Merchants wary of bike lane plan


The elimination of traffic and parking lanes on Milwaukee Avenue as part of a bike lane project would not necessarily worsen traffic congestion, according to the city Department of Transportation.

Project bike liaison Nate Roseberry said at the Jan. 9 meeting of the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce that better traffic signal coordination could prevent an increase in traffic backups even if traffic lanes were removed. It is not unusual for southbound Milwaukee traffic at Lawrence Avenue to be backed up for 3 1/2 blocks in the evening rush hour.

"We are looking at something like a ‘road diet,’ where acceptable," Roseberry said. "You can get more traffic through in a single lane."

A variety of changes along Milwaukee Avenue in Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park are being considered to allow the installation of protected bike lanes as part of the "Chicago Complete Streets" program. Where feasible, the bike lanes would run along the curb, with parking to the outside, and a barrier such as spokes or concrete would separate the bike lane from the parking lane.

In Jefferson Park, the installation of 9-foot-wide protected bike lanes are being considered for the 4900 block of Milwaukee, possibly requiring the removal of about 18 metered parking spaces between Gale Street and the bridge over the Kennedy Expressway. The parking lanes are used as traffic lanes during rush hour when parking restrictions are in effect.

At a recent meeting with project officials and Alderman John Arena (45th), several merchants expressed concern that removing parking would be detrimental to their businesses, and one owner said that would move his business elsewhere if the street parking is eliminated.

In Gladstone Park, the department is looking at reducing the street from two lanes of traffic to one lane in each direction, with a continuous left-turn lane in the middle of the roadway. The lane reduction would allow for a bike lane along the curb, with the parking lane located about 10 feet from the curb.

Attorney Chester Przybylo, whose office is at 5339 N. Milwaukee Ave., said that 70 percent of his clients are elderly and that it very difficult for them to reach his office if they cannot be dropped off at the curb. He also expressed concern whether city plows could adequately remove snow that fall between the spokes.

Some merchants said that parking demand and traffic would increase if a new automobile dealership opens at 5373 N. Milwaukee Ave., where Gateway Chevrolet closed about 3 years ago. Numerous dealer cars recently were parked on the site.

Roseberry that that the project would balance the needs of all roadway users, with the goal of providing more travel options. He said that safer bike lanes may encourage a residents who usually drive to the Loop to instead ride a bicycle to the Jefferson Park CTA terminal or Metra station. A station for the Divvy bike rental program is being considered for the terminal.

Bicyclists make up 1 to 2 percent of area roadway users, and when protected bike lanes are installed, the number of bicyclists increases by 50 to 100 percent, according to the department.

Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce president David Wians said that the project would be "a bridge to nowhere" given that there are no immediate plans to install protected bike lanes on Milwaukee south of Lawrence, where the roadway narrows.

Arena said that the roadway improvements eventually may be extended further south but that methods of improving bicycle and pedestrian safety will vary depending in part on the width of the street. He said that designated shared lanes for bikes and cars sometimes are used on narrow streets and that they currently exist in some areas of Jefferson Park.

Roseberry said that the Milwaukee-Ainslie intersection is one area where bike lines appear unlikely due to the narrowness of the street and the high number of turning vehicles in that area. In the same block, Lawrence, Ainslie Street and Higgins Avenue each intersect Milwaukee.

Roseberry said that a formal proposal for the $1.5 million project will be made after more community feedback is gathered. He said that the earliest construction could start is late fall.