a plastic barrier post, then a parking lane. An 11-foot-wide lane of traffic will be shared by cars, buses and trucks.

One segment — between Hubbard and Ohio Streets — would offer traditional curbside parking located next to a bike lane, then a two-foot-wide buffer lane marked by painted stripes on the roadway, then a 10-foot-wide lane of traffic.

In addition to the bike lanes, two dangerous intersections will be improved, including adding pedestrian countdown signals.

Chicago, Milwaukee and Ogden avenues will have better markings, high visibility crosswalks, bike lanes that run to the intersection and "bike boxes" distinguished by colored pavement where cyclist can queue up. 

The Milwaukee and Elston intersection will have a bright green bike lane, an extended turn lane and a bike signal with a right turn arrow. 

The most hotly contested topic was the banning of a right-hand turn for cars traveling onto Grand from Milwaukee Avenue, so that a bike lane can run to the intersection.

While a city planner said there's "not that many cars turning" onto Grand, Gil Semmer, the owner of Color Image print shop at 461 N. Milwaukee Ave. interjected with, "I am there 14 hours a day. People are turning there!"

A man in the audience grumbled: "We're giving up our streets to cyclists."

While travel lanes for vehicles will shrink by as much as 7-feet on some stretches, Michael Amsden, a CDOT consultant, said that shrinking a street's width slows down traffic by an average of 2 to 3 miles per hour.

Buses, too, will be affected.

On Milwaukee Avenue between Erie and Ohio Street, buses and bikes currently share a 13-feet of lane on each side of the road. In the proposed plan, buses would lose their lane and have to travel with cars, while bikes would get nine-feet of dedicated lanes on each side of the road with three-feet of buffer between traffic.

"Buses are weaving in and out. Bicycles are weaving in and out. How does that work?" asked one resident.

The resident expressed safely concerns over the bus having to cross into the new bike lane to drop or pick up passengers.

Amsden said buses and bikes sharing a lane is "not an ideal situation but right now it's the best we can do."

Burnett suggested that CDOT "try to see if there's some money to do a parking study."

Burnett said he worked with residents to restrict parking to one side of the street on Ohio because "people couldn't see as they were pulling out of their garages because of the parked cars."

While Burnett said he generally supports most of the project, his role is to "make them understand some of the concerns" [the residents have]."

The $1.1 million project is expected to begin May 13 with a resurfacing of the street followed by installation of lanes in mid-June.  CDOT will fund the majority of the costs though $250,000 that will come from tax increment financing in the River West TIF district.

After the meeting, Smith was unable to say whether the off-street parking would be secured prior to the project beginning and the on-street parking being lost.

"We're working with Burnett on solutions, it's ongoing," Smith said.