Dooring Epidemic Shows Urgent Need for Protected Lanes in Wicker Park

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Dooring survivor Colin Croom. Photo: DNA Info

I’m getting really fed up with hearing about cyclists’ blood being spilled on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square from dooring crashes that might have been prevented by protected bike lanes.

On August 15, a 27-year-old woman on a Schwinn was injured by a delivery driver who parked his truck curbside in front of a 7-Eleven at 2403 North Milwaukee in Logan Square. He opened his driver’s side door without looking, hitting her in the face and hurling her onto the street, injuring her right arm and shoulder. Two days later, on the 2500 block of North Milwaukee, another man opened his door on another female cyclist, 26, throwing her into the street. She suffered a concussion and injuries to her left side

On Friday February 28, Dustin Valenta, 27, was doored by a female driver at 1443 North Milwaukee in Wicker Park, hurling him into the road, where he was run over by a truck driver who fled the scene. The back of his skull, his pelvis, a shoulder blade, and 23 of 24 ribs were fractured, and he sustained a punctured lung and lacerated shoulder. Then on June 25, around 3:15 p.m. Colin Croom, 22, went over his handlebars and onto his head after a driver opened his door in the cyclist’s path in front of a sub shop on the 1500 block of North Milwaukee. The driver, Michael Choi, said he “did not see” Croom. Thanks to stiffer penalties under the recently passed Bike Safety Ordinance 2013, Choi will likely be fined $1,000.

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A driver gets out of her car on Milwaukee in Wicker Park. Photo: Steven Vance

Fortunately, Croom wasn’t seriously injured, but he did require several stitches for a gash in his forehead and he lost wages due to having to take a few days off of work. DNA’s Alisa Hauser wrote a well-researched article about the crash. When I saw the photo that accompanied the piece, of Croom with his face covered in blood, I felt angry.

Last month the city completed a high-quality protected bike lane on Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston in River West, which required removing about half the car-parking spaces. The Chicago Department of Transportation plans to replace some of the spots by implementing diagonal parking on side streets. This was a big improvement, but a WBEZ map of dooring crashes reported from 2009 through September 7, 2012 shows there were almost zero reported doorings on this stretch. Meanwhile, the map shows dozens of doorings on Milwaukee between Augusta and Logan Boulevard during this period.

The higher incidence of doorings on Milwaukee in Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square is probably due to the fact that this stretch of road is generally narrower, with a higher density of retail and a high demand for curbside parking. These qualities also make it more difficult to extend the existing protected lanes northwest. However, moving the parking lanes to the left of the bike lanes and/or adding a wide, striped buffer with flexible posts to the left of the lanes, could help prevent more bloodshed. Milwaukee, Chicago’s most popular biking street, gets as many as 14,000 cyclists a day, and CDOT has designated it as bicycle-priority “Spoke Route,” so it’s only common sense that bike safety should be paramount here.

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Protected bike lanes on Milwaukee in River West. Photo: CDOT

Stripping parking from Milwaukee in Wicker Park to make room for protected lanes is not a new concept. At an Active Transportation Alliance forum in early 2011, First Ward Alderman Joe Moreno said he was interested in the idea, even if it meant incurring the wrath of the city’s parking meter concessionaire. Moreno added that the lost spaces could possibly be replaced with a new parking garage along the business district.

In April, 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack, who recently told CBS News he’s been doored or hit on a bike several times, asked the Wicker Park Committee neighborhood group to take an advisory vote on installing protected lanes on Milwaukee from Division to North, which would require stripping about half of the parking spaces. Members voted 15-8 against the lanes. Waguespack’s spokesman Paul Sajovec told DNA at the time that the alderman was still trying to determine if there is sufficent support for protected lanes.

With last week’s Divvy bike-share launch, two-wheeled traffic on Milwaukee is only going to increase, and that photo of Croom hammered home the point that we can’t afford to wait any longer for safer bike conditions. CDOT needs to consolidate parking spaces along Milwaukee or, better yet, improve pedestrian and transit access so the spaces won’t be missed, and make room for protected bike lanes. The time to act is now, before a fatal crash makes the need for safer biking conditions even more painfully obvious.

  • Fred

    Seems like a good use of opt-out-of-free-Sunday-parking money!

    Although at 7-to-1 it would still take an awful lot of spaces to fully cover the cost.

  • There wasn’t a majority push to turn streets that were used by pedestrians into streets for cars only a century ago. None of us can truly say what it was like for streets back then, but the auto lobby was ruthless with getting the streets turned that way. There needs to be some sort of push that really drums up support for better bike infrastructure. I don’t know what that push is.
    15-8 against the lanes makes sense with a committee like that, and I’m not surprised. Most people still see cyclists as a niche group.

  • Wow, that’s awful. I never rode through the 1400-1500 blocks of N. Milwaukee at more than maybe 8-10 MPH due to the number of near-doorings from both left and right that I’d get.

    I’ve written before about how Montreal fits a bi-directional cycle-track, bus stops, two traffic lanes, and two parking lanes onto Rue Rachel, a similar (narrower, even) but less-trafficked street in the Plateau. It would be a really tight fit on Milwaukee given its wider sidewalks.

    The Old Wicker Park Committee kicked me out for being insufficiently NIMBY for their tastes. Their votes are hardly indicative of neighborhood sentiment, and it would be far from the first time that they’ve stood in the way of progress.

  • CL

    Divvy might increase pressure for protected lanes since people who aren’t hardcore bikers will be interested in the service — and these are the same people who are reluctant to bike because so many cyclists get injured or even killed in Chicago. I imagine that some people who are afraid to bike in Chicago would consider the option of taking a Divvy bike from one station to another if the trip were entirely (or almost entirely) in a protected lane.

  • Matt Willens

    In addition to PBLs, drawing attention to bike safety issues is key! Perhaps it’s time for a “safety blitz” where members of the community can pass out informational flyers regarding dooring to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Great article John! Thanks for your efforts!!

  • The WBEZ map doesn’t even show them all. I was near-doored, swerved and went down hard in front of oncoming traffic in the 1600 block of Milwaukee, but as I didn’t actually hit the car door, no dooring occurred (my fault, I guess). Now, I go out of my way to not ride on Milwaukee.

  • Thanks Matt. you’ve probably heard about CPD and Bike Ambassadors targeted enforcement events, which include outreach to drivers about dooring. Have you heard of the LOOK! Chicago grassroots anti-dooring campaign? http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/02/28/look-chicago-anti-dooring-campaign-starts-flyering-on-saturday/

  • Anonymous

    I wish I could avoid it, but I live in Logan and work in the loop, and Milwaukee is the best way to get there, hands down. I go incredibly slow on the stretch between Western and Augusta. Even with this delay it is more convenient to take Milwaukee. Ugggh, such is live cycling in the city.

  • Fred

    Have you tried Elston as an alternative? It might be somewhat out of the way, but it is far less trafficked than Milwaukee and the southern end has protected bike lane.

  • Matt Willens

    LOOK! Chicago has done great work! As you know, the key to bike safety awareness is consistency and hopefully the grassroots and non-grassroots organizations alike keep the pedal to the medal. Doorings are a huge problem.

  • Anonymous

    Good ol Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park. I typically ride about 4 feet out, take up a lot of road. The part that always scares me though is from about Honore St north up to Damen/North/Milwaukee. At that point the cars are so backed up that you have no choice then to ride in the narrow between the parked cars and the traffic, avoiding pedestrians stepping out, car doors and that damn hole outside of iCream!

  • Side streets add about ten minutes each way to my commute, but also probably add about ten years to my life through lack of aggravation.

  • fred

    You have a choice….don’t ride there. Maneuvering yourself into a position that could get you killed is YOUR fault.

  • Even though no impact or collision occurred, if you are injured or fall, this is still considered a dooring by the Municipal Code of Chicago and the door opener can receive a citation.

    I would link you to the code on the Chicago Bike Laws website but CDOT just got rid of it and now I can’t find it.

    When were you doored? The map is from October 2012.

  • I ring my bell consistently and constantly in this stretch.

  • What money are you talking about? If you opt-out of free Sunday parking, you get money?

  • August 2011. I’d have to dig up the police report but I’m pretty certain it was not flagged as a dooring in any way.

  • Fred

    If you opt out of Sunday free parking, the money generated doesn’t go straight into CPM’s coffers as profit; that money goes towards paying for metered spaces that are taken out of service that the city is required to compensate CPM for.

    What I’m saying is, you could take a parking space out of service and pay for it using the funds generated by Sunday parking. It is not exactly what the city intended, but it could end up being a unintended positive consequence of opting out. It would be great to see a parklet paid for this way without having to squeeze another parking space in somewhere nearby.

  • Anonymous

    What is your suggestion…hop on my hover bike and ride above the cars? I don’t necessarily think what I am doing is particularly that dangerous, I ride at a slow speed, hands on breaks and remain hyper aware of my surroundings. All I am saying is that it makes for a tense two blocks, been doing it for 7 years now with no issue.

    And to say “don’t ride there” is a bit silly, we aren’t talking about Western Ave or anything. We are talking about Milwaukee Ave in Wicker Park, one of the heaviest bicycled trafficked areas in the city with a number or destinations that are 100% bicycle friendly.

  • Fred

    For the record, this fred is not me Fred.

  • Christopher Murphy

    Thanks for writing the article. This is where we see if the Rahmbo is serious about his bike plan. It would be nice to see a follow up with proposed citizen biker actions. I’d like to see a Critical Mass type ride down Milwaukee during rush hour.

  • fred, although you and Trib columnist John Kass are on the same page, City Council disagrees, hence the $1,000 fine for dooring a cyclist. Not to mention, say, an $800,000 insurance settlement with the cyclists that might cause your rates to go up a tad: http://chi.streetsblog.org/2013/03/20/look-or-it-might-cost-you-insurance-pays-800000-to-doored-cyclist/

  • Thanks Christopher. Every bicycle rush hour on Milwaukee feels like Critical Mass!

  • Things were different back then.

  • Really?? I didn’t know this! Do you know where I can read more? If you explained it correctly, this could be a great opportunity to get more productive use out of the curbside roadway.

  • CL

    Interesting – I wonder how many parking spaces could be removed thanks to Sunday parking. In some wards, could it be enough to remove spaces along an entire street for something like a bike lane?

  • Fred

    It was my understanding that that is where the money went, but I can’t seem to find any proof at this very moment.

    The second to last paragraph of this article hints at it: “The out-of-service payments, projected at about $4.5 million a year by the city’s own figures, could be reduced by restoring paid Sundays in commercial areas, like the main streets in Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park, Printers Row and Hyde Park.” – http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-06-15/news/ct-met-chicago-parking-meters-0615-20130615_1_meter-company-many-meters-extended-hours

  • Fred

    I seem to be the only one who has put this together as a possibility (read: I haven’t seen anything from anyone official saying it is possible, so don’t quote me on this being factually possible).

    The ratio would be 7 to 1. You would need 7 spaces of Sunday parking to pay for a week of a single space being out of order (again, this is my math, nothing official).

    I suppose it could be 6 to 1 if you consider Sunday a freebie.

  • Fred

    The math probably doesn’t work out for stripping parking on an entire street, but it might be fantastic for parklets. Especially since a parklet would only take out a space for half a year. In theory 3 spaces of Sunday parking could offset a 1 space parklet for 6mo.

  • Elise

    My boyfriend and I are moving in a few months and although we both love the wicker park area, we commute downtown by bike and the dangerous cycling conditions on Milwaukee have caused me to rule the neighborhood out completely.

  • Anonymous

    To get to Elston from my house I have to deal with the clusterfuck that is Western Ave. Even more inconvenient than dooring: being f’ing murdered by a truck.

  • Anonymous

    It would add so much more than 10 minutes to my commute. I tried the “most convenient” and it added 20 to mine. That’s a long time to add to a half hour commute.

  • Gary Fisher

    I really don’t understand Chicago cyclists…I’ve ridden in the streets for years, I ride like someone is going to hit me…ie…I watch what the Ef I’m doing and am aware of my surroundings and don’t ride like an arrogant, entitled jackass. Clogging down the streets with these idiotic “safe” lanes so traffic is totally backed up is such a bad idea. You don’t own the road! Cars live there. I’m totally fine having a little Darwin intervention to slim the herd of entitled cyclists making life for everyone brutally confining. Let me ask you this…and I’m only asking the people who cycle and own cars…how bad do you want to start stabbing the administration when you’re trying to get down the formerly free flowing Milwaukee ave to your downtown meeting and the now choked with “safety” Milwaukee Ave has you waiting through 3 cycles of red lights before you can move forward? It’s causing cars to use more fuel, tempers to rise, air to be polluted…and “you should be riding a bike” isn’t an option when you’re carrying a 30lb 24×36 presentation. Ride better, don’t be such a bunch of pussies, put brakes on your dumb bikes and fuck Colin Croom, he cries at romantic comedies and obviously can’t operate his vehicle. I am a motorcycle rider, road cyclist, mountain biker, and car driver. I’ve been hit by one car, almost hit another, crashed in the street on my own, and have taken each as a learning lesson as to how to operate my vehicle and didn’t turn to the city to make me safe. Watch out for yourself, Jesus…how hard is that.

  • OK! Hear that, Wicker Park and Bucktown Chamber of Commerce?

  • I avoid Elston. Here’s why: There are fewer people cycling on it than Milwaukee, so I feel all alone. I especially avoid it at night. It’s deserted. I don’t want to be the victim of a hit-and-run.

    I also hate riding across Ashland (it’s 200+ feet long!) and other intersections.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Some of the doorings might be avoided if the cyclists were a bit more aware and less knuckleheaded. Two days ago, I saw a cab stop at the corner and two passengers got out, one from the curb, e other on the streetside. A normal vehicle operator would most likely not come close to a stopped cab in this situation, but a cyclist wearing headphones tried to snake around it and nearly got taken out. Had he actually proceeded with reasonable caution behind a stopped cab, he wouldn’t have had a near incident. Should the passenger have gotten out on that side? No. Should the cyclist have been prepared for the possibility? Yes.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Yeah, a critical mass type ride – ignore all traffic signals that that motorists and especially pedestrians hate you more.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    How much would actually stopping at every stop sign and signal add to your commute?

  • CL

    Could you stay in the center of the lane and wait in traffic with the cars? I could see how that would be unappealing, but it’s another option if that stretch is really unsafe.

  • Anonymous

    Waiting in traffic like a schmuck defeats the purpose of being on a bike…sorry I kid CL, from your comments I know you drive :-)

  • CL

    Don’t worry, I get it. :) For whatever psychological reason, humans really don’t like going slower than necessary — and drivers are the same (probably worse) which is why some flip out when they’re behind a cyclist and can’t pass. If you can get around something, it’s human nature to pass.

  • Actually, the front of Critical Mass usually stops at red lights.

  • mc

    It’s obviously not Colin’s fault that he got doored, but he wouldn’t be covered in blood / have that giant gash in his head if he had been wearing a helmet.

    You might not be able to stop the negligence of others from endagering you while cycling, but you CAN prevent it from injuring your critical areas.

  • Or, we can build infrastructure that prevents doorings.

  • mc

    Yep, and that’s a great idea. In a perfect city we’d have roadways engineered for bike safety that we can travel with confidence.

    But someone like Colin can’t build that infrastructure himself, so until we can convince the city to adequately protect its cyclists, those cyclists need to be doing whatever they can to protect themselves.

  • Convincing the city to adequately protect its cyclists is the purpose of this article.

  • scottbchristopher

    Prevention is the solution – safe infrastructure that prevents the dooring. Protection (helmet) does not eliminate the crash.

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