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.

  • Anne A

    Thanks to Steve and CDOT for pushing the developer to solve the problem. I agree that it would be much better if a safe plan is created *before* construction in the future.

  • norrin_raddical

    I actually know someone involved with this project and was discussing this with them. Mind you I am not involved so take this for what its worth, but apparently my associate claims there was a breakdown in communication between the developer, CDOT and CTA. All of which needed to be involved for the street reconfiguring, the developer claimed to want the reconfiguring to happen but could not coordinate with the city. This obviously does not excuse the developer from constructing the infrastructure without proper accommodations, I just say this to point that situations like this are not always the caused by a short sighted and malicious developer, but rather part of a complex coordinated effort amongst multiple agencies.

  • norrin_raddical

    Follow up, besides the point above. Good work pushing the issue and causing a quick resolution to a dangerous situation.

  • Right, I’m sure the developer never intended this bottleneck to occur, but they shouldn’t have built the walkway without having bike accommodations in place.

    I’m sure Steven will thank you for your praise, after he emerges from the Shawnee National Forest.

  • norrin_raddical

    Of course, I by no means meant to justify the poor decision by the developer to construct the dangerous bottleneck. I just wanted to shed what I thought was a bit of interesting information on the back end workings of the situation. From what I heard, all parties involved could have done a better job to prevent this. Ultimately the developer takes all the blame for constructing the unsafe enclosure, and that is deserved.

  • ohsweetnothing

    As annoying (and dangerous) as the bottleneck was, I was pleasantly surprised by how high quality the pedestrian walkway is. No lines of orange safety cones, but a hardcore concrete and fencing barrier between peds and the roadl! Is that part for the course and I am just now noticing, or has the developer gone above and beyond?

    Also, the Wabansia and Wood detour! Of course! *slaps dumb head with dumb hand repeatedly*

    EDIT: Judging by the first picture, it appears that some bikers are using the concrete wall as a makeshift Curbee, ha.

  • jmschimmel

    I must be misreading this passage: “There will also be sufficient room for southbound cyclists and drivers to pass left-turning motorists on the right at North Avenue.” — there’s always been a NO LEFT TURN sign on Milwaukee Avenue — both Northbound and Southbound — at that intersection. I really hope that’s not changing.

  • There’s a “No turn on red” sign for southbound Milwaukee traffic, but there doesn’t seem to be a “No left turn” sign: http://goo.gl/maps/yH7vy

  • Alex Oconnor

    Well Done

  • skyrefuge

    I see “NO LEFT TURN” signs (oddly, one in text, one in a graphic) attached high on the stoplight crossbeams on the far side of the intersection, one in each direction.

    Though hilariously, the StreetView car captured a Kia making a left turn there anyway. Have CPD send a request to Google to have them unblur the license plate so they can issue a citation!

  • skyrefuge

    No admonishment for the cyclists entering the oncoming lane to pass stopped cars beyond “risky”? Seems like a dick move, especially if they then have to merge back in (since turning left off Milwaukee seems to technically be illegal). I’m sure drivers would love to pull out and tear around backed-up traffic too, but luckily most are better-behaved than that. Cars are backed up and there’s no room on the right? Tough. Wait in line like everyone else. Riding a bike doesn’t give you some right to never have to wait in traffic!

  • Lisa Curcio

    Your top photo clearly shows the No Left Turn sign. There are no left turns allowed from southbound Milwaukee.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Regarding the first photo, why would the biker position himself in the blind spot of the truck?

  • oooBooo

    It is illegal for a two wheeled vehicle to pass on the right with less than 8 feet of unobstructed pavement.

    If the lane is too narrow, take the lane.

    Why are they gutter passing? Don’t gutter pass, wait in the queue. (yes, this is how I have been riding for many many years) Gutter passing is an obnoxious behavior that can result in serious injury to the rider.

  • Bikes may pass slow or stopped vehicles on the right. The eight foot rule only applies to motorized two wheel vehicles. http://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2013/06/it-is-crystal-clear-chicago-cyclists.html
    Also, i think an illinois court has ruled that bikes are not “vehicles”

  • oooBooo

    http://ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/062500050K11-704.htm

    (see below)

    The phrase “This subsection does not apply to devices propelled by human power” Did not exist the last time I read this section, which was only a couple years ago. The effective 1-1-14 indicates it was changed effective this year.

    This change is ill advised IMO. I nearly killed an obnoxious gutter passer a few years ago. I passed a bicycle rider several hundred feet from an intersection. I caught a red light, had my right signal on. The light turns green and I can make my turn, and thankfully for him I was watching for this idiot. I abort my turn as dummy is already at my car’s C-pillar and moving at good speed. Keep in mind, the light was green, my signal was on, and the time there was no exception for bicycles.

    I await the first bicycle rider seriously injured or killed by his own incompetence by gutter passing. Sadly this exemption would probably transfer responsibility to the driver. It also remains an obnoxious behavior, to create a condition where a motorist must pass a bicyclist a second or even third time because of allowing passing at red signals.

    The Baub decision was about intended users. The law still reads as it always did. (see below)

    (625 ILCS 5/11-704) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-704)

    Sec. 11-704. When overtaking on the right is permitted.
    (a) The driver of a vehicle with 3 or more wheels may overtake and pass
    upon the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:

    1. When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn;
    2. Upon a roadway with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width for two or more lines of vehicles moving lawfully in the direction being traveled by the overtaking vehicle.
    3. Upon a one-way street, or upon any roadway on which
    traffic is restricted to one direction of movement, where the roadway
    is free from obstructions and of sufficient width for 2 or more lines of
    moving vehicles.
    (b) The driver of a 2 wheeled vehicle may not pass upon the right of any
    other vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless the unobstructed
    pavement to the right of the vehicle being passed is of a width of not less
    than 8 feet. This subsection does not apply to devices propelled by human power.

    (c) The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass another vehicle upon
    the right only under conditions permitting such movement in safety. Such
    movement shall not be made by driving off the roadway.

    (Source: P.A. 98-485, eff. 1-1-14.)

    (625 ILCS 5/11-1502) (from Ch. 95 1/2, par. 11-1502)
    Sec. 11-1502. Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles. Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this Code, except as to special regulations in this Article XV and except as to those provisions of this Code which by their nature can have no application.
    (Source: P.A. 82-132.)

  • brandon

    We should also acknowledge the flexibility of the developer. That could have dragged their feet or fought this. As an avid cyclist, commuter and a close neighbor of the project, I’m excited about this hotel. It’s a huge benefit to the neighborhood. Sometimes we as cyclists need to be OK with being I convinced (take a detour) occasionally for the greater good.

  • themachineisdead

    Why can’t cyclists walk their bikes inside the 25 feet of covered shelter???

  • Professor Wagstaff

    Agree completely? Why are the cyclists who are trying to “get around the stopped cars” not getting in the lane behind the stopped cars? When there is no room, take the lane, don’t ride into oncoming traffic. Can’t they wait a few seconds to continue on their way, or do they have to be at the front?

  • V Remark

    That’s like asking drivers of cars to get out and push and pedestrians to get on their hands and knees and crawl. Terribly inconvenient for a legitimate form of transportation.

  • themachineisdead

    no its not.
    its getting off your bike and walking it 25 ft in order to NOT GET SMASHED BY A BUS.

    Or are you THAT spoiled that you simply must maintain a rideable speed and never leave your saddle?

  • V Remark

    Yes.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Shawnee National Forest envy here!

  • David Altenburg

    They can and do. At least, I did for a couple days while this intersection was in disarray[1]. But that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to require them to do so, and with a little modification to the intersection, they no longer should need to.

    This is a major cycling route – the biggest one not on the lakefront, and all that has been asked for is reasonable accommodation for people on bikes. If car drivers had to get out of their cars, press a button, and get back into their cars to proceed, most would consider that an unreasonable burden on drivers. Just because a road user can do something does not mean we should make them do so when we can provide a better alternative.

    [1] On other days I just waited behind the line of cars. But that sometimes would mean waiting multiple signal cycles because of the inability of drivers to avoid blocking the intersection.

  • It’s more like 200 feet.

  • Here’s some more about how the law got amended to make it clear that passing on the right by cyclists is legal. http://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2014/06/the-bicycle-injury-case-that-led-to.html

  • As stated in the article, it’s more like 200 feet.

  • Katja

    Went through this morning, had way more room. Still not perfect, but way better than before.

  • Mishellie

    Filtering is perfectly legal, and at that intersection filtering gives bikes a chance to have safety in numbers when that light turns green and there’s leftover chaos and blocking of the box from the previous light.

  • Mishellie

    Are YOU that spoiled that you must maintain a driveable speed and never get out and push your car in neutral?

  • colleen

    Perhaps CDOT could free up a pothole crew to visit Wabansia, Wood and St.Paul. Those streets just west of Milwaukee are a disaster. There are potholes everywhere and none have been filled since Christmas

  • jeff wegerson

    Thanks for the info. Interesting take on bikes following the car rules. I have argued for separate rules for bikes just as there are separate rules for pedestrians.

    But that said, and if one still wants to insist (not saying that’s you) on bikes obeying car rules then the snippet above should be used full force. Namely the part that says “shall be granted all of the rights”. In the example that sparked this discussion it clearly is an opportunity for a biker to take over the entire lane (as you said) for the length of the construction. As is their right!

    But bikers, like almost all pedestrians are loath to use their rights. And for good reason, injury and death. Still those able and willing should take every opportunity to take their rights. As an able bodied pedestrian I often have stopped cars that would have denied me my rights within a crosswalk. I hold my hand up in the you-must-halt position if need be. But, of course, I am ready to abort the maneuver if needed.

    But rules and laws are often overly inflexible for everyday use. In that case there emerges temporary states of anarchy where people do what makes sense, rules be damned. And that’s fine when things are working. When things start to jam and quit working then change begins. Times of change are dangerous because of new unusual patterns. People who no longer want to pay the expenses of car transport switch to bike transport. Their numbers grow to the point that they feel comfortable doing that which they considered dangerous before. Drivers meanwhile sense that things are changing but have not adapted (like you) to the new realities and are not sufficiently vigilant and right hook a biker who was also not sufficiently vigilant.

    Then it’s time for lawyers to step in.

    But for drivers and bikers to insist that the rules be absolutely obeyed will merely bring on an oppressive police reacting to their cries. And at that point the previous semi-natural anarchy recedes. Perhaps to return when the police are faced with better things to do. But then perhaps not.

  • oooBooo

    I’ve been using my rights fully for 18 years now. Once I started doing it I could not go back to cowering on the edges and using sidewalks. And yes I do take the lane as prescribed in the vehicle code. As to danger, it’s actually less IMO. A woman sped up and passed me last night by going into the on-coming lane as I was making a left turn. So stuff does happen, but it’s less dangerous than what I’ve faced the other way of riding. I could tell she was likely going to do it and slowed my turn and aborted it. The reving engine is a dead giveaway of someone who practices size makes right.

    I’ve done the same in crosswalks. When bike paths cross roads they are striped as crosswalks. If traffic is thick I’ll dismount and walk across. Other wise it’s waiting there until winter.

    With regards to practicality I’ve had very little issue over the years following the vehicle code to the letter. I find it very efficient and orderly. My biggest complaint are incorrectly used stop signs. But if the municipalities were following the rules these would be yield signs or wouldn’t exist at all. (stop signs on the through street of a T intersection shouldn’t be there in most cases)

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