Residents skeptical on proposal for bike lanes


A proposal to install barrier-protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue at the expense of traffic lanes was not well received at a Jan. 13 community meeting at Saint Tarcissus School that was attended by about 300 people.

None of the approximately 25 audience members who spoke at the 2-hour meeting voiced support for the project, although several said that they would welcome the crosswalk improvements which would be part of the $1.5 million project. The "Chicago Streets" project is intended to create safer travel options for all roadway users.

Representatives of the Chicago Department of Transportation presented the concept of a "road diet," which would reduce Milwaukee Avenue from two lanes of traffic to one lane in each direction in the Gladstone Park commercial district, with a continuous left-turn lane in the middle of the roadway. That change would allow for a bike lane along the curb.

Some residents characterized the current conditions of the 78-foot-wide Milwaukee between Foster Avenue and Devon Avenue as a breath of fresh air in a city where many streets are narrow and congested. One woman said that southbound Milwaukee at Devon can be backed up for several blocks during rush hour but that traffic starts moving when she reaches the Gladstone Park area.

The project would run between Lawrence Avenue on the south and Elston Avenue on the north. In some areas, curb extensions would be installed in order to shorten the distance of crosswalks, and a pedestrian refugee island could be installed in the middle of a crosswalk.

Alderman John Arena (45th) said that the project is in its early planning stages and that community input will be used in the final design of the project. "There is not a plan yet," Arena said. "We’re still trying to determine the nuts and bolts of this project."

One man said that, at 14 feet, the painted median on Milwaukee is unusually wide and that extra space may allow project engineers to design a project that would address residents concerns.

A business owner expressed concern that a road diet would eliminate room for truck deliveries on Milwaukee, and another owner said that her art studio relies on parents being able to drop off their children at the curb. Spokes or a concrete barrier which would run along the outside of the bike lane would block vehicles from reaching the curb.

A resident said that eliminating lanes would result in traffic jams in front of Andy’s Deli, 5442 N. Milwaukee Ave., where cars sometimes line up waiting to enter the store’s parking lot.

Transportation department project manager Mike Amsden said that Arena’s office and the department are meeting with the owners of businesses on Milwaukee which attract a high volume of vehicular or foot traffic so that their needs can be taken into account. Street parking likely would be eliminated in front of some businesses, according to the department.

Similar projects in other areas has been welcomed by business owners, but improvements of this type are relatively new and the department does not have data which show how the commercial corridors benefited, Amsden said.

The Active Transportation Alliance states that shop owners are increasingly looking for ways to encourage bicycling. "Studies in California, Oregon, Ontario, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland all found that people who arrive to a shop by bike spend less per visit but return more often, resulting in similar overall spending per month but far lower parking needs," the alliance said in a news release.

Arena was asked to take a show of hands to determine how many audience members want the project, but he said that he does not take such votes at community meetings because the audience does not necessarily represent a cross section of the ward’s residents.

The department plans to hold a meeting at which a formal proposal will be presented in the spring.