WICKER PARK — Right-turn lane closures, reducing parking spaces and eliminating bus stops while adding more pavement markings and space on the street for cyclists to gather at intersections are among several "pilot" changes coming to a 1.7-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue as soon as next month.
Officials say the changes are designed to make the Wicker Park and Bucktown thoroughfare safer for the thousands of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers who rely on the congested corridor.
At a public meeting on Wednesday, Mike Amsden, a Chicago Department of Transportation official, said the measures — part of the city's "Complete Streets" initiative — would include reducing speed limits to 20 miles-per-hour from 25; removing two right-turn "slip lanes" used by car drivers at the southwest corner of the Milwaukee and Damen intersection and at Ashland and Milwaukee Avenue; eliminating 32 car parking spaces; and removing two bus stops.
View all of the proposed changes here, or the bottom of this post.
• LANE REMOVALS: The right "slip lane" removal at the Ashland and Milwaukee intersection would still enable cars to turn right on Milwaukee Avenue to head north but not trucks (the turn would be too tight), and the loss of the slip lane at Wicker Park's main hub would prohibit all right turns by cars going south on Milwaukee Avenue, Amsden said.
Amsden said as many as 1,000 pedestrians cross the Damen and Milwaukee slip lane — separated from two other Damen traffic lanes by a triangular concrete island — during peak morning and evening hours, while city data collectors observed just 32 cars turning right at that spot during the same period.
Car drivers who need to go south on Milwaukee from northbound Damen could use alternative routes such as Wicker Park Avenue or Evergreen Street, Amsden suggested.
Cars will be restricted from turning right on Milwaukee when this lane is removed. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
Estimated to cost $200,000, the "low-cost, quick-hitting pilot improvements" as the transportation department calls the measures, will also add new crosswalks, though those would not be installed until late fall, while all the other planned changes would kick off in August.
• PARKING SPOTS: Amsden said there are approximately 375 existing parking spaces in the pilot focus area along Milwaukee Avenue between Division Street and Armitage Avenue. That means that the planned loss of 32 parking spaces would represent 8.5 percent of the existing parking spaces.
• BICYCLES: The plans do not include the bike lanes that many activists had been hoping to see — though, in front of a crowd of about 50 at the meeting in A.N. Pritzker School, 2009 W. Schiller St., Amsden said bike lanes could be under consideration in the next 10 years to coincide with larger and more costly street resurfacing and reconstruction projects.
The plans also include adding bright green pavement markings to aid left turns for cyclists trying to go west on the Bloomingdale Trail off of Milwaukee Avenue. Some one-quarter of cyclists headed north on Milwaukee Avenue try to make that left turn to get on the trail, Amsden said.
A left turn lane for northbound Milwaukee cyclists onto the Bloomingdale Trail's west ramp, plus painted pavement "bike boxes" at Milwaukee/Leavitt and larger curb "bump outs" for pedestrians are planned for the 1800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. [DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser]
The city also plans to combine two turn lanes into one on Wabansia Avenue going southbound toward Milwaukee Avenue in order to add room for a dedicated bike lane with paint markings on the side street.
These turn lanes at Wabansia and Milwaukee would be combined into one lane under the plans.
• BUS STOPS: Removing stops is aimed at reducing the potential of collision with bicyclists at certain corners along the corridor. The plans eliminate a southbound Milwaukee No. 66 bus stop at Milwaukee and Damen Avenue and another southeast bound No. 66 stop at Milwaukee and Ashland at the Polish Triangle.
Also, a cab stand currently on Milwaukee Avenue could be relocated to Ashland Avenue, Amsden said.
After the meeting, Ken Lee, an architect from Independence Park, who said he has been commuting year round down Milwaukee Avenue by bike, praised the coming changes.
"For several years I've been waiting, thinking when will it really happen, when will Milwaukee Avenue get better? The budget is what it is. I'd rather see this than nothing at all. If you go with bollards and paint markings, it can be removed if it doesn't work out. It's a great idea to try smaller, less expensive things first," Lee said.
Jim Merrell, advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance, which formed an online petition to call for dedicated bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, described the proposed changes as "a really good first step" — and emphasized the group will "keep pushing" for bike lanes.
Amsden cautioned that the designs presented on Wednesday were "not totally finalized" but folks can expect the changes to be officially announced soon in press releases and notifications through aldermanic offices and the the Wicker Park Bucktown Taxpayer No. 33 District, a volunteer-led group which hired a team of consultants to craft a vision for the growing Wicker Park and Bucktown neighborhoods.