No ‘road diet’ for Milwaukee Avenue
by BRIAN NADIG
A project that is designed to improve safety on Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence Avenue and Elston Avenue appears to be moving forward without eliminating one lane of traffic in each direction, a process referred to as implementing a "road diet."
Alderman John Arena made that announcement at a 45th Ward aldermanic debate that was held on Jan. 21 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. Challenging Arena in the aldermanic race are Chicago police lieutenant John Garrido, former Beaubien School Local School Council member 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 commercial districts was intended to slow traffic. City Department of Transportation engineers have said that the addition of a continuous left-turn lane in the middle of the street 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 have to be considered because "70 percent drive 45 miles per hour or more" on some stretches of Milwaukee.
Arena said that pedestrian improvements including bumpouts that will shorten the distance of crosswalks will be part of the project.
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 feet to 10 feet. Moving the bike lanes so that they run along the curb and moving the parking lane about 8 feet out from the curb had been considered, but that was dropped from the project several months ago.
Called "complete streets," the project is intended to make the street safer for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Community meetings held by Arena on the project have attracted many people, and Arena said that that he followed the mandated process for obtaining public input on state and federally funded transportation projects.
Merchants in the area have expressed concern that placing the bike lanes along the curb would impede truck deliveries and drop-offs of customers and that lane reductions would increase rush hour traffic congestion.
Garrido said that the project would directly affect him because he lives in Gladstone Park and that he worked with local businesses to organize a petition drive that obtained more than 4,000 signatures against the lane reductions and moving the bike lanes.
Garrido said that the petition drive played an important 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.
Baert said that eliminating traffic lanes is not good for a neighborhood with many one- and two-car families and that "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 ride his bike in the area 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.