Milwaukee Bottleneck Is Being Fixed, After Streetsblog Alerted CDOT

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A tight squeeze: the current configuration doesn’t allow cyclists and drivers to safely share the road. Photo: John Greenfield

Construction to transform Wicker Park’s Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel has created a dangerous bottleneck for cyclists next to the construction site. Partly thanks to advocacy by a Streetsblog reader and reporter Steven Vance, the developer is fixing the problem.

On Wednesday, June 25, Kevin Monahan wrote Streetsblog to tell us that Convexity Properties was building an enclosed pedestrian walkway next to the 12-story tower at 1600 North Milwaukee Avenue. The walkway is meant to protect people on foot while workers rehab the façade of the building, nicknamed the Coyote Tower and slated to reopen as a hotel in June 2015.

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The walkway protects pedestrians and provides room on the sidewalk for construction equipment. Photo: John Greenfield

The six-foot-wide walkway is a good accommodation for pedestrians. However, its concrete exterior wall, which runs for about 200 feet north of North Avenue, has narrowed the southbound lane of Milwaukee, Chicago’s busiest biking street. Currently, northbound bike riders can share the lane with cars, but southbound cyclists who try to do so run the risk of being squeezed into the wall by vehicles.

Still, many southbound riders are attempting to stay to the right of car traffic. More confident cyclists are dealing with the problem by riding in the center of the southbound lane. When there’s a line of southbound cars stopped at the traffic light, some riders are passing the vehicles on the left — a risky move, since it involves biking in the oncoming traffic lane. Monahan told us he planned to avoid this frustrating scenario altogether by detouring around the block via Wabansia and Wood streets.

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Southbound cyclists ride into the oncoming lane to get around stopped cars. Photo: John Greenfield

Steven (currently biking to the Tunnel Hill Trail in southern Illinois) immediately contacted the Chicago Department of Transportation about the issue. He was told that Convexity’s construction permit requires the developer to safely maintain one lane of traffic in each direction. CDOT contacted the developer and told them to correct the problem immediately.

A week later, it appears the problem is close to being solved. According to a CDOT source, Convexity will be paying to reconfigure the block to provide sufficient lane width for safe cycling. Several car parking spaces on the east side of Milwaukee will be temporarily removed to provide more right-of-way, and the developer will compensate the city’s parking concessionaire for the loss of revenue.

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Deep, cleansing yoga breaths are helpful in this situation. Photo: John Greenfield

Using the extra width, crews should be restriping the travel lanes today, the source said. The north- and southbound lanes will be the same width, with enough room for bike riders and motorists to share the lane.

CDOT deserves credit for forcing Convexity to correct the bottleneck problem. However, in the future, it would be great to see the city work with developers to prevent dangerous situations like this from happening in the first place.