“Road diet” dropped from Milwaukee Avenue safety improvement project; pedestrian improvements still planned


A roadway project that is designed to improve safety on Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence Avenue and Elston Avenue is moving forward without the elimination of one lane of traffic in each direction, commonly referred to as a “road diet.”

Alderman John Arena made that announcement at a 45th Ward aldermanic debate that about 600 people attended on Jan. 21 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. Challenging Arena in the aldermanic race are Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido, “45th Ward Mom” blogger Michelle Baert and attorney Michael Diaz.

Reducing Milwaukee Avenue from two lanes to one lane in each direction in portions of the Gladstone Park and Jefferson Park business corridors was intended to slow traffic down.  City Department of Transportation engineers have said that the addition of a continuous left-turn lane down the middle of the roadway and improved coordination of traffic signals would have helped to address any increase in traffic congestion that lane reductions could cause.

“We will be doing the project without the lane reductions,” Arena said at the debate. He said that safety improvements need to be considered because “70 percent drive 45 mph or more” on some stretches of Milwaukee.

Pedestrian improvements, including bumpouts that will shorten the distance of crosswalks, will be part of the project, Arena said.

In addition, city engineers have said that the existing bike lanes on Milwaukee north of Central Avenue could be widened by reducing the painted median on Milwaukee from 14 to 10 feet. At one time, relocating the bike lanes to along the curb and moving the parking lane about 8 feet from the curb was under consideration, but that scenario was dropped from the project several months ago.

Called “complete streets,” the project is intended to make the roadway safer for all users, including motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Community meetings hosted by Arena on the project have attracted large crowds, and Arena said that that he followed the mandated process for gathering public input for state and federally funded transportation projects.

Merchants have expressed concern that relocating the bike lanes to the curbs would impede truck deliveries and the dropping off of customers and that lane reductions would worsen the rush-hour traffic congestion.

Garrido said that “the project will directly impact “him because he lives in Gladstone Park and that he worked with local businesses to organize a petition drive that gathered more than 4,000 signatures against the lane reductions and relocating the bike lanes to along the curb.

Garrido said that the petition drive played a critical role in the decision to maintain the existing lanes of traffic because the alderman “fought us all the way on this.” He said that he welcomes the other safety improvements that the project would bring to Milwaukee.

Baert said that eliminating traffic lanes is not a good fit for a community filled with one- and two-car families, and “there are people on my block with four.” She said that bike lane improvements should be considered for other streets, including Elston Avenue.

Diaz said that he likes to bike ride in the community and that “we need people to slow down when they enter the ward and take notice (of the stores).”

The safety project is expected to be implemented when Milwaukee is resurfaced later this year.

Editor’s note: Additional coverage of the debate will be posted at www.nadignewspapers.com in the upcoming days.