Unfortunately, Parking Issues Dictate How Robust 45th Ward Bikeways Will Be

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North of Irving Park, much higher retail density and metered spaces make stripping parking for bike lanes a heavier lift. Note the lack of parked cars at the time this photo was taken. Photo: Google Street View

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Milwaukee Avenue is Chicago’s busiest biking street, with as many as 5,000 bike trips a day during the high season, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation, with most of that cycling taking place between Logan Square and the Loop. But the Blue Line corridor is becoming an increasingly popular place to live, and we’re seeing transit-oriented development proposals in neighborhoods like Avondale, Portage Park, Old Irving Park, and Jefferson Park. As more car-free and car-lite residents settle further northwest along Milwaukee, bike traffic is going to increase on stretches of the road that are farther from the Loop.

So it’s great that the 45th Ward Alderman John Arena recently announced the ward is teaming up with CDOT to install bikeways along Milwaukee between Addison Street and Lawrence Avenue – a two-mile stretch. On the shorter section between Addison and Irving Park Road, Arena and CDOT aren’t letting narrow right-of-way stop them from improving safety. Ninety-two little-used parking spaces will be stripped from the east side of Milwaukee on this stretch to make room for buffered bike lanes, which help provide extra breathing room for people biking.

Unfortunately, however, there will be no major improvements to the longer segment of Milwaukee between Irving and Lawrence. The city won’t be moving any parking from this segment, so there will only be room for “sharrows,” the bike-and-chevron road markings that have been shown to have relatively little effect on improving bike safety.

45th Ward residents voted for the bike lanes project as the top priority in the ward’s May 2015 participatory budgeting election, so the facilities will be bankrolled with $100,000 from the district’s $1.3 million discretionary budget for that year. Work on the bikeways should start later this year, DNAinfo reported.

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Most of the housing on Milwaukee between Addison and Irving has off-street parking, so there’s relatively little demand for street parking. Photo: Google Street View

Since Milwaukee between Addison and Irving doesn’t have enough right-of-way for parking on both sides, travel lanes and buffered bike lanes, CDOT recently did eight parking studies on this stretch to see how many spaces were actually being used. The department found that, since this segment has little retail, and much of the housing has off-street parking, curbside spaces were seeing little use. In addition, the absence of metered parking makes it relatively easy to strip parking.

The project also with involve the removal or relocation of several stops for the #56 Milwaukee bus between Addison and Irving, DNA reported. The city says this will shorten travel times and enhance safety.

The higher density of retail between Irving and Lawrence combine with less off-street parking for residences, and the resulting higher parking demand, made removing dozens of parking spaces on that stretch a non-starter, Arena said.

Notably, this stretch is just south of a four-lane stretch of Milwaukee north of Lawrence where CDOT previously proposed converting two of the lanes to protected bike lanes, which would have required the removal of a few parking spots for sight lines. After a major backlash from residents, the road diet idea was scrapped and the department installed buffered lanes instead – a much more modest safety improvement.

Another issue with removing parking between Irving and Lawrence is the city’s despised parking meter deal. The presence of metered spaces on this stretch would make parking removal much more complex because the city would either have to replace these spots with new metered spaces elsewhere in the area, or compensate the parking concessionaire for lost revenue.

Map of Milwaukee Ave bike lanes in 45th Ward
Map showing where on Milwaukee Avenue that CDOT will install bike lanes and sharrows.

Thus the neighborhood is getting “sharrows,” which have some value for wayfinding, reminding people in cars to watch out for people biking, and helping keep cyclists out of the way of parked car doors, but are otherwise useless for separating motorized traffic from bike traffic. That means bike riders who pass through or patronize this retail strip will see limited benefits.

While the decision to water down bike improvements on this stretch is understandable, it’s a little frustrating. But if bike lanes are a no-go on this stretch, what else could the city do to improve safety for people biking?

Improving the massive Milwaukee/Irving/Cicero intersection, aka Six Corners, is an obvious option. CDOT should definitely stripe the Milwaukee bike lanes through the junction. And perhaps in the future the intersection could be made more people-friendly through the addition of curb extensions to shorten pedestrian crossing distances and calm traffic. This strategy is already planned for the similarly intimidating intersection of Lincoln Avenue, Belmont Avenue, and Ashland Avenue in Lakeview.

Adding Dutch-style protected intersection treatments at key street crossings along Milwaukee – especially on the section with “sharrows” – would be another solution. CDOT has already dabbled with this concept downtown, although they haven’t built a proper protected intersection yet.

Another idea that might be a little tricky politically, but well worth it, in terms of reducing crashes and promoting a better walking and shopping environment on Milwaukee would be to lower the speed limit from the city’s default 30 m.p.h limit. Sure, some car commuters would grumble, but we have to choose – do we want Milwaukee to be a throughfare for motorists to pass through quickly, or do we want to make it a safer, more pleasant, and more prosperous street on which to live and shop?

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.

  • JeffParkNIMBY

    I actually think that the speed limit in that section is already 25 mph, which is slower than the city’s normal speed.

    It doesn’t really matter because traffic is usually backed up during peak travel times and during non-peak times, traffic moves faster anyway.

    What I am trying to say is that the car lobby is very strong on the northwest side and no alderman dare stand up to them, even if the facts are on the side of bike lanes.

  • The “sharrows” are almost a waste of paint, worth the effort though if it only reminds people that bikes have a right to be on the road.

    Just a thought that has been in my head, maybe in other heads too I don’t know…

    There is a greenway going from Lawrence and Lemont, a few blocks east of Lawrence/Milwaukee….directly to the western terminus of the 606 @ Springfield.

    It runs along the Metra tracks, merges with other freight lines, closed off to the public, open to coyotes.

    What if….we had a bike trial there along the tracks? Not a fancy 606 Grade improvement but something along the lines of the Green Bay trail going north from Evanston? It could be upgraded later but just a simple path would connect Jeffreson Park to BuckTown/Wicker Park.

    It could be extended north along the line to the NW forest preserve trail meaning an unimpeded dedicated to bikes pathway from 1800N Ashland to Lake-Cook Rd. at the Botanical Garden,

  • JKM13

    The section where the buffered bike lane will be is already one of the safest stretches of Milwaukee, so no ones really gaining much.

    But I guess that’s as good as we can expect from the city these days…

  • Jeff Gio

    If sharrows functioned as intended and cars truly yielded to bikes (no honking, no harrowing passing on left), then we could have the entire stretch of Milwaukee Ave prioritize bicycle traffic without any extra infrastructure as bicyclists take the center of the lane. Lowering the speed limit to 20 would be a step in this direction

  • Annie F. Adams

    This workaround/compromise might be helpful. On S Anderson St in Urbana, IL (zip 61801) the street that has low parking rates and accommodates cyclists with solid white painted parking lines. In addition cyclists are aware of cutaways (driveways) as the painting becomes a box. We will be doing this on a current 4 car lane street that will become a 2 car + 2 bike lane street. The solid “parking paint” will act as a transition to the painted bike lanes and be overflow parking that is needed 6-8 hours a week on that section of the street.