Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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Concrete curbs will protect a section of the southbound bike lane on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

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Chicago’s busiest cycling street is receiving some safety improvements, including a segment of bike lanes with concrete protection. Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed “The Hipster Highway” due to its high bike traffic, is currently getting upgrades between Elston Avenue and Division Street in River West and Noble Square.

In 2013, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a combination of buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie Street and Elston. The current project includes a similar mix of bikeway styles, plus a short stretch of curb-protected bike lane, as well as a parking-protected lane with concrete “parking caps.”

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Milwaukee from Division and Augusta has been upgraded to a double-buffered bike lane. Photo: John Greenfield

Contractors working for the Chicago Department of Transportation started construction last week and had completed a significant portion of the new bikeways by last Monday evening. From Division to Augusta Boulevard, existing conventional bike lanes have been upgraded to lanes with a striped buffer on each side. This help keep moving cars further away from bikes, and encourage cyclists to ride a few feet away from parked automobiles, so that they don’t get “doored.”

Previously, the bike lanes disappeared about 150 feet south of Division, but the buffered lanes go all the way to the intersection’s south crosswalk — a nice improvement. The new northbound section is located next to the curb, and drivers are currently parking in it, but adding “No Parking” signs should help solve that problem.

The northbound bike lane now reaches Division Street but, right now, it’s full of parked cars. Photo: Steven Vance

In the other direction, bicyclists going south from Division don’t have to choose between pinch points anymore because the bike lane picks them up right at the crosswalk. There were two pinch points here, created by a failing sewer cover that was fixed a month ago: going to the right put cyclists at risk of being doored; going left put cyclists in front of fast-moving cars.

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White dashes will be striped in the middle of this wide bike lane, creating a passing lane. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the 2013 bike lane project the Milwaukee overpass above the Kennedy Expressway’s Ohio Feeder got a road diet to make room for bikeways with two lanes in each direction. Not only does this calm motorized traffic, it also makes it easy for cyclists to pass each other. CDOT is doing a nearly identical treatment on the overpass above the Kennedy, just south of Augusta.

Between the Kennedy and Elston, the parking lane has been relocated to the left of the northbound bike lane to create a protected lane. The concrete parking caps are being installed to prevent parked cars from blocking intersections, crosswalks, and driveways. Parking has been stripped from the west side of the street to make room for a two-block long section of curb-protected bike lane — see the photo at the top of this post.

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Concrete “parking caps” are being installed by the northwest-bound bike lane, south of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

While there haven’t been many miles of new bikeways installed in Chicago in 2015, a number of curb-protected facilities are debuting. CDOT installed the city’s first curb-protected bike lane on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May. The Illinois Department of Transportation is currently wrapping up construction Clybourn Avenue and Division Street in Old Town, and the new bikeway is already wildly popular. And CDOT is building concrete-protected bike lanes downtown on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project.

This trend towards concrete protection for bike lanes is encouraging. CDOT’s previous standard for PBLs has been parking-protected lanes, delineated by flexible posts. These are essentially disposable — they tend to look pretty ragged after a couple of years. The Kinzie Street PBLs, installed in 2011, are currently missing most of their posts and barely function as intended.

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The new curb-protected lanes on Clybourn are already a hit with cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

Curb-protected lanes offer more physical protection for cyclists, and they look better longer, which could help reduce opposition to new PBLs on aesthetic grounds.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • Clearly the long term solution is to simply ban cars. Businesses will cater to bikers and drivers will have to use alley parking or walk – omg – a block. I avoid the diagonals like the plague when I drive. Let’s bite the bullet and do the sensible thing and put Milwaukee out of its car misery.

  • Another option is stripping parking on one side of the street to make room for protected bike lanes on the narrower segments of the street, like Wicker Park, where dooring is a common problem. That seems to be working well on Clybourn — whenever I pass by, there are still plenty of available parking spaces.

    Of course, doing that in Wicker Park would be a whole different ballgame, because there’s a high demand for parking on Milwaukee. But we may be approaching a tipping point where biking becomes the dominant mode on that street, and it becomes easier to make an argument against giving so much roadway to car parking.

  • Katja

    Any ETA on when those “no parking” signs are coming? That little pinch point is mighty annoying.

  • Looking into it.

  • tooch

    i own a car, and drive a fair amount around town and couldn’t agree more. the diagonal streets are a complete menace to the overall car traffic flow of the city and it would make a lot of sense to convert some to all pedestrian/bike. At the same time, it would make sense for some of the heavier industrial tracts (Elston between North & Armitage, for instance) to remain open to drivers (especially since the city keeps most of it fire trucks and trash trucks there).

  • kastigar

    They still need to revitalize Milwaukee Avenue by putting it on the proposed road diet between Lawrence north to Devon. Protected bike lanes, pedestrian passage in the middle, enforced speed limits.

  • There’s a high demand for parking on Milwaukee through Wicker Park because there’s still a good amount of free (unmetered) spaces to be had and people will search for a while to try and park in them.

    Who usually gets those spaces, though, are employees – and their cars aren’t gonna move at all during the day.

    There are so many unknown spaces off of Milwaukee within 150 feet. The WPB SSA #33 parking study found them all.

  • rohmen

    It’s nice to see concrete buffers used. Purely anecdotal, but when I started commuting regularly by bike back in the early 2000s, I recall rarely seeing a driver drive for a long period of time in a stripped bike lane. People would go into them to pass maybe, but it never seemed like a huge issue.

    Fast forward to now, where “buffered” lanes are often installed as part of a road diet, and all of the sudden I feel like I see drivers drive for blocks in a bike lane at times now when traffic backs up. That’s one of my biggest complaints about the City using unprotected bike lanes as a road diet measure, rather than designing them in a way that makes sense for cyclists. It ends up frustrating drivers and causing them to blame cyclists and drive even more aggressively on those stretches (again my anecdotal observations).

    At least curb protectors prevent the backlash a bit.

  • The weirdest thing about the way they’ve done the Clybourn lanes (in the bottom picture) is — imagine getting out of one of those parked cars, onto the ‘plaza’ area, if you have a problem with steps. How do you get down? There are no ramps anywhere, and you can’t even proceed longitudinally towards the crosswalk at the end of the block because there are those gutters (which also are completely useless for bicyclists trying to ‘change lanes’ out of the protected area, for example to avoid a hazard, without having to get off and walk their bikes).

    It seems like it actively makes the area worse for several sets of stakeholders, while adding something that ought to be an undiluted win for cyclists. It could stoke resentment.

  • THere are amazing bike lanes on Milwaukee up by Foster … that, southbound, suddenly die at a viaduct with no indication of what you’re supposed to do.

  • High_n_Dry

    This was a pleasant surprise, especially the painted lanes at the Augusta/ Milwaukee intersection, those were desperately needed. It could use a left turn arrow for turning onto Augusta, a lot of motorists go straight from that lane due to the sharrow in the right lane (my theory).

    The painted lanes on Augusta are great, too. Even if motorists are not currently leaving space for bikes on the right but many of us go to the left of traffic to continue south on Milwaukee since most of the cars are turning onto the freeway. A bit of a confusing intersection.

  • Also would love to see parking entirely removed from Milwaukee. It’s prime real estate that shouldn’t be devoted to non-moving cars.

  • Jimmy S. Dagger

    Have you ever gotten out of the passenger side of a car and then waited for the driver to park it, either because the curb was too high, there was a big puddle, etc?

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