RIVER WEST — A curbside bike lane and "buffer-protected lanes" were among safety improvements added last week to a busy stretch of Milwaukee Avenue dubbed the "Hipster Highway" for the droves of commuting cyclists who use the corridor.
Still under construction along the route that connects Downtown and Wicker Park, Noble and Logan Squares, the curbside lanes are separated from a parking lane by a mix of concrete and white lane striping.
On Saturday, a driver approached the area and appeared to begin to parallel park but then ended up leaving without parking. It was unclear why the car left, although the new lanes require cars park a few feet into the street between concrete "end caps," a first in the city, according to Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman.
The new bike lane runs next to the curb, while cars park between the concrete caps or mini islands. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Similar lanes that require cars to park away from the curb have been installed across the city and are widely used by cyclists.
Albeit creating more space between moving cars and bikes, the new design also means that doors from parked cars could now open onto two lanes of traffic — into moving cars on one side and into bikes on the other.
"People on the passenger side won't look before they open the door. So many things to go wrong without [cars having a] curb," said Nourhy Beatriz, a Logan Square resident who saw a photo of the setup on Twitter.
Alisa Hauser discusses the new bike lane configuration:
When asked how car drivers and passengers will avoid running into cyclists and vice versa, Claffey said, "This is similar to other areas, they should be alert and exercise care — cross the bike lane when no bikes are present. The same goes for bike riders, they should be alert and exercise care at all times."
Called "parking end caps," the six concrete islands, located on Milwaukee Avenue between Chicago Avenue to the south and Racine to the north, are designed to "define parking lanes" and "prevent drivers from parking/standing/loading illegally," Claffey said.
Claffey said the recent work is part of a larger $325,000 project funded through a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant to improve road safety on Milwaukee between Elston Avenue and Division Street.
The project, which kicked off Aug. 17, is also bringing buffered protected bike lanes — "striped bike lanes between the parked cars and travel lanes, as you see in many areas," Claffey said — to Milwaukee north of the Kennedy to Division Street. The striped lane markers also create a passing lane for cyclists, said Steven Vance of Streetsblog Chicago.
"It will take another few weeks to wrap up. Striping and green pavement are still being worked on and bollards — short posts that are common along bike lanes to create a visual barrier — will be added, too, along with signs," Claffey said.
As a result of the new lanes, three parking spaces were lost but Claffey said the spots would have been lost even if just pavement markings and bollards were installed instead of the concrete end caps.
Sarah Caldwell, who lives in a condo building along the 800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue and has been a member of the city's Divvy bike share program for two years, said she welcomes the new curbside bike lanes even if the lanes are confusing at first.
"There's a ton of bikers here. It's a good thing. I have a garage so I don't have to worry about street parking. I purposely bike on roads where I know they have lanes," Caldwell said.
Talk of extending protected bike lanes north of Division Street on Milwaukee Avenue has long been floated. In 2013, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) asked local residents for an "advisory vote" on the matter, which was voted down due to the fact protected lanes could call for the reduction of more street parking, already a scarcity on the busy entertainment corridor backed with shops, bars and restaurants.
When asked if there are still plans to extend protected lanes on Milwaukee north of Division Street, Claffey said, "As Milwaukee Avenue is Chicago's busiest street for bicycling, CDOT will continue to evaluate opportunities to make it safer and more comfortable for people bicycling."
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