GLADSTONE PARK — Proposals to remove a lane of traffic in each direction along Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park — which proponents said would improve traffic flow and reduce crashes — are dead, Ald. John Arena (45th) said Friday evening.
The fierce opposition to the project, which has become a major issue in the 45th Ward aldermanic election, would have required "extensive and costly" environmental studies that would have delayed the project and reduced its scope, Arena said.
Those delays could have jeopardized the federal grant expected to fund 80 percent of the $1.5 million project, Arena said.
"It is a trade off," Arena said. "We can't let the desire for the great defeat the good. This is the best way to move forward."
The project, which is being finalized by city engineers and is expected to start in the spring, will keep two lanes of travel in each direction along Milwaukee and expand the white buffered bike-lane pavement markings between Carmen and Elston avenues by reducing the center turn lane, Arena said.
A new westbound buffered bicycle lane will be created between Lawrence and the Kennedy Expressway where the narrower street will allow, Arena said.
New crosswalks will be installed throughout the two-mile stretch, traffic lights will be coordinated and existing crosswalks will be shortened to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the busy street used by about 20,000 cars a day.
In addition, intersections will be marked to alert drivers to the presence of bicycles, Arena said.
The decision to drop the lane-reduction plan was made recently by the Chicago Department of Transportation in consultation with his office, Arena said.
From 2008 to 2012, there were 910 crashes on the stretch of Milwaukee. More than 40 percent of the crashes that resulted in an injury involved a bicyclist or a pedestrian, according to a city study.
In addition, a traffic study conducted by city engineers found that 75 percent of drivers exceeded the 30 mph speed limit and 14 percent went faster than 40 mph.
However, the plan that keeps all four lanes of traffic on Milwaukee Avenue will have no measurable impact on vehicle safety along Milwaukee, and only a "minor positive" impact on pedestrian safety and bicyclists' safety and comfort, according to a city analysis.
However, it will still be a "vast improvement" over current conditions, Arena said.
"We're going to take these steps now and keep having the conversation," Arena said.
The project is a part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Complete Streets effort, which 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.
Arena said he was pushing city engineers to include more green space in the project, in an effort to "fill up" the "wide open" stretch of road in an effort to prompt drivers to slow down naturally.
However, businesses or community groups would have to agree to maintain those plants after the city installs them, Arena said.
Opponents of the proposal contended narrowing Milwaukee would snarl traffic and hurt neighborhood businesses in an area that has struggled for years to fill empty storefronts, but supporters said it would bring new life to both the Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park business districts by making them safer and more attractive for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Arena's announcement that Milwaukee Avenue will remain four lanes will undoubtedly ripple through the 45th Ward aldermanic election.
Chicago Police Lt. John Garrido, who is running against Arena in the Feb. 24 election, led the fight against the plan to reduce the number of lanes on Milwaukee Avenue.
Along with the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce, Garrido collected 4,000 signatures against the plan to reduce the number of lanes on Milwaukee Avenue.
Garrido said Friday evening he was pleased by the decision.
"Even though the alderman made it clear to us that he disagrees and has begrudgingly taken the lane reductions off the table, I am confident this is the best thing for our community as a whole," Garrido said.
Michelle Baert, who publishes a website and Facebook page filled with listings for family friendly activities as the 45th Ward Mom and is also running for alderman, said she also favored keeping Milwaukee Avenue four lanes because many families in the area rely on cars for transportation.
Candidate Michael Diaz, who works as an attorney for the state in the department that regulates banks, said he needed to learn more about the project. A bicyclist, Diaz said he favored making the road safer for all.
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