Eyes on the Street: A First Look at New “Dashed Bike Lanes” on Milwaukee Avenue

Even the drivers of monster trucks seems to be staying to the left of the dashed lines. Photo: John Greenfield
Even the drivers of monster trucks seems to be staying to the left of the dashed lines. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week when we broke the news about the Chicago Department of Transportation’s plan for “dashed bike lanes” on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park there was a strong response from readers — much of it negative. The city is trying this new style of bikeway on Milwaukee because, while many residents at recent community meetings asked for bike lanes on this crash-prone stretch, there isn’t sufficient road width for full bike lanes without stripping all the car parking spaces from one side of the street, which is probably a non-starter politically at this time.

The dashed bike lane layout. Image: CDOT
The dashed bike lane layout. Image: CDOT

The idea behind the dashed bike lanes is that car drivers will tend to stay out of the bike lanes, but drivers of larger vehicles such as trucks and buses will be allowed to cross the dotted line when necessary, as long as they yield to cyclists. However, many commenters on our post argued that the new bikeways wouldn’t be any better than the status quo of bike-and-chevron “sharrow” markings next to the parking lane — drivers would simply ignore the dashed lines.

And the vehicular cyclists — followers of “Effective Cycling” author John Forester, who preaches that cyclists are safest when they bike in the center of the travel lane — were completely dismissive of the idea. Some of them even argued that the dashed lines would make the Milwaukee Avenue dooring epidemic even worse by sending the message that cyclists are required to ride within a few feet of car doors.

Pretty soon you'll be able to say "Aloha" to new paint-and-post curb extensions at many intersections. Photo: John Greenfield
Pretty soon you’ll be able to say “Aloha” to new paint-and-post curb extensions at many intersections. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT started work on the Milwaukee Avenue complete streets project (see a full rundown of planned improvements here) and the dashed bike lanes are already largely completed between Division and North, minus the bike symbols. Steven Vance and I both checked them out today and while there’s bound to be a learning curve while cyclists and motorists get used to the new layout, it already appears that car drivers are generally respecting the dashed lines. Even bus and truck drivers seem to be doing a decent job of not driving in the bike lanes.

Dashed bike lanes are making Milwaukee Avenue somewhat more bikeable, but it's still not Amsterdam. Photo: John Greenfield
Dashed bike lanes are making Milwaukee Avenue somewhat more bikeable, but it’s still not Amsterdam. Photo: John Greenfield

Of course, that doesn’t mean things are going to be peaches and cream on Milwaukee from now on. Just as there were before the lanes went in, there are plenty of issues with motorists double parking, as you can see from the video Steven shot, above. That issue is a tough nut to crack because this is such a busy retail district. Beer truck deliveries to the zillions of bars on the strip alone pose a significant nuisance for all road users. (But, hey, I’m certainly not calling for a ban on beer deliveries.)

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A drone’s eye view of new dashed and conventional bike lanes at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee, looking northwest. Photo: Steven Vance

So, no, the dashed lanes have not magically transformed Milwaukee into cycling Nirvana. But by encouraging people to drive closer to the centerline and park closer to the curb, they do seem to be giving cyclists more breathing room, an improvement over the previous set-up. Still, let’s keep pushing for CDOT to take a bolder approach to improving safety on the Hipster Highway in the next year or two, even if it means rethinking the assumption that both sides of Milwaukee must be used to provide storage for privately owned metal boxes.

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  • Carter O’Brien

    Encouraging, thanks for such a quick update.

  • Guy Ross

    ‘width’ in the second sentence. Feel free to delete this comment. Thanks guys.

  • Cameron Puetz

    The picture of the bus and the UPS truck perfectly summarizes why people were skeptical of this plan. I’m not sure if there’s political will for it, but in my opinion the best option for this stretch of Milwaukee Ave would be something similar to Lincoln Ave through Lincoln Square.

  • David P.

    Since when is an ’80s 4Runner with off-road tires a “monster truck” ?

    And are there any improvements in the provisions for public storage of privately-owned metal frameworks?

  • Carter O’Brien

    Cyclists, myself included, would all benefit by acknowledging our desire to move efficiently and to minimize stopping is not as important as the service the bus provides, even when said bus seems to be going maddeningly slow.

    In this case, I don’t see a problem or any kind of silver bullet (who doesn’t get things delivered by UPS?). Stay behind the bus, go around it on the left when it makes a stop. Milwaukee is not a good street for fast riding, Elston is a better and safer route for that IMO.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Whatever one thinks about the new design for Milwaukee Ave., one fact
    remains: Never ride in the door zone at speeds faster than the normal
    speed at which one walks/jogs (i.e. ~3 mph). This is the sage advise of
    international cycling guru and founder of the Chicagoland Bicycle
    Federation (now Active Transportation Alliance). If you ride in the
    door zone, you will (eventually) get doored! I recommend riding ON, or
    just to the left of, the 5ft. lane line at any and all times that you
    are cycling at a speed that would prevent you from stopping on a dime
    (i.e. over ~3 mph). Other thoughts / advise on safe cycling along a
    tight road with high parking turnover like Milwaukee Ave?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yeah, sorry, I’m no expert in macho truck terminology.

  • “The idea behind the dashed bike lanes is that car drivers will tend to stay out of the bike lanes…”

    Since when?

  • Cameron Puetz

    My concern with what’s shown in that photo is that the bike lane is clearly not a safe place to ride. The pavement markings encourage a novice rider to ride in that dangerous space and reinforce driver’s perception that cyclists should stay in that narrow space. I agree that moving left and staying behind the bus is the safest way to navigate there, but this infrastructure discourages riders from doing that.

    If a safe space can’t be designated for cyclists, don’t designate an unsafe space for cyclists. Instead encourage cyclists to move around as conditions change to stay safe.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Then we should all really just avoid Milwaukee altogether, no? It isn’t safe as it stands as this situation/conflict has always existed.

    Protected lanes are certainly what is ideal, but those mean cutting a lane of parking, which I think we’d all agree is a seriously heavy lift. This still seems to be a step (albeit a baby one) in that direction.

  • David P.

    I think “truck” would have been sufficient :)

  • David P.

    Correct, though I think I’d generalize it a bit to “don’t ride at a speed faster than will allow you to stop before hitting an opening door.” In practice I think this is under 10mph or so. Beyond that, be assertive and take the lane when needed. When traffic allows it I always do this between North/Damen and Paulina.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    I am pretty certain that most/any cyclist(s) going 6-10 mph could stop in time to avoid a potentially serious and injury-inducing crash, when a door suddenly opened in front of them. Obviously, this depends upon how far they are from the opening door. I am assuming that they are right there — say 3-10 feet when the door shoots open. You can easily do a controlled test on this if you like :).

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Whoops, I meant ” … could NOT stop in time …”

  • Max Power

    I never realized that a dashed line can transform motorists passing at less than 3 feet from dangerous passing to something praiseworthy

  • In the video, the old sharrows are blacked out and they’re clearly in a horrible position. If the sharrows were to be put in the correct position and paired with BMUFL signage, there would absolutely be an improvement in safety. If a more identifiable bikeway is needed, use a “super sharrow” like Long Beach did.

  • Blackcatprowliii

    Ride wherever is safe. Don’t let others tell you where to ride. Take the lane!

  • Jack Hughes

    Completely right you are.

  • Jack Hughes

    What we have there is a “door zone bike lane” with the additional feature of it being a door zone bike lane of a substandard width. One cannot avoid riding in the door zone while riding in the bike lane. Riding in the door zone has predictable and dire consequences: http://www.bikexprt.com/massfacil/cambridge/doorzone/laird1.htm As such, the facility does nothing more than encourage people to ride where they should not if they are concerned for their own safety.

  • Jack Hughes

    . . . or what makes a space safe to cycle in . . .

  • Jack Hughes

    It’s the same effect of how riding in the door zone is dangerous unless the door zone is made safe by putting a bike lane in it.

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