Arena’s Foe Attacks Milwaukee Safety Overhaul, Advocates Fight Back

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John Garrido

John Garrido, a Chicago cop and part-time lawyer, narrowly lost to 45th Ward Alderman John Arena in the 2011 election. Now Garrido has started an online petition against the city’s plan for a road diet and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee in the district, a project that Arena has endorsed. The Chicago Department of Transportation proposal calls for reconfiguring the street between Lawrence and Elston in the Jefferson Park, Norwood Park and Gladstone Park neighborhoods.

North of the Jefferson Park Transit center, Milwaukee is generally a five-lane speedway, with four travel lanes and a turn lane, plus conventional bike lanes or sharrows.  It has too much capacity for the number of vehicles it carries, which leads to speeding and a high crash rate. At a January 13 community meeting on the plan, CDOT staffers noted that in the previous five years there had been 970 crashes on this stretch, including one fatality and 17 serious injuries. The road diet would reconfigure the street to two travel lanes and a turn lane, plus PBLs, which could reduce crashes by 30 percent, bikeways engineer Nate Roseberry said.

The current, wide-open road layout may have played a role in a fatal rollover crash last night around 10:45 p.m. on the 6000 block of North Milwaukee, just south of Elston. Two men were traveling northbound in an SUV when the driver lost control, striking two fences. The vehicle flipped on its side and struck a light pole, killing them, according to Police News Affairs spokesman Officer José Estrada. Major Accidents is investigating whether speed was a factor, he said.

At the community meeting, Arena, who has supported proposals for bike lanes and on-street bike parking corrals in the ward, argued this project would help calm and organize traffic, and said his goal was to give residents more transportation options. The plan would create shorter pedestrian crossing distances, crosswalks would be upgraded, and other features could include pedestrian islands, signal coordination to improve vehicle flow, and redesigned bus stops to make it easier to pick up passengers without blocking traffic.

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The aftermath of last night’s crash on the 6000 block of North Milwaukee. Photo: NBC

CDOT staffers got an earful from meeting attendees who angrily objected to the travel lane conversion. However, city traffic counts found this section of Milwaukee consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles per day, the peak recommended volume for this kind of road diet. They also were opposed to the removal of some on-street parking spaces to improve sight lines for the protected lanes, even though counts show that the spaces along this stretch are underutilized.

Ten days after losing the election, Garrido sued Arena for defamation, complaining that Arena’s campaign ads unfairly tied his opponent to the city’s hated parking meter deal. The lawsuit is still in progress. Last Thursday Garrido launched a Change.org petition against the road diet project Arena supports, arguing that the alderman should not allow CDOT to implement its plan. The petition calls for keeping the Milwaukee in its current high-speed configuration and downgrading the proposed PBLs to buffered lanes. Over five days about 440 signatures have been collected. Garrido wrote:

Reducing Milwaukee Ave to one lane in either direction, eliminating parking spaces along Milwaukee Ave and installing protected bike lanes that will move existing parking away from the curb are all ideas we DO NOT support… There are too many business that will be negatively impacted by creating a terrible parking environment.

Again, CDOT counts show the reconfiguration won’t negatively impact traffic or parking.

Yesterday, in response to Garrido’s attack on the road diet, former Jefferson Park resident Bob Kastigar, who currently lives a couple miles east in North Park, started his own petition, “Make Milwaukee Avenue Safer for All,” on MoveOn.org, urging Arena to move forward with the project:

Follow the recommendations of the Chicago Department of Transportation to make this section of Milwaukee… safer for pedestrians, children, [people with disabilities], senior citizens, and bicyclists. Put Milwaukee Avenue on a road-diet.

He notes that road diets have already improved safety on Dearborn and Vincennes, and car traffic would still flow smoothly on Milwaukee after the reconfiguration. By 1:30 p.m. today, less than 24 hours after launching, Kastigar’s petition had already garnered about 180 signatures. Signee April Galarza commented:

I live in Jefferson Park and regularly bike through this area… Jefferson Park is an extremely walkable, bikeable neighborhood due to all of the wonderful small businesses, but if families can’t feel safe crossing the streets or riding in bike lanes, it detracts from our neighborhood. A road diet would enrich our community and help support our local economy.

You can sign Kastigar’s petition here to show your support for the Milwaukee road diet and protected lanes, and leave a comment about why this project will benefit local residents and others who travel the corridor.

CDOT’s plan will be discussed at a Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association meeting on Wednesday, January 29th at 7pm, at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 West Giddings, a short walk from the Jefferson Park Blue Line station.  The public is invited to provide input – if you live in the neighborhood or regularly bike on this stretch, be sure to show up and voice your support for a safer and more vibrant Milwaukee Avenue.