City to air proposals for Milwaukee traffic safety
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 an open house that will be held 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 miles per hour," Alderman John Arena (45th) said. "You can’t do anything unless you address the speeding, and everyone says speeding is a problem. 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 Avenue to Elston Avenue. Possible design plans for the project include reducing Milwaukee from two lanes of traffic to one lane in each direction with a continuous left-turn lane down the middle of the roadway, and creating wider bike lanes, which may be located along the curb.
Arena said that project would not take a "one size fits all approach" due to the varying width of the street and that suggestions made at the open house will 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.
Two of the three design plans feature lane reductions, and the third maintains all of the existing lanes of traffic. All of the plans feature crosswalk improvements, such as bump-out extensions that shorten the distance that pedestrians have to walk to cross the street, and some form of wider bike lanes, either along the curb or outside the parking lane.
Many merchants have expressed concern that placing approximately 9-foot-wide bike lanes along the curb would impede truck deliveries and prevent elderly people from being dropped off at the curb.
Arena has said that he and project engineers have been meeting with business owners to address those concerns. He said that concrete barriers, which sometimes are placed along protected bike lanes, will not be part of the project.
Strong opposition was expressed at a community meeting last January to the possibility of lane reductions, as residents and merchants said that narrowing the street would snarl traffic and deter customers from shopping in the area.
Some residents said that the stretch of Milwaukee north of Foster is wide enough to allow the expansion of existing bike lanes while maintaining two lanes of traffic in both directions. The existing bike lanes, which are located outside the parking lane, are 5 1/2 feet wide.
While the lane reductions would be intended to slow down traffic, traffic signal improvements would be made in an effort to make sure the project does not worsen traffic congestion, according to city transportation engineers.
The engineers 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 heavy traffic congestion at the Milwaukee-Devon intersection, according to the engineers.
Arena said that motorists often speed only to get to a stop light faster, where they must wait for the light to change, and that slower traffic would 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 number of turning buses leaving and entering the Jefferson Park CTA terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee Ave., and the narrowness of the street in parts of that area.
To accommodate the project, some seldom-used driveways could be closed, and some street parking could be eliminated. The department has cited a study which showed that about one-third of the parking spaces on Milwaukee are not being utilized during the daytime.
At the July 2 open house, design plans for the project will be posted in the center’s annex, and representatives of the city Department of Transportation will be present to answer questions, Arena’s chief of staff Own Brugh said. A video with information on the project also will be available.
The Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce, which opposes lane reductions, has asked its members and supporters to gather at the open house at 7 p.m.
Construction on the project will not start until next year, and plans to resurface Milwaukee later this year probably will be delayed so the resurfacing occurs when the other 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 counts were conducted this year after some merchants said that traffic is heavier in non-summer months when children are in school.