WICKER PARK — Improvements coming to Wicker Park's main intersection by late summer aim to curb the chaotic mix of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers and make the Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues hub less confusing — and less dangerous.
"We've seen people cross from all over the place," Chicago Department of Transportation official Mike Amsden told a crowd of just under 100 people Tuesday night at a public feedback meeting in A.N. Pritzker School's auditorium, 2009 N. Schiller St.
Among the design improvements that Amsden said could be rolled out as soon as late summer are adding higher visibility crosswalks with new paint and putting posts or bollards on the road to create a separation between cars and bikes, and installing "bump outs" or extra curb space to reduce pedestrian crossing distances.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), relaying a story about standing at the intersection for close to an hour and observing "numerous close calls" between cars and bikes, declared the intersection "a safety hazard."
"This is a regional transportation hub that all Chicagoans pass through for a variety of reasons. Every journey starts with a first step. [The city] recognizes it needs to be fixed," Hopkins said.
With a city budget of about $150,000 before other sources such as aldermanic infrastructure money from the three wards that touch the intersection, the design improvements are "low-cost, quick-hit pilot projects," though if successful could be part of a longer term solution for the intersection, said Amsden, assistant director of transportation planning for the transportation department.
From 2010-2014, the Milwaukee-Damen-North intersection saw 1,097 reported crashes. Some 68 percent of the injuries from those crashes were suffered by cyclists and pedestrians, whom Amsden referred to as "vulnerable roadway users."
Among the more dramatic ideas to help improve safety is removing the right turn or "slip lane" used by car drivers who head north on Damen to turn onto Milwaukee Avenue at the southwest corner of the intersection.
"Does it make sense to close the slip lane?" Amsden asked.
Amsden said "there are huge numbers of pedestrians" — as many as 1,000 crossing during morning and evening rush hours. City data collectors saw 32 right turns from cars in the slip lane during peak morning and evening hours.
The city is mulling the idea of removing this "slip lane" right turn lane for cars and replacing it with more curb space for pedestrians. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Before and after Amsden's presentation, attendees met with city representatives to say what they would like to see change at the Milwaukee, Damen and North intersection, as well as the Milwaukee and Armitage avenues intersection and Milwaukee Avenue and Wood Street.
One intersection user wrote "don't ticket bikers for crossing with walk signals," referring to the police ticketing cyclists who try to beat the light and get a head start on cars by crossing from the northwest corner of the intersection on Milwaukee to Damen.
Amsden said during peak hours, two-third of cyclists — who represent 40 percent of the traffic — cross with the pedestrians rather than with the cars.
Jim Bethune, who plans to move to Bucktown next week, said he currently bikes through the Milwaukee, Damen and North intersection a few times a month but after his move will be passing through at least once daily.
"Going down Milwaukee between Division and Damen is a nightmare. I bought a helmet cam[era] after a coworker was doored last winter," Bethune said.
Lisa Vanausdall, who lives in Logan Square, said she recently got her bike fixed after being in a dooring accident a few months ago near Milwaukee and Fullerton avenues. Though Vanausdall said she did not suffer major injuries in the dooring crash, another friend was hospitalized recently after a bike crash and Vanausdall said she stopped biking "in solidarity."
But with the weather warming up, Vanausdall and others at the meeting said they were already biking more and experiencing more "close calls" and dangerous situations.
"I am an avid bicyclist, and a public infrastructure advocate and close enough to the bike community that it really hurts when someone dies because uninformed drivers don't look out for others on the road," Vanausdall said.
Adding protected bike lanes and eliminating a lane of parking was another improvement suggested by cyclists, though Amsden said that could be a challenge because the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Division Street and Western Avenue is very narrow compared to other sections of Milwaukee.
"There are 13,000 cars using varying parts of Milwaukee per day on average and about 5,000 bikes," Amsden said.
Possibly eliminating some individual loading zones in favor of creating "shared loading zones" could free up more space for cyclists who must navigate between delivery trucks and cars, Amsden said.
Amsden told attendees that the feedback received Tuesday will help inform some of the improvements, which will be formerly presented around mid-July and implemented by late summer.
Pamela Maas, executive director of the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, said after the meeting the business community, particularly shop owners on Milwaukee Avenue, should come to the mid-July follow-up with transportation department officials.
View the presentation delivered at Tuesday's meeting.