Bike lanes may replace Milwaukee traffic lanes
by BRIAN NADIG
The landscape of Milwaukee Avenue in the Gladstone Park commercial corridor would be transformed under a proposal that calls for eliminating one lane of traffic in each direction and installing bike lanes along the curb.
Other proposed changes include installing high-visibility crosswalks, bus transit islands and a continuous left-turn lane in the middle of the roadway. The changes would be part of the "Chicago Complete Streets" initiative, which has the goal of creating healthier and safer modes of transportation.
The project would run along a 2-mile stretch of Milwaukee from Lawrence Avenue on the south to Elston Avenue on the north. About $1.2 million in federal funds and $300,000 from the 45th Ward’s discretionary fund and the Jefferson Park Tax Increment Financing District would be used to pay for the project, and a separate program would pay for the street resurfacing portion of the project.
Alderman John Arena (45th) and city Department of Transportation project consultant John Wirtz discussed the project at the Jan. 3 meeting of the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce. A similar presentation will be made at the meeting of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce at 8:15 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 9, at the Gale Street Inn, 4914 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Arena also will hold a community meeting on the project at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 13, at Saint Tarcissus Church, 6020 W. Ardmore Ave., and meetings with smaller groups of business owners also will be held to discuss specific sections of the project, including the 4900 block of Milwaukee, where some street parking could be eliminated.
Modifications to the plan could be made based on the feedback from the meetings, Wirtz said. "It’s looking at all roadway users," he said. "We are really in the early stages of this."
Plans call for the installation of either a buffered-protected or barrier-protected bike lane that would run along the curb on each side of the street where feasible. In Gladstone Park the bike lane would be buffered by a parking lane that would run between the bike lane and the traffic lane, and in some areas, spokes or other barriers may be used to further separate the bike lane from parked cars.
The Gladstone Park corridor currently has 5-foot-wide bike lanes that run between the parking and traffic lanes, but the protected bike lanes would be several feet wider, Wirtz said. One of the problems of the existing lanes is that bicyclists are riding too close to parked cars, he said.
Under the proposal, Milwaukee would be reduced from a four-lane roadway to two-lane street to accommodate the wider bike lanes. However, four lanes could remain at some major intersections, and the existing painted median on Milwaukee would be converted to a continuous left-turn lane that would accommodate traffic in both directions, Wirtz said.
It is believed that having one lane of traffic in each direction would be sufficient to handle the current volume of traffic from Foster to Elston, Wirtz said. He said that lane reductions are not planned for the Milwaukee-Devon intersection, where the project would be expanded at a later date.
Plans are being made to maintain as much of the existing parking on Milwaukee as possible, Wirtz said. The department recently found that two-thirds of the street parking on Milwaukee is being used during the daytime.
The project at some intersections also calls for the use of bump-outs that would project from the curb, shortening the distances of crosswalks and allowing for a shorter red light for traffic, Wirtz said. Bump-outs are planned for the Milwaukee-Ardmore intersection, where pedestrians must walk 130 feet to cross Milwaukee, he said.
In addition, the use of transit islands would be considered for some areas, allowing commuters to wait on a raised median that would be located several feet from a curb. The island would allow the bike lane to continue along the curb.
Some chamber members expressed concern that the lane reductions would impede traffic flow and questioned whether the existing bike lanes are not sufficient given the relatively low number of bicyclists that they see outside their businesses. The chamber has requested that it be given a copy of the project’s traffic study when it is completed.
Arena said that the safety improvements should attract more bicyclists and pedestrians to the commercial corridor, creating a larger customer base for area businesses. "If you build it, they will come," he said. "People won’t come into an area that they don’t feel comfortable with."
Arena said that the 78-foot-width of Milwaukee is conducive to speeding and that if the project can address that problem, it would be beneficial to the commercial district. He said that diners do not like to eat at an outdoor cafe with cars speeding by and that motorists would more easily notice stores along Milwaukee if they are driving slower.
About 24 percent of the up to 19,900 vehicles which use the targeted stretch of Milwaukee each day are speeding, according to city transportation department data. Also, from 2008 to 2012, 41 percent of accidents with an injury involved a pedestrian or bicyclists, and those crashes made up 5 percent of the total number of accidents.
There is a lot of "unused real estate" on Milwaukee based on the traffic counts," Wirtz said.
Concerns also were raised about the city’s ability to plow the buffered bike lanes during the winter, as pictures of snow-covered bike lanes in the Loop were presented at the meeting. Wirtz said that the city has specialized plow equipment for bike lanes.
Some chamber members said after the meeting that having parking lanes away from the curb would make it difficult to drop off elderly people and suggested that one bike lane which can accommodate riders in both directions be installed instead of a separate lane in each direction. The corridor has many more service-oriented businesses than retail stores.
The project is being coordinated with Pace, which is considering increasing bus service along Milwaukee from the Jefferson Park CTA terminal to the Golf Mill shopping center in Niles, Arena said. The enhancements are part of the transit agency’s "Vision 2020" plan which identified 24 corridors that will receive frequent, all-day service and buses with on-board WiFi.