Milwaukee Bottleneck Addressed but Illegal Parkers Endanger Cyclists

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Illegally parked cars force a cyclist to ride dangerously close to traffic. Photo: John Greenfield

On Thursday, Steven Vance and I got the news that the city was forcing a developer to fix a dangerous bottleneck on Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago’s busiest bike street, in Wicker Park. However, when I dropped by around 4:30 p.m. yesterday to check out the new street configuration, I found that the situation was as dysfunctional as ever.

In late June, Convexity Properties, a developer that’s turning the neighborhood’s iconic Northwest Tower into a hotel, built a pedestrian walkway in the street to protect people on foot while façade work takes place. The walkway’s exterior concrete wall narrowed the southbound lane of much of the 1600 block of North Milwaukee. As a result, southbound cyclists who tried to ride to the right of motorized traffic ran the risk of being squeezed into the wall.

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The street configuration last week, before the centerlines were striped. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog Chicago writer Steven Vance brought the problem to the Chicago Department of Transportation’s attention. Last Thursday, a CDOT source told Steven that Convexity was not complying with the terms of its construction permit, which requires that both lanes of traffic be safely maintained.

CDOT would force the developer to pay for restriping the road’s center line to provide more room for southbound bike riders, Steven was told. Relocating the northbound lane east would require temporarily removing metered parking on the east side of the block, and Convexity would be responsible for compensating the city’s parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

Readers told us the work was carried out later that day. When I dropped by yesterday, the new yellow centerlines looked sharp. However, all of the paper “No Parking” signs, affixed to poles on the east side of the street, had been torn out of their wood frames and plastic lamination, presumably by disgruntled merchants or motorist. That side was still lined with parked cars.

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Hulk no like “No Parking” sign! Photo: John Greenfield

The result was a chaotic scene. Northbound drivers were forced to straddle the new centerlines. To keep their distance from the oncoming traffic, southbound drivers were hugging the concrete wall, and southbound cyclists were still getting squeezed. Meanwhile, northbound bike riders were traveling in the tight space between the yellow lines and the parked cars.

When I asked a couple of motorist returning to their cars about the unusual street configuration, they said they hadn’t really noticed. However, cyclists I spoke to couldn’t believe that the city was allowing such a dangerous, anarchic situation to exist.

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With parked cars, northbound cyclists have to ride next to the center line. Photo: John Greenfield

As if on cue, a Streets and Sanitation worker showed up and began tying new temporary signs to the posts. “You know why they tear the signs down,” he said. “They want to get away with parking there.” We both agreed that the paper signs probably wouldn’t stay up for long.

However, once he’d posted the signs and drivers, fearing tow trucks, stopped parking against the curb. About 15 minutes after the signs went up, the curb lane was almost empty, and the street was functioning the way it was supposed to. There was sufficient room for northbound motorists to stay east of the centerlines, and for northbound cyclists to share the lane with them. With more distance from oncoming traffic, southbound drivers kept their distance from the wall, giving southbound cyclists breathing room.

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With the parked cars gone, there’s sufficient room to share the road. Photo: John Greenfield

Of course, this relatively safe situation will only last until a selfish motorist or merchant tears down all the signs again. CDOT should require the developer to pay for bolting semi-permanent metal signs to the poles ASAP, before hazardous conditions caused by curbside parking lead to a serious crash.

  • I rode here yesterday on my way to the North Lake Shore Drive meeting at the Drake Hotel.

    I noticed that the width of the southbound lane seems wide enough for a travel lane and a striped bike lane, but it doesn’t have a striped bike lane. Without that line, drivers were positioning their cars in the middle of the wide lane so there wasn’t enough room to pass on the right side. I passed on the left side between the idle cars and the yellow centerline to filter to the front of the queue.

    Yes, there were cars parked against the curb when I rode down at 3:30 PM.

  • Kevin M

    Man, you were all over this, John! Thanks so much for your quick reporting!

    This is why Streetsblog Chicago is such an important resource to Chicago. Not only did all other Chicago media outlets fail to report the initial issue at this hugely-popular intersection, but then John/SB returned to catch an equally-bad follow-up problem at the same location.

  • Katja

    Yeah, even some sharrows would be better than nothing there. This morning’s commute was fine through that area, but yesterday, someone blocked both lanes with their minivan.

  • Kevin M

    Another problem at this squeeze: this morning, there was a beer semi-truck/trailer temporarily parked on the north-side curb, so the squeeze was on again for traffic–especially cyclists.

    With that concrete barrier not going anywhere for while, this bad situation may drag out for a long time.

  • Thanks, that’s what were here for. In fairness, after you gave us a heads-up about the initial problem and Steven reported it to CDOT, DNAinfo did publish an article on the subject. Hopefully, other news outlets will pick up the story of this latest snafu and broadcast the issue, so that the city will fix the problem for good.

  • Pat

    Par for the course on Wells St. The most irritating part is that trucks don’t pull all the way to the curb when they can, just enough to not block the car lane.

  • This really just shows the lawlessness that drivers have become so accustomed to. I know the Chicago police have lots of issues to deal with but i’d love to see a plain-clothes cop just sit there and hand out tickets to the jerks that tear down those signs.
    Can you imagine the uproar if a biker tore down a sign forbidding bikes on an expressway?

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    The sign looks rather cheesy and unofficial. Kind of like one of those “I’ll buy your house signs” that get thrown up everywhere. Did they have a boy scout build it for his Eagle Scout project?

  • Agreed. If the city wants people to respect the parking ban, metal signs are needed.

  • Mishellie

    Do drivers purposefully do this? Or are they just not thinking? I’ve always wondered when I see it happening.

  • Mishellie

    I don’t know why trucks are allowed to make delieveries at rush hours. If I can’t take my bike on the el for 4 hours of the day… they could arrive at a different time.

  • Mishellie

    Also… the wording of the “Bikers merge with traffic” signs – … no duh. What’s needed is a warning to CARS to EXPECT THIS.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I think what’s funnier is the new bike lane on Broadway. SE corner of B’way and Foster has a the bike lane painted thru a metered parking space.

  • BlueFairlane

    Typing as both a driver and a bicyclist, I doubt this behavior is intentional. Unless a driver is familiar with bicycling, it’s doubtful that it even occurs to most that somebody else might want to use a lane on a one-lane street. The natural thing for a person to do is to put their car right in the middle of the space they think is allotted to them. It’s not malevolent.

  • Corn Dog Aficionado

    because unions.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    I don’t know why restaurant and bar patrons are allowed to eat and drink anywhere in the city of Chicago.

    Of course having deliveries of food and drink to such establishments is inconvenient, especially if you as a patron expect to show up and be served.

    Just for a moment think about this. If you can’t make deliveries at certain times, that means to deliver within a more narrow allotted time to the same amount of bars and restaurants, more trucks will be needed to make those deliveries. Will that improve the situation overall?

  • Mishellie

    Yes. Not to mention I’m sure not every truck available is being used at other times of day.

    And it doesn’t have to be on EVERY street, just really narrow congested ones like Milwaukee.

  • Replacing truck trips with cargo bicycle deliveries whenever practical would help address this issue. A visit to Copenhagen would show you that cargo bikes are practical for a lot more things than you might think.

  • Jim Angrabright

    I’ll take a few panel trucks over having to deal with those huge beer and food semi-trailers lumbering down the road. When they park on the streets they block a whole lane of traffic – absolutely no wriggle room. And those semis backing up to a stores dock will block both lanes while the driver maneuvers back and forth, in and out.

    Many cities relegate delivery times often by district or neighborhood with some even requiring night deliveries only.

  • Fred

    Yes, 5 small vans delivering goods 4:30-5am is better than 1 semi delivering goods 6:30-9:30am.

  • Katja

    Those deliveries are to that 24-hour Walgreen’s. They can totally deliver in the middle of the night.

  • Mishellie

    But on Milwaukee? There are so many bikes there. IDK.

  • Coolebra

    Is that a parking enforcement vehicle in the background of the illegally parked vehicles picture?

  • jimsey

    I believe i was there at the time John was taking pictures, that was an illegally parked CDOT vehicle.

  • That’s the Streets and San guy’s truck. Once the signs were up and all the other cars were gone, I asked him to move up the block so I could see how the street worked with no parked cars, but he said he has to put up a couple more signs and left shortly after that. He was a friendly guy, and he was the one who solved the parking problem (for the time being), so avoided mentioning his own ironic parking job in the article.

  • Joseph Finn

    I don’t get why the city didn’t require the developer to take down the concrete wall and simply close the sidewalk on that side for construction.

  • IKnowIWould

    Because then people would just walk in the street!

  • The concrete wall is structurally required as a support for some of the construction equipment above.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    I concur, that’s what I do usually.

  • alexfrancisburchard

    There’s always lots of tourists and out of towners in Chicago. Most of the time on Illinois/Grand, when I See someone driving in the bike lane (pretty often), they have out of state plates.

  • Worrywart

    The city needs to start having a tow truck idle on the other side of the block and just tow people as they park. They do this all the time in other parts of the city where it begins to become predatory (thinking of parts of River North and downtown). Why don’t they just sit here and tow the idiots who are clearly parking in a traffic lane as they do it?

  • Jimbo2K7

    A smart biker would simply find a safer route. Why would you want to risk getting run into?

  • Or perhaps we should ask the cars to find a different route?

  • Lisa Curcio

    I drove (a car) southbound through there tonight. The No parking signs were torn down and cars were parked in the no parking area north of Walgreens so northbound traffic was being forced over the double yellow. As I was stopped waiting for the red light, a SUV behind me was very close to the concrete wall. On the other hand, I saw (in my rear view mirror) a CPD vehicle pull out of the Walgreens, pull up behind the illegally parked cars and start writing tickets. Of course, they were then contributing to the problem, but at least it was in the name of enforcement!

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    And will the cargo bikes be fitted to withstand the weight of a half dozen beer barrels? And will they be coming from the distribution centers miles away pulling these loads? And how will they arrive at their destination in winter? And once you have these cargo bikes engaged in serious commerce won’t they have to be license d and insured like other vehicles? And whose to say they won’t have to double park too to make their deliveries.

    And if you have slow moving cargo bikes in the bike lanes, speedy bikers will just pull out into traffic, defeating the purpose of the bike lane and causing the same issues.

  • Parking enforcement staff issued tickets Thursday night (July 10). There were at least five cars parked from Red Hen Bakery onward that had parking tickets attached to their driver side window.

  • I presume this will be adjusted when a different team comes out (not the pavement striping team). However, CDOT did this more than two years ago on 18th Street, westbound between Wabash and State, and has failed to correct it even after my notification.

  • Jimbo2K7

    Brilliant.

  • Alex_H

    The purpose of bike lanes is not to allow cars to go fast.

  • Worrywart

    It’s amazing how intensely they focus on towing people in River North at 11 PM on a Friday while they are ok with just slapping people with a ticket for blocking a traffic lane in a construction zone during a weekday rush…

  • Like I said, we should replace truck trips with cargo bike deliveries *whenever practical*. Cargo bikes might not be ideal for moving half a dozen beer barrels long distances, but they’d work great for transporting two barrels of fancy beer a mile or two from the Goose Island plant to a restaurant in the West Loop.

    As for the other barriers you bring up, there are already plenty of people using cargo bikes in Chicago, and tons of folks using them in bike-friendly European cities, so these are either non-issues, or can be addressed as needed.

    A friend of mine convinced a local magazine to stop doing most newsstand distribution by truck and to allow him to do it with his cargo bike. He delivered something like 500 pounds of magazines at a time, all year ’round.

  • Or in other words, ‘shared space’ doesn’t work.

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