Milwaukee Bike Lane Reopened at Grand, But It Could Be Closed Again Soon

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Looking northwest on Milwaukee from Grand this afternoon. Photo: John Greenfield

Streetsblog reader Dries Kimpe tipped us off yesterday about yet another case of construction creating hazardous conditions for cyclists on Milwaukee Avenue. While plastic Jersey walls had previously been used to close the sidewalk on the west side of Milwaukee north of Grand to facilitate work on a transit-oriented development called Kenect, yesterday the barriers had been moved to block off the bike lane as well. This forced bicyclists to squeeze between the wall and moving cars and increased the chance of riders being struck by right-turning motorists.

I’m happy to report that, as of today this was no longer the case. The wall had been moved west a few feet again to reopen the bike lane. But it looks like we could see more closures of the lane in the near future.

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Looking northwest on Milwaukee at Grand yesterday. Photo: Dries Kimpe.

When I contacted CDOT today about the closure, they informed me that the construction wall had been moved back. They didn’t provide information about whether it was legal for the contractor had a permit to block the bike lane and if so, the duration of the permit, or the reason for the obstruction.

Local alderman Walter Burnett has voiced support for making sure that construction on Milwaukee doesn’t endanger any road users, including people on bikes. When I called his office today, a staff member told me that the bike lane had been blocked off yesterday because the construction company, Tishman Construction, needed room for a crane to lift drywall up to windows. He said the alderman had received some complaints about the bike lane closure.

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Prior to the construction, Milwaukee had a narrow, crumbling sidewalk at this location. Image: Google Street View

When I checked out the construction site late this afternoon, the bike lane was still open. The closure of the right-turn lane to the right of the green bike lane means there’s still an increased chance of conflicts between drivers and cyclists, but it’s a much safer situation than yesterday. Another positive development is that the sidewalk on Milwaukee has been rebuilt, and it appears to be much wider than before.

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Thanks to the TOD project, the Milwaukee sidewalk is much wider now. Photo: John Greenfield

I asked contractors at the job site about the project and they politely told me that they had to close the sidewalk yesterday to do the sidewalk work, but they moved the Jersey walls back east that evening. “We’ve been permitted to completely close the bike lane for an entire two weeks,” said one of the workers. “But we’ve been conscientious about moving it back each night so we don’t block the bike lane. It’s the right thing to do.”

So it sounds like it’s legal for Tishman to close the bike lane, and they may do it again in the near future. Not an ideal situation by any means, but as long as they’re not doing it simply to make room for parking construction vehicles, as Dries Kimpe was concerned they might be, it seems like a necessary evil.

  • It may be a necessary evil, but the impact needs to be shared between cars and bikes, especially on well used bike lanes. That means that some of the inconvenience needs to be experienced by cars and not just bikes. It may mean that bikes and cars share a lane at 10mph with signage making it clear and possibly temporary speed humps forcing the issue. And the construction company needs to share some of the pain as well, possibly by paying for flaggers on the reduced laneage.

  • I can’t find a single Transportation Department Permit in the Data Portal that would apply to this. There are a couple of Tishman ones in the database for that area, but none mention Milwaukee or bike lanes.

  • Imagine if the bike lane wasn’t there and it was cars they were interrupting. I’m inclined to think they’d find more ways to avoid interrupting traffic.

  • AMF

    If a construction company impedes a pedestrian or cyclists right to safe passage, then that developer should legally, if not morally, or ethically, be required to hire flaggers who signal to motorists- the blockade or obstruction the developer has put in place.
    Developers, are out to make a ton of money. And usually do.
    Why doesn’t the City of Chicago: CDOT, and the Alderman of whatever Ward, hold these developers accountable for the right to safe passage for cyclists and pedestrians?

  • Mcass777

    I had the same thought thi morning

  • ardecila

    “Safe” is relative. Road closures are intended to keep pedestrians and cyclists away from the area where work is being performed, so in many cases a sidewalk closure improves overall safety.

    I’m not sure why you think a flagger is necessary rather than simply signage. Usually a “sidewalk closed” sign for pedestrians and a “merge” sign for cyclists is adequate.

  • ardecila

    I would love it if portions of Milwaukee were pedestrianized or closed to through-traffic and turned into a bike boulevard. Keep all the curb lane parking, with an “advanced sharrow” for cyclists, but eliminate the lead-foot drivers in favor of local traffic only.

    Unfortunately we don’t live in that world… fast car traffic, curbside parking, and construction are an unavoidable fact of life even on the city’s busiest bike route.

  • Yes, I agree construction is just part of living in a city. But my point was that the barrier to blocking off traffic seems to be lower for blocking bike rather than car lanes. I doubt construction would stop if we were stricter about this, it might incur some extra costs and inconveniences though.

  • Diagonals are great for pedestrians and bikers, but not so much for cars. Indeed diagonals are often a pain for cars because of the 6-way intersections.

    The diagonals in Chicago were created before cars for just that reason. Indeed look at the Ogden diagonal that was removed, largely because it wasn’t really needed for cars. It used to connect Lincoln near Armitage and Clark to, well to where Ogden still goes today. What a great shortcut for bikes that would make today especially with all those bridges over the river and Goose Island.

    So yes, pedestrianize/bikize the diagonals. Little loss to cars, great gain for bikes!

  • Mcass777

    Looks to be a short term pain long term gain. Gotta be safe here.

  • Fred

    My anecdote about bikes and construction: Today while riding home from work, I was headed northbound on the Dearborn bike lanes approaching Kinzie St when suddenly I was head on with a car. This is extra troubling because not only was a car in the bike lanes, it was going the wrong way down a one way street! I didn’t see the license plates, but judging by the reaction of the woman in the passenger seat when she saw me, this wasn’t someone being a jerk but a lost tourist. The only logical explanation I can think of is that they were headed eastbound on Kinzie, hit the construction on the western half of the intersection that has made things a cluster and turned down the bike lanes.

    It would be nice if they could more blatantly indicate that the bike lanes, that kinda naturally flow around the construction are not for cars. I’d bet that they are not the first or last people to make that mistake.

  • Frank Kotter

    Your photo of what happens in Germany. This is even more possible in any U.S. city due to existing lane width. However, it does require a narrowing of a vehicle lane to accomplish this and therefore is seen as a hostile act against each and every motorist and the political and bureaucratic will to establish this standard is basically zero.

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