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Milwaukee Ave. Bike Lanes Could Reduce Traffic to 1 Lane in Each Direction

  Two of the three city-crafted plans include reducing Milwaukee Avenue to one lane in each direction.
Milwaukee Avenue Bike Lanes
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GLADSTONE PARK — Two of three city-crafted proposals to improve the flow of traffic and reduce crashes along Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park would include the removal of one lane of traffic in each direction, city officials said Monday.

The removal of the traffic lanes could allow for protected bicycle lanes along the two-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence and Elston avenues, which has been plagued by car crashes and is difficult to cross on foot, officials said.

“We need to make that road safer,” said Owen Brugh, chief of staff to Ald. John Arena (45th).

The issue of protected bike lanes could spill over to the aldermanic race:

The plans, which are designed to reduce the average speed along Milwaukee Avenue to 30 mph, will be unveiled during a community meeting scheduled for July 2, the alderman’s office announced. City officials will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each plan, and gather feedback at the meeting, Arena said.

In January, a community meeting about the proposed project erupted in catcalls, boos and jeers from residents of the area who said there was no need for new bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue and that they said would snarl traffic and hurt neighborhood businesses.

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 funded by federal grants.

There have been 970 crashes, including one fatal incident, and 17 that caused serious injuries along this stretch of road, according to city officials in January.

While Arena has not endorsed a plan to reduce the number of lanes along Milwaukee Avenue, he had 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 proposal to build bike lanes along Milwaukee Avenue is sure to be an issue in next year’s aldermanic race in the 45th Ward.

Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who narrowly lost to Arena in the last election and is challenging him again, launched an online petition to urge city officials not to reduce the number of traffic lanes on Milwaukee Avenue. The petition has 756 online signatures.

The Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce said it would oppose any plan that reduces the number of lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, eliminates parking in front of businesses or reduces access to driveways and curbs. More than 5,000 people have signed Garrido’s petition, according to a statement from the chamber.

However, another petition, launched by longtime Chicago bike activist and member of the Active Transportation Alliance Robert Kastigar, asserts that removing one lane for vehicular traffic in each direction will make the road safer for pedestrians, children, senior citizens, the disabled and bicyclists and not hinder traffic. It has 575 online signatures.

Milwaukee Avenue now has white bike-lane pavement markings between Lawrence and Elston avenues but no buffers or barriers between cyclists and cars.

The Complete Streets plan 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.

To make that happen, Milwaukee Avenue may need to go on a “road diet” with one lane of travel eliminated in each direction, according to city traffic engineers.

All three plans include more high-visibility and shortened crosswalks along Milwaukee Avenue, as well as 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. Such changes could also result in fewer parking spaces along Milwaukee Avenue, officials said.

Other possibilities for the project include road resurfacing, new traffic signals coordinated to smooth the flow of traffic and new turning lanes, officials said. In addition, spaces for buses to pull out of the flow of traffic could be built to reduce backups while passengers board and disembark, officials said.

The meeting will take place from 5-8 p.m. July 2 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W Lawrence Ave.