GLADSTONE PARK — The debate over a plan to improve the flow of traffic and reduce crashes along Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park has sparked two online petitions designed to influence the project still being crafted by city officials.
Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who narrowly lost to Ald. John Arena (45th) in the last election and is weighing a rematch next year, said he launched the petition objecting to the proposal for protected bike lanes between Lawrence and Elston avenues in response to a request from dozens of Gladstone Park residents.
"This is my neighborhood," said Garrido, who is also a lawyer. "My house is six houses from Milwaukee near Austin. This will affect me."
Garrido said his petition was not designed to stop the entire project, but to tell Arena and city engineers that residents do not want protected bike lanes along this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue because it would cause "bumper-to-bumper" traffic and hurt businesses by blocking deliveries and removing parking spaces.
"There's a lot that should be done along Milwaukee Avenue," Garrido said. "We just don't want the bike lanes."
Arena heard much the same message at a raucous Jan. 14 community meeting designed to allow traffic engineers to gather information about how best to spend $1.5 million along this stretch of road, which about 20,000 drivers use daily. Eighty percent of the project is being funded by federal grants.
About 470 people have signed Garrido's petition, while nearly 290 people have signed Kastigar's petition.
While Arena has not endorsed the proposal for protected bike lanes along Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park, he has said residents should have more choices in how they travel, whether by car, bike or by foot — a key goal of Emanuel's plan.
Chicago Department of Transportation officials will determine the best use of the roadway, and Arena will decide whether to support or oppose the plan once it is complete, said Owen Brugh, Arena's chief of staff.
"We're still in the process of gathering input," Brugh said.
Garrido, who said he was closer to announcing his plans for the 2015 aldermanic race, said many of his neighbors in Gladstone Park have told him they thought the removal of one lane of traffic in each direction to allow protected bike lanes to be built was a foregone conclusion.
"I want to believe that it is not a done deal and that our opinion does matter," Garrido said, adding that the project should be tailored to meet the community's preferences.
Brugh said the project was needed to improve safety along Milwaukee Avenue.
Earlier this week, two men died in a crash at Milwaukee and Elston avenues after the SUV in which they were riding struck two fences before flipping on its side and hitting a light pole. A Chicago Police Department spokesman said Wednesday the cause of the crash was still under investigation.
Over the last five years there have been 970 crashes, including 17 that caused serious injuries and one other death, along this stretch of road, city data show.
The elimination of one lane of travel in each direction on Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence and Elston avenues, which is now five lanes including a turning lane in the center, could reduce crashes by 30 percent by forcing drivers to slow down, making it easier for pedestrians to get around and making it safer for bicyclists by giving them a protected lane to travel in, separated from vehicles, city engineers said.
Garrido said he supported other changes suggested by city engineers, including road resurfacing, new traffic signals coordinated to improve the flow of traffic and better-defined — but not protected with spokes or other physical barriers — bike lanes.
Milwaukee Avenue now has white bike-lane pavement markings between Lawrence and Elston avenues but no buffers or barriers between cyclists and cars.
While Garrido said he would support the creation of pedestrian refuge islands that would give those on foot a safe place to wait if they were unable to make it all the way across the street, city engineers said the road was not wide enough to accommodate the islands and four lanes of traffic.
Another community meeting will be held in the spring, once the scope of the project has been finalized, city officials said. The earliest construction could start would be late this fall or early spring 2015.