New Bike Lane Design on Milwaukee Should Reduce Crashes and Frustration

The bikeway upgrades on Milwaukee Avenue between Elston Avenue and Kinzie Street were completed Wednesday, adding bike lanes separated from traffic with parking and flexible posts. Other features include green striping before intersections and the city’s first two-lane bike lanes allowing faster cyclists to pass slower ones on the bridge over the Ohio Street ramp to the Kennedy Expressway.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue
Chicago's first passing lane for bike traffic.

Chicago Department of Transportation bikeways planner David Smith gave an overview of the changes at the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday. One feature Smith mentioned is the new signal timing at Milwaukee and Elston. In the northbound direction, the right-turn lane and the bike lane have been swapped, eliminating the dreaded center bike lane where drivers consistently merged across the path of cyclists. Now, bicyclists have a dedicated bike signal designed to eliminate conflicts with right-turning drivers.

Smith also said that traffic signals at Milwaukee and Ogden Avenue would be modified soon, bringing in a new “protected left turn” — in which northbound traffic will have a dedicated left-turn signal. This will eliminate the “yellow trap” seen at this kind of six-way crossing, in which turning drivers and bicyclists are caught in the middle of an intersection when their light turns red, while, unbeknownst to them, oncoming traffic still has a green. Two weeks ago I was on the wrong end of a yellow trap at this intersection and almost got broadsided by a motorist.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue
Bus stop-bike lane. This may become a concrete bus island, with the bike lane bypassing the bus stop on the right, after a water main project is completed.

Upgrades were made at Grand and Halsted as well, striping bike markings in both directions all the way up to and through the intersection, though northbound cyclists do ride through a bus stop on the far side of the intersection before the bike lane begins again.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue
Continuous bike lane on southbound Milwaukee at Grand.

It’s possible that the shared bike lane-bus stops could get upgraded to a design with less potential for conflict. CDOT has previously expressed interested in adding concrete bus islands with bike lanes bypassing on the right. That treatment could be in the works for Milwaukee, but not during this phase of the project. Much of the Milwaukee redesign is on newly resurfaced streets, but this segment, between Ogden and Erie Street, is scheduled to have water main repair work done soon. Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly told Streetsblog that “we are absolutely looking at adding in concrete islands” but because of the water main project, “we are holding off on resurfacing until it is complete.”

With these modifications – and several others not touched on in this post (you have to see it for yourself) – Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest street for bicycling, will become safer and less frustrating to ride, and some of the intersections that see the most bike crashes in Chicago will be improved. Specifically, the intersections of Grand-Halsted-Milwaukee (tied for sixth on the crash map) and Chicago-Ogden-Milwaukee (tied for second) may no longer be among the worst bike crash locations.

The next MBAC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 11, 2013, from 3-4:30 PM in Room 1103 at City Hall, 121 N LaSalle Street.

  • Adam Herstein

    This is awesome. I’d love to see this design extended further north as well.

  • Matt

    I rode the Milwaukee stretch this morning on the way to work, with about 20 other cyclists. It makes the commute 10x better and safer. Keep going up Milwaukee!

  • sweet music video

  • Julia

    I love this new infrastructure! It makes Milwaukee Ave so much more enjoyable!

    A question about bike etiquette going northbound – I take a right at Elston/Milwaukee to continue north in the protected lanes. Since there’s only one green bike lane marked (and not entirely wide enough for two), what’s the proper way to make a right turn now? Should I be following the car right turn lane instead? In the meantime, I’ve just asked cyclists in front of me, “stopping or turning?” and if they say stopping I let them know I’m coming around.

  • Anonymous

    I rode this on like monday, before they were quite finished, but it was all visible, and it was awesome to ride in. Way better than what was there before. Super Exciting. Go all the way up Milwaukee like this!

  • The sound was coming from my Bluetooth portable speaker, which I highly recommend.

    More enjoyable to ride this way, and you get to impose your music tastes on others. Less distracting than headphones.

  • Milwaukee unfortunately gets narrower north of Division so moving/removing parking will probably be the biggest barrier.

  • I think following the right-turn lane would be appropriate, if you’re fully in the lane. If you’re not fully in the right-turn lane, then beware of cyclists who may also be turning right, or may jump the light.

    Thinking about it a little more, it may be appropriate to straddle the line between the bike lane and the right-turn lane and turn right with the signal.

  • Julia

    Thanks! I like both of those ideas – both would work.

    I also realized today that if I’m several cyclists back, it’s not so terrible to wait for the green bike light, then signal right. I realized I was acting a bit like a driver- expecting a clear right on red!

  • Do you drive often?

    Right on red too often leads to collisions which is why it is banned in most of Europe and in New York City.

    When I drive, I tend to act more like I’m bicycling and go really really slow and drive away from the door zone.

  • Julia

    I rarely drive – maybe 3/4 trips a month. I too tend to drive like that – especially since there aren’t as many marked bike lanes in Logan Square.

    Have you heard of efforts to eliminate right on red in Chicago? Since it was originally enacted as somewhat of a gas-saving measure, it seems silly to keep it now.

  • David P.

    I ride this regularly going between downtown and my office, and I appreciate the improvements a lot, especially at the intersections. I stopped for a coffee at Big Shoulders the other morning and counted about 250 cyclists going through the intersection in the time it took me to drink a latte. Love the traffic!

  • Anonymous

    Love the dud in the white shirt/gray cap blowing into the intersection first, assessing the situation second.

    I guess there is a little learning period for bicyclists too.

  • Julia

    That’s awesome! I’ve always wondered what the number of bike commuters was on a good day. Just south of this area would be a cool place for a fixed cyclist counter.

  • Transpo Industries

    Julia,
    There are ways to make intersections safer for cyclists.
    Cities like Portland, OR and Columbia, MO are experimenting with bike boxes and
    hatchered marking. NACTO has also put out an “Urban Bikeway Design Guide” that
    may be helpful to your community.

    – Karen A. Dinitz, Transpo Industries, Inc, Color-Safe(TM) -Green Bike Lane Material

  • David P.

    Yes, it would be; I think Grand/Halsted/Milwaukee gets the highest bicycle traffic count in the city. I was observing this at morning rush hour on a nice day, which naturally leads to lots of traffic, but it made me happy.

  • Anonymous

    Citation on that? Among the anti-red light camera crowd, the commonly held belief is that right on red is the least likely to lead to a collision, yet most likely to be cited by an RLC.

    There are many signaled intersections in Chicago that are *not* busy much of the day. Why make drivers sit if it’s perfectly safe to turn right on red?

  • http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/saferjourney/library/countermeasures/44.htm

    and

    http://www.nhtsa.gov/About+NHTSA/Traffic+Techs/current/The+Safety+Impact+of+Right+Turn+on+Red:+Report+to+Congress

    By too often, I’m using a measure of “if it happens once, that’s too often, because it’s an entirely preventable crash”.

    RTOR crashes are more likely to harm pedestrians than bicyclists or other vehicle occupants. In the city’s and state’s aim for zero fatalities (and reduce incidence of crashes), reducing the number of places where RTOR can be done is a place to start.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a *huge* difference between banning RTOR where there are high pedestrian volumes and banning it outright.

    I also wonder about the effectiveness of the signs that say No RTOR when pedestrians are present. I’ve often felt those signs are redundant since that’s already the default in the law, but maybe they provide an awareness factor.

  • I would prefer an outright ban and then signs were it’s been deemed “okay”. This way, the new cultural norm can become “always stop” and then look to see if it’s allowed. The cultural norm now is to stop before turning right if it’s necessary, if there’s a visible interference, like cross traffic, bicyclists, or a pedestrian crossing the road.

    I think textual signs are a poor way to facilitate safe traffic.

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