Group reviews bike lane plans
by BRIAN NADIG
Bicycle enthusiasts expressed differing opinions about the proposed bike lane and other safety improvements that are under consideration for Milwaukee Avenue at the Jan. 29 meeting of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association.
The meeting was held as a forum on any community concern, but most of the 50 people at the meeting were there to discuss the "Chicago Complete Streets" project which would cover Milwaukee between Lawrence Avenue and Elston Avenue. The city Department of Transportation is considering installing a protected bike lane along the curb, with parking to the outside, and reducing vehicle traffic from two lanes to one lane in each direction in an effort to improve safety.
Association president Judy Skotzko said that the design plan for the project has not been completed. "There is no proposal, but a lot of people are up in arms," Skotzko said.
Residents and merchants have raised concerns that eliminating traffic lanes, which is known as implementing a "road diet," would snarl traffic and that the possible use of spokes in the roadway as a barrier for the bike lanes would block auto access to the curb.
Project engineers have said that retiming traffic signals would keep traffic flowing at a good pace, and Alderman John Arena (45th) has said that spokes are not being considered for most areas because the parking lane would be sufficient to shield bicyclists.
Arena’s director of constituent services Andi VanderKolk said that the $1.5 million project is intended to balance the needs of all roadway users without making the street’s configuration too confusing and that the department is considering changes because of a high number of accidents on Milwaukee. "It would be unlikely that they would just walk away from the project completely, but it is possible," VanderKolk said.
Different solutions would be used along the targeted 2-mile stretch of Milwaukee in part because the street is narrower in the Jefferson Park commercial district compared to Gladstone Park, VanderKolk said. "They are not planning to do one type of bike lane," she said. "We most likely will see some sort of a hybrid."
Major changes may not be possible at the intersection of Milwaukee and Gale Street with "all the activity there," VanderKolk said. There are two bus stops and drive-through facilities for a McDonald’s restaurant and TCF Bank near the intersection, and Gale Street serves as an exit for buses which are leaving the north end of the Jefferson Park CTA terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The department also has considered installing a bus transit island near Milwaukee and Peterson avenues. The island would be situated outside a bike lane, and some street parking would have to be removed to allow for the island, where CTA riders would wait for their bus.
Arena has said that the department is examining at the feasibility of installing diagonal parking on some side streets to offset parking which may be eliminated on Milwaukee because of the project. Some additional parking may be gained on Milwaukee by closing driveways which are seldom used, according to Arena.
While there appeared to be a consensus at the meeting that safety improvements are needed on Milwaukee, there was disagreement on the type of changes.
One bicyclist said that he opposes protected lanes because motorists who are turning right cannot see bicyclists because the parked cars block their view. "This is called a right-hook accident," he said.
The man said that he prefers buffered bike lanes which run outside the parking lane because it is easier for motorists to see bicyclists. The existing 5-foot bike lanes in the Gladstone Park commercial district run along the parking lane, but their widths are several feet short of meeting buffer-lane standards.
Another bicyclist called for protected bike lanes but suggested that the city could avoid eliminating traffic lanes by installing one protected lane instead of two. The man said that one bike lane could be used for bicyclists traveling in both directions.
A resident said that it is difficult to cross the 78-foot-wide Milwaukee Avenue, which has a 14-foot painted median in most areas, and recommended the use of diagonal crosswalks, which stop vehicles in all directions, at the Milwaukee-Central intersection.
"Milwaukee is a huge street, and I don’t feel safe walking across the street," the man said. "I don’t feel safe taking my daughter to Gladstone Park."
News of the project has sparked competing online petition drives.
Gladstone Park resident John Garrido, a Chicago police lieutenant who lost the 2011 aldermanic election to Arena by 30 votes, told the association that his petition opposes the installation of barrier-protected bike lanes and the reduction of traffic lanes but supports crosswalks and other safety improvements. The petition, which had about 660 signatures by last weekend, is available online at www.change.org.
Garrido recommended that the use of speed feedback signs would a more effective way to slow down traffic than eliminating traffic lanes. The digital signs are being used in areas where speed cameras have been installed in an effort to inform motorists of their speed as they enter a safety zone.
Also discussed at the meeting was a petition drive started by bike activist Robert Kastigar that describes Milwaukee as unsafe for pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists and calls for a road diet and protected bike lanes. It had almost 490 signatures by last weekend, and it is available online at www.moveon.org.
VanderKolk asked that comments about the project be sent to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also at the meeting, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said that the alderman is still seeking to eliminate free metered parking on Sundays in the ward in an effort to prevent all-day parkers in front of stores. "You want the turnover so people who want to stop at that business have a place to park," Brugh said.
Last year Arena introduced an ordinance which calls for a rate reduction on meters in the ward each day of the week in exchange for allowing Chicago Parking Meters LLC to charge for parking on Sundays, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has been slow to act on the proposal. "It would be revenue neutral," Brugh said. "We do not want a windfall for Chicago Parking Meters LLC.
It also was announced that Boy Scout Troop 979 will hold its annual auction from 12:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 9, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings St. More information is available at www.troop979.org.
The troop also is planning to celebrate the 95th birthday of longtime scoutmaster Russ Cremel, who has guided about 170 local teenagers during their eagle scout projects. Eagle scout is the highest achievement rank in scouting.
Concerns also were expressed at the meeting about residents who do not shovel their sidewalks. VanderKolk said that the alderman’s office has a list of volunteers who do shoveling for the elderly and disabled but that the demand exceeds the number of volunteers.
It was reported that the association will hold "Sunday Market" events, which feature food vendors and entertainment, on the second and fourth Sundays of June, July, August, September and October at Jefferson Park, 4822 N. Long Ave.