Public Open House on Milwaukee roadway project slated for July 2; Wider bike lanes, crosswalk improvements & possible lane reductions being considered
by BRIAN NADIG
Three versions of a transportation safety proposal which is designed to reduce speeding on Milwaukee Avenue and encourage more bicyclists and pedestrians to use the roadway will be presented at a public open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 2, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave.
“The first goal is to get everyone’s speed down to 30 mph. You can’t do anything unless you address the speeding, and everyone says speeding is a problem,” said Alderman John Arena (45th). “I have people telling me that Milwaukee isn’t safe to cross and that they have to drive two blocks to get their kid to school (instead of walking).”
The “Complete Streets Chicago” project would affect Milwaukee from Lawrence on the south to Elston Avenue on the north. Possible design plans for the project include reducing Milwaukee from two to one lane of traffic in each direction with a continuous left-turn lane down the middle of the roadway and implementing wider bike lanes, which may be located along the curb.
Arena said that project would not take a “one size fits all approach” due in large part to the varying width of the roadway and that input gathered at the open house would be taken into consideration during the final design phases of the project. Most of Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is 46 feet wide, while to the north the width is 78 feet, including a 14-foot-wide painted median.
At the open house, two of three design plans will include lane reductions, while another will maintain all of the existing lanes of traffic. In addition, all of the plans will include crosswalk improvements, such as bump-out extensions that shorten the distance that pedestrians have to walk, and some form of wider bike lanes, either along the curb or to the outside of the parking lane.
Many merchants have expressed concern that placing 8-foot-wide bike lanes along the curb would impede truck deliveries and prevent elderly clients from being dropped off at the curb. Arena has said that he and project engineers have been meeting with business owners to address these concerns and that concrete barriers, which are sometimes placed along protected bike lanes, will not be part of this project.
In addition, at a community meeting last January, strong opposition was voiced about the possibility of lane reductions, as residents and merchants said that a narrowing of the roadway would snarl traffic and deter customers from shopping in the area.
Some residents said that the stretch of Milwaukee north of Foster was wide enough to allow for the expansion of the existing bike lanes while maintaining two lanes of traffic in both directions. Those existing bike lanes, which are located to the outside of the parking lane, measure a few feet.
While the lane reductions would be intended to slow down traffic, traffic signal improvements would be implemented in an effort to make sure the project does not worsen traffic congestion in the area, according to city transportation engineers.
City engineers also have said that two lanes of traffic in each direction are not needed to accommodate the average daily traffic along the affected stretch of Milwaukee. Lane reductions are not being considered north of Elston because of the heavy traffic congestion at the Milwaukee-Devon intersection, according to the engineers.
Arena said that motorists all too often are speeding only to get to a stoplight faster, where they must wait for the light to change, and that slower traffic also would allow motorists to take better notice of area businesses and encourage more pedestrians and bicyclists on Milwaukee. “For a restaurant owner, that’s a good thing,” he said.
There have been online petition drives for and against the project, and several merchants in the Gladstone Park commercial corridor have been collecting signatures on petitions which oppose lane reductions, commonly referred to as a “road diet.” About 5,000 people reportedly have signed the petitions which oppose lane reductions.
Fewer changes to the roadway are expected in the 4800 and 4900 blocks of Milwaukee due to the high number of turning buses leaving and entering the Jefferson Park CTA terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., and the narrowness of the roadway in parts of that area.
To accommodate the project, some seldom-used curb cuts could be closed, and some street parking could be eliminated. The department has cited a study which showed that during the daytime about one third of the parking spaces on Milwaukee were not being utilized.
At the July 2 open house, design plans for the project will be posted throughout the center’s annex, and representatives from the city Department of Transportation will be positioned throughout to answer questions, said Arena’s chief of staff Own Brugh. A video with information on the project also will be available in the center’s main lobby.
Construction on the project will not start until next year, and plans to resurface Milwaukee later this year will probably be delayed so the resurfacing occurs when the other roadway improvements are made, Brugh said. The complete streets project is estimated to cost about $1.5 million, most of which would be federally funded.
Traffic counts for the project were conducted last August, but additional ones were conducted this year after some merchants complained that traffic is heavier in the non-summer months when children are in school.