WICKER PARK — An online petition calling for bike lanes and other safety measures along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park and Bucktown has garnered almost 900 signatures since launching last week, according to an organizer from advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance.
"As [the Chicago Department of Transportation], local aldermen, and the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area work to develop a series of low-cost, near term improvements to Milwaukee Avenue, we implore them to use the opportunity to think big," says the petition, which was sparked by the fact that improvements are scheduled to be rolled out at the Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues intersection by the end of the summer.
None of the planned improvements include dedicated bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, a busy hub for cyclists that sees thousands of cyclists daily and is deemed a "spoke route" in the city's "Streets for Cycling" plan to build a network of protected bike lanes.
Milwaukee Avenue now has white bike lane pavement markings between Division Street and Armitage Avenue, but no buffers or barriers between cyclists and cars; only a "sharrow" — or shared lane for bikes and cars — exists.
The lack of dedicated space for cyclists has resulted in what some are calling "a dooring epidemic," with crashes between bikes and cars happening on a frequent basis.
A rally to support the petition, "Mobilizing for a Safer Milwaukee Avenue," is set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday at Arc'teryx, an outdoor apparel shop at 1630 N. Damen Ave. Revolution Brewery will provide free beer at the rally.
Jim Merrell, advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance, said the group will continue to collect signatures in advance of the next public meeting to discuss the planned city improvements, scheduled for sometime in mid-July.
"For so many people, dealing with unsafe conditions for biking and walking on Milwaukee is a stressful experience they encounter on a daily basis. People are eager to support safer bike lanes and improved crosswalks. We also want to send a message on need for safety improvements for people on foot, particularly at the North/Milwaukee/Damen intersection, which is one of the more dangerous intersections in the city," Merrell said.
In a blog post to promote the petition, Merrell calls Milwaukee Avenue in the Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods "one of the busiest streets for walking and biking in the entire city."
The petition calls for "bold actions" to make the busy corridor safer, such as adding new bike lanes that eliminate the risk of doorings — when a cyclist collides with an opening car door — along with other common crashes. Other proposed measures include reducing speed limits to 20 miles per hour or less and adding more space for people walking and biking at intersections along Milwaukee Avenue.
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 transportation department official Mike Amsden referred to as "vulnerable roadway users" at a public meeting in May.
Among the more dramatic ideas to help improve safety: removing the right turn or "slip lane" used by car drivers who head north on Damen Avenue to turn onto Milwaukee Avenue at the southwest corner of the intersection.
Adding protected bike lanes and eliminating a lane of parking were other suggestions offered by cyclists in May, though Amsden said that could be a challenge because the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between Division Street and Armitage Avenue is very narrow compared to other sections of the street.
"There are 13,000 cars using varying parts of Milwaukee per day on average and about 5,000 bikes," Amsden previously said.
Merrell said that the Active Transportation Alliance hopes the recommended improvements the city is working on right now will include better bikeways throughout the entire corridor.
"While we’ve seen some improvements on the southern end of Milwaukee Avenue [closer to Downtown], we know a lot more needs to be done to meet the goal set out in the city’s plan," Merrell said, adding, "Our ultimate goal is for all of Milwaukee Avenue to be safe and comfortable for people on foot, bike, or transit."
Some of the design improvements that Amsden said could be rolled out as soon as late summer are adding higher visibility crosswalks with new paint, installing 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.