To Smooth Out the Blue Line Rehab, Divert Cars From Milwaukee

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In San Francisco, private motor vehicle traffic is diverted off the iconic Market Street at key locations, which speeds up surface transit. A similar arrangement on Milwaukee could help Blue Line passengers who have to use shuttle buses while train service is disrupted on ten weekends later this year.

As the Chicago Transit Authority prepares to fix up Blue Line tracks, the agency is warning riders that they’ll face significant delays during the weekends when work is underway. But tens of thousands of transit riders would face less inconvenience if the city cleared some room on Milwaukee Avenue by diverting motor vehicle traffic.

The CTA will be upgrading tracks over ten weekends from March to August as part of the “Your New Blue” track and station rehabilitation program. On seven weekends, shuttle buses will carry passengers between Logan Square and Western, stopping at the California Blue Line station, and on three weekends, the buses will run between Western and Damen.

The CTA said it has been testing the shuttle service “in traffic to determine the best routes and to gauge travel times,” according to the Tribune, and spokesperson Brian Steele said riders should plan on adding 5 to 20 minutes to their trip. O’Hare-bound riders should budget for the longest trips. The closures would start at 10 p.m. each Friday and last until 4 a.m. Monday morning.

The delays for transit riders don’t have to be this long. Instead of making tens of thousands of passengers deal with traffic congestion, the city could make more room for the shuttle buses by diverting through traffic off Milwaukee at spots between Kedzie Avenue (at the Logan Square station) and Ashland Avenue (at the Division station).

Diverting traffic every few blocks could reduce congestion and speed up shuttle and 56-Milwaukee buses while maintaining car parking and access. Diversions at select cross streets would mean that someone driving from Logan Square to Wicker Park would have to use the grid instead of Milwaukee. For example, one could drive east on Fullerton Avenue, and then south on Damen Avenue, or south on Kedzie Avenue, and then east on North Avenue. But drivers could still use cross streets to access any block of Milwaukee.

Here's a dilemma
Diverting cars off Milwaukee Avenue will speed buses.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (which is like the CTA and CDOT rolled into one) diverts all downtown-bound private motorists from Market Street — the city’s iconic diagonal street — at 10th Street and 6th Street, while allowing taxis, bikes, buses and streetcars to keep going straight. The move immediately sped up transit trips, and bike ridership even increased.

The need to efficiently carry tens of thousands of Blue Line riders overs surface streets is a great opportunity to show how the city’s new complete streets paradigm, which prioritizes transit over driving, can have practical applications even during temporary situations.

  • Vic

    I’m sure the city would love that idea. With no cars on the street that means that the city will be on the hook to pay for all the parking meter that won’t be used because they are to be taken out of service with no street parking. But parking ticket revenue will increase because a lot of the sidestreets around the walkie avenue our permit parking only so customers who patronize stores on Milwaukee Avenue will be getting parking tickets for parking in the residential streets. Any other bright ideas?

  • Adam Herstein

    Major inconvenience to drivers? Not gonna happen. It’s one thing to inconvenience people on the South Side who take the Red Line, but everyone knows transit riders are lower in the social hierarchy than car drivers (who sit at the top, duh).

  • Erik Swedlund

    Steven’s suggestion retains street parking on Milwaukee, and private automobile access on every block. Just not through traffic for everyone.

  • Adam Herstein

    Traffic would be diverted, not closed, so those meters will still be active.

  • Kevin

    How exactly would this plan eliminate street parking or meter revenue?

    They’re not calling for closing the street, just making non-buses turn at certain intersections to reduce through traffic during the construction

  • Booya

    Your axing gubbermint officeals to use commn cents, so mite as well save your breath

  • Every parking space and meter would remain open and every block of Milwaukee Avenue would remain open.

    Here’s a specific example of how traffic diversion could work on Milwaukee Avenue. Let’s say you want to travel in your car from Logan Square to Wicker Park on the straight shot of Milwaukee Avenue. You won’t be able to use Milwaukee all the way to Wicker Park, but you’ll be able to use parts of it. A diverter would be set up at Western Avenue, and you’d have to turn left or right onto Western. Turn left and continue the eastbound part of your trip via Armitage, then head south on Damen. Turn right and continue the southbound part of your trip on Western and then head east on North Avenue.

  • John

    This is exactly what I suggested for Milwaukee Ave during last year’s Dutch ThinkBike Workshop in order to make space for Protected Bike Lanes. Great excuse to implement it.

  • JacobEPeters

    I recall that we diverted traffic in one direction at the entrances to Wicker Park on Milwaukee from the North & South in order to prioritize traffic coming to the neighborhood rather than through traffic. There is a lot of potential for this on many diagonals around overly congested intersections, since simplifying turning movements allows traffic to move more smoothly, efficiently, & in the long run faster, than a 6 way intersection. It has been working in Lincoln Sq for a long time, time to find similar applications.

  • David Altenburg

    I’ve never understood why people use Milwaukee Avenue as a through-street, anyway. It’s terribly slow! If I’m driving or riding in a cab, I avoid it at all costs unless it’s really late at night. Especially since there are industrial corridors along Grand and Elston that provide much better alternatives between the northwest side and downtown.

    If I didn’t see cars doing it every day when I’m on my bike, I wouldn’t believe there are drivers who use Milwaukee as part of their regular commutes. I think that by encouraging drivers to seek out the alternatives, Chicago would actually be doing these poor, misguided souls a favor.

  • “It has been working in Lincoln Sq for a long time”
    At which intersection? Montrose/Lincoln?

  • B

    Ok but sending more people to the Damen/Fullerton intersection is not the alternative route I would suggest. Also perhaps the shuttle should avoid Milwaukee

  • JacobEPeters

    I meant the street redesign turning Lincoln into a one way pedestrian priority space between Western and Leland. We could simplify a lot of intersections if we changed the designs of the diagonal streets leading up to them into commerce dominated streets, not traffic dominated streets. There are a few places this could work, like Rush from Walton to Cedar, Lincoln from Ashland to Paulina and others like Milwaukee in parts of Wicker Park and Logan Square where this change of focus could make the street itself less chaotic.

  • Jared Kachelmeyer

    I think he refers to how Lincoln Ave traffic is sent to Leland at the point where Lincoln is one way southbound.

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