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Posts tagged "Milwaukee Avenue"

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Lagging Left Turns Would Improve Crosswalk Safety at Complex Intersections

Useful location for lagging left turn signal

People have already started crossing Halsted on a green light, even though a late left-turning motorist is stuck in the intersection.

When left turn signals are installed, they typically turn green at the start of a street’s green phase. However, simply reversing that order and putting left turns at the end of the green phase could reduce conflicts between turning cars and people walking in the same direction. As left turn signals have been installed at more Chicago intersections, motorists often are caught completing their left turns just as through traffic – and pedestrians – get a green light. The resulting conflict isn’t safe for anyone.

It’s standard engineering practice to have a “leading left turn phase,” in which the green-arrow light for protected left turns goes first, before through traffic gets a green light. However, Chicago drivers often make left turns at the end of the green phase, after opposing traffic has cleared the intersection.

One example of an intersection where the leading left turn poses a problem for pedestrians is across Halsted Street at Grand and Milwaukee Avenues. During the weekday afternoon rush hour, and at peak times on weekends, motorists end up finishing their turns after through traffic has gotten a green — and end up driving into a crowd of pedestrians. This has happened ever since October, when the Chicago Department of Transportation installed a left-turn signal on Grand Avenue.

To eliminate this conflict, the turn signal here could be shifted to a “lagging left turn,” which puts left turns at the end of the phase, instead of at the beginning. Moving the left turn to the end of the Grand green light would allow pedestrians to cross once the light turns green, then allow any drivers waiting to make a left to finish their turns within a protected left-turn cycle.

Useful location for lagging left turn signal

The leading left turn signal cuts short the pedestrian crossing time across Grand, and split left-turning traffic. This photo shows four motorists turning, and thus blocking people from crossing the street during their green phase.

Lagging left turns are highlighted by the Chicago Pedestrian Plan as a “tool for safer streets.” The plan even mentions that, by reducing conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles, the lagging left turn can even improve car traffic “operations,” and can be done inexpensively since it’s merely reprogramming existing infrastructure. However, CDOT will only install lagging lefts where they “will not negatively affect the operations of the intersection” – engineer-speak for slowing down drivers.

The Pedestrian Plan specifically recommends lagging left turns at intersections with any of the following characteristics:

  • A left turn phase with high-pedestrian volumes. At Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted? Yes
  • Three or more crashes in three years between left turn vehicles and pedestrians. This is most likely the case
  • People crossing during the left turn phase. Maybe
  • The intersection gives pedestrians a head start with a leading pedestrian interval. Not at this intersection

CDOT points to a successful lagging left at Huron Street and Fairbanks Court in Streeterville, near Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Previously, drivers were “unable to turn left” because people were walking across during the entire green phase. After installing a lagging left turn, “pedestrians crossed safely with their signal and the issues with vehicles queueing disappeared.”

Based on those qualifications, the Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted intersection seems like a sure bet for a lagging left turn. Where else in Chicago would a lagging left turn improve pedestrian and vehicle safety?

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Eyes on the Street: CDOT Will Fix Milwaukee/Division Sidewalk, Crosswalks

That sidewalk pavement is embarrassing

This sidewalk on Milwaukee at Ashland will be improved next year.

The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Walk To Transit project will bring “quick fixes” to ten Chicago Transit Authority rail stations next year, including several long-needed improvements to the sidewalks and crosswalks around the Division Blue Line station. Currently, people walking to and from the transit line, or to the numerous shops and residences around the Polish Triangle, face some dismal walking conditions. CDOT will make these improvements as part of Walk To Transit’s first phase:

  • CDOT will “improve [a] sidewalk in poor condition” along Milwaukee, at the northeast corner with Ashland. Over 250 people board or disembark the 56-Milwaukee bus each day onto that broken-up and uneven sidewalk, and many more walk past on their way to shops along this stretch.
  • The project will paint new, zebra-style crosswalks to replace the faded lines at Milwaukee Avenue and Division Street, making it easier for motorists to see where pedestrians are expected to cross.
  • A pedestrian island will be built on Division at Greenview Avenue’s east leg, one block east of Milwaukee, so people can cross the street one travel direction at a time. Division is seven lanes wide at that location, including two parking lanes, four travel lanes, and a painted median.
  • Missing curb ramps and a crosswalk will be constructed on the west leg of Greenview Avenue at Division Street.

Read more…

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PBLs Off the Table in Jeff Park, But Milwaukee Still Needs a Road Diet

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CDOT rendering of Milwaukee with a road diet and protected bike lanes.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has proposed three possible street reconfigurations for Milwaukee from Lawrence to Elston. Unfortunately, the one that CDOT originally said would have had the greatest safety benefit for pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers is now off the table.

The scenario where the current five-lane speedway would have been converted to two travel lanes and a turn lane, plus protected bike lanes, is no longer under consideration, according to 45th Ward chief of staff Owen Brugh. He said that Alderman John Arena and CDOT jointly concluded that PBLs weren’t a practical solution for this stretch, due to the high number of driveways.

Since protected lanes would have involved moving the parking lanes to the left side of the bike lanes, parking spaces would have had to be eliminated at each intersection and curb cut to ensure that cyclists and motorists could see each other. This would have required the removal of 20 percent of the parking spots on Milwaukee. However, parking counts show that, in general, spaces on this section of Milwaukee are currently used as little as 50 percent of the time, and not more than 90 percent of the time, so there would be a relatively minor impact on the availability of parking.

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Rendering of a road diet with wide buffered lanes.

The two other alternatives are still under consideration. One would involve a road diet with wide buffered lanes, which CDOT says would still have a significant safety benefit for all road users. The other would maintain all five lanes but add narrow buffered lanes, which would provide a minor safety benefit for cyclists and pedestrians, but have practically no effect on car speeds.

It’s a shame that protected lanes are no longer being considered, since this stretch of Milwaukee would greatly benefit from a major reboot. This section consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles, making it the least busy stretch of Milwaukee in the city. But while Milwaukee south of the Kennedy Expressway is generally a two-lane street, north of the Kennedy it has two travel lanes in each direction, plus turn lanes, and the excess capacity encourages speeding. Recent CDOT traffic studies found that 75 percent of motorists broke the 30 mph speed limit, and 14 percent exceeded 40 mph, a speed at which studies show pedestrian crashes are almost always fatal.

Since speeding is the norm here, it’s not surprising that there’s a high crash rate. The project area saw 910 crashes between 2008 and 2012, causing at least 17 serious injuries and three deaths, according to CDOT. In January of this year, two men were killed in a rollover crash on the 6000 block of the street, just south of Elston.

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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

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Milwaukee Bottleneck Is Being Fixed, After Streetsblog Alerted CDOT

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A tight squeeze: the current configuration doesn’t allow cyclists and drivers to safely share the road. Photo: John Greenfield

Construction to transform Wicker Park’s Northwest Tower into a boutique hotel has created a dangerous bottleneck for cyclists next to the construction site. Partly thanks to advocacy by a Streetsblog reader and reporter Steven Vance, the developer is fixing the problem.

On Wednesday, June 25, Kevin Monahan wrote Streetsblog to tell us that Convexity Properties was building an enclosed pedestrian walkway next to the 12-story tower at 1600 North Milwaukee Avenue. The walkway is meant to protect people on foot while workers rehab the façade of the building, nicknamed the Coyote Tower and slated to reopen as a hotel in June 2015.

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The walkway protects pedestrians and provides room on the sidewalk for construction equipment. Photo: John Greenfield

The six-foot-wide walkway is a good accommodation for pedestrians. However, its concrete exterior wall, which runs for about 200 feet north of North Avenue, has narrowed the southbound lane of Milwaukee, Chicago’s busiest biking street. Currently, northbound bike riders can share the lane with cars, but southbound cyclists who try to do so run the risk of being squeezed into the wall by vehicles.

Still, many southbound riders are attempting to stay to the right of car traffic. More confident cyclists are dealing with the problem by riding in the center of the southbound lane. When there’s a line of southbound cars stopped at the traffic light, some riders are passing the vehicles on the left — a risky move, since it involves biking in the oncoming traffic lane. Monahan told us he planned to avoid this frustrating scenario altogether by detouring around the block via Wabansia and Wood streets.

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Eyes on the Street: Cut Off Green St. To Cut Milwaukee Ave. Bike Conflicts

Two bicyclists take different routes around this driver blocking the bike lane with their car

A driver, waiting to make a left turn from Green Street, blocks the Milwaukee Avenue bike lane. Meanwhile, two bicyclists dodge the car on either side.

Chicago has long blocked cut-through car traffic on lightly traveled residential streets with hundreds of cul-de-sacs sprinkled throughout the city. The same traffic diversion tactics could also improve safety for bicyclists at dangerous intersections by simplifying movements and removing potential conflict points.

One example is Green Street, where it intersects Milwaukee Avenue’s buffered bike lane. A traffic diverter at this intersection would increase the safety and convenience of bicycling down both Milwaukee and Green, which could be an alternative to Halsted Street towards the West Loop and to the UIC campus.

The intersection of Green and Milwaukee sees many dangerous vehicle turning maneuvers. Southbound drivers on Milwaukee either make fast, wide right turns across the southbound bike lane, while drivers from Green either block the bike lane when waiting to turn left, or zoom left right in front of southbound cyclists. Six bicyclists were injured in automobile crashes here between 2005 and 2012.

This last block of Green serves as nothing more than a free parking lot right now, since it runs between a vacant parcel on one side and an abandoned building on the other. Preventing car access at this one opening to Green would eliminate the dangerous turns entirely — but still allow filtered permeability, safely allowing bicyclists and pedestrians passage onto or across Green.

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Eyes on the Street: Augusta Buffered Lanes and Repaved Milwaukee PBLs

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Augusta near Noble. The buffer encourages riding outside of the door zone. Photo: John Greenfield

Due to the cold spring, the Chicago Department of Transportation’s bikeways construction season got off to a late start. Thermoplastic pavement markings don’t adhere properly to asphalt at temperatures below 50 Fahrenheit, as evidenced by bike lanes and crosswalks in various parts of town that were striped too late in the season in 2013 and have quickly deteriorated. Therefore, it was wise to wait for warmer weather this year.

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This Logan Square crosswalk was badly faded not long after installation. Photo John Greenfield.

Now that work has begun on the 20 miles of buffered and protected lanes slated for this year, things are moving fairly quickly. This month CDOT installed buffered bike lanes on the following stretches:

  • Halsted: 85th to 75th, 69th to Marquette, 59th to Garfield, and 31st to 26th
  • Racine: 52nd to 47th
  • 26th: Kostner to Pulaski
  • Augusta: Damen to Noble

As Steven posted earlier today, Wood recently got a neighborhood greenway treatment between Augusta and Milwaukee. CDOT is also nearly done reconstructing the Milwaukee protected lanes between Erie and Ogden. Those were largely obliterated by a water main project this fall, and then all of the remaining bike lane bollards taken out by motorists and snowplows over the winter.

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Milwaukee Avenue during water main construction. Photo: John Greenfield

I plan to ride the new South Side facilities next week. This afternoon, I took a quick spin to check out conditions on Augusta and Milwaukee. CDOT striped conventional bike lanes on Augusta from Central Park to Noble a few seasons ago, but as I ride in from the west, I noticed that many stretches west of Damen are badly faded. Hopefully, these sections will be next in line for an upgrade.

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Bollard Blues: This Winter Was Rough on Chicago’s Protected Bike Lanes

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All the bollards along Milwaukee have been taken out. Photo: John Greenfield

[This piece also runs on the Green Lane Project's blog.]

In the wake of this brutal winter, Chicago’s third snowiest on record, some sections  of the Dearborn protected bike lanes resemble a gap-toothed grin. Several of the white, plastic posts that delineate the bi-directional bikeway are missing in action. Roughly half of the posts that once separated bikes from cars on nearby Kinzie are gone.

On Milwaukee, the city’s busiest biking street, every single bollard is missing from protected bike lanes the city installed less than a year ago. It’s a reminder of the downside of relying on plastic posts for protection, and the advantages of permanent lane separations such as curbs.

Milwaukee Avenue, with bollards - photo by Steven Vance

Milwaukee Avenue, shortly after the buffered and protected lanes opened. Photo: Steven Vance

Mike Fierstein, co-owner of Ancien Cycles, which recently opened on Milwaukee to take advantage of its high bike traffic, said the bollards were wiped out by reckless motorists, snowplows, and a water main project which tore up a stretch of the street last fall. That section of road is slated to be repaved and restriped this spring. “It seems like the posts aren’t really made to last that long anyway,” Fierstein said.

Chicago Department of Transportation project manager Mike Amsden has said the city made the decision to start out with the flexible, plastic posts, which cost about $90 each installed, rather than more durable, but more expensive, concrete infrastructure, in order to build many miles of protected bike lanes ASAP. “There’s pros and cons to doing it both ways — quality versus quantity, honestly,” Amsden told Seattle Bike Blog in January. “The philosophy of just getting as much in as quickly as you can is great.”

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Blue Line Construction Strands Shuttle Bus Riders Amid Detoured Traffic

Heavy traffic in Logan Square

Two southbound shuttle buses took about six minutes to travel 500 feet through Logan Square’s traffic circle.

Last weekend’s Blue Line track work, just one week of the months-long Your New Blue project, pushed rail riders onto shuttle buses that ran along Milwaukee Avenue — and right through a traffic jam created by the very same track work. Instead of following the designated detour, drivers diverted from Fullerton and Sacramento Avenues under the Blue Line piled onto Milwaukee Avenue and slowed buses to a crawl.

An alternative approach that I’d suggested earlier would have set up diverters on Milwaukee, preventing through traffic while still allowing access to all businesses and parking spaces. Since there were no diverters to keep Fullerton drivers off Milwaukee, many drivers continued on Fullerton and then — at the last minute — turned onto northwest-bound Milwaukee, adding more traffic to a stretch that’s already plenty busy during weekends. The resulting traffic jam paralyzed not only the Blue Line shuttle buses, but also the heavily used 74-Fullerton and 56-Milwaukee bus routes.

CTA Blue Line traffic detour

This diagram shows the intended detour in blue, designated by signs on the street, and the more commonly used detour in orange that slowed buses. Image: Adapted from Chicago Transit Authority

A small sign on Fullerton directed drivers to turn onto California, but the road ahead was wide open, and barriers didn’t force a turn off Fullerton until Milwaukee. Forcing a turn at California would have kept Milwaukee relatively clear for the many shuttle buses needed to carry Blue Line passengers, minimizing their delay and keeping the “rapid transit” service at least a little bit “rapid.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

The little detour sign that most westbound drivers on Fullerton ignored.

Gareth Newfield, a longtime Logan Square resident I interviewed while we both watched crawling, bunched-up shuttle buses from inside the Logan Square Comfort Station, noted that “the CTA always provides complete service” during construction projects, “but it doesn’t provide good service.”

Newfield suggested shifting priorities. “How about we say, ‘Getting people to the airport is such a priority that we’ll shut down a [traffic] lane to run express buses’ ” and maintain adequate service for Blue Line riders traveling through Logan Square. “The city isn’t taking [that trip] seriously, but the CTA does.” Newfield added that the few personnel dispatched to a site aren’t thinking about traffic jams as a system: “even a cop… isn’t thinking about it – ‘hold on folks, this bus needs to go first’ — or limit[ing] turns.”

Traffic jam on Milwaukee Ave. during Blue Line track work

Drivers line up to turn onto Milwaukee from Fullerton, instead of making the recommended detour earlier.

Even where there were additional lanes, for example through the square, no space was dedicated for transit; instead, both lanes were filled with cars. The CTA didn’t respond by press time to a request about shuttle bus speed data.

He later tweeted that “[I] probably could have walked faster.”

Police officers or Traffic Management Aides were not on scene to change or hold traffic signals, or to prevent turns onto Milwaukee when they saw a shuttle bus coming.

Erin Borreson was biking northwest on Milwaukee to the Comfort Station; she had to get off her bike and walk on the sidewalk because there was too much traffic. “Buses were [driving] so close to the parked cars,” she explained, “and there’s no way a biker could have gotten through.” Borreson said she was not only more comfortable on the sidewalk than in the jammed street, but added “I was faster on the sidewalk.”

The next Blue Line bus bridge along an equally congested stretch of Milwaukee will start Friday, April 4, replacing Blue Line service at Damen and Western. The shuttles will run a much longer route than the first weekend — from Western Avenue to the Clark/Lake station –  because it’s the only way to provide fully accessible service.

The same problems may recur that weekend, unless there are appropriately enforced detours. Whenever there are more buses on the road, that means more traffic. The city has a lot of options at its disposal to live up to the spirit of its Complete Streets policy, and to put transit riders first.

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CDOT Forgets to Accommodate Cyclists During Bloomingdale Construction

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The bridge over Milwaukee will be modified to remove piers from the roadway and sidewalks, and add arches.

Bloomingdale Trail construction charges ahead, with bridge work that involves closing Milwaukee at the viaduct, tonight at 8 p.m. through early Monday morning. Cars, trucks and buses will detour around the construction via North and Western, and pedestrians are advised to take a shorter detour via Oakley, Wilmot, and Leavitt Street to reach Wilmot. Winnebago, which would otherwise be a detour option since, like Wilmot, it parallels Milwaukee, will also be closed at the Bloomingdale viaduct during construction.

But what alternative route should people on bikes use to avoid this closure of the city’s busiest cycling street? The Chicago Department of Transportation map [PDF] doesn’t mention or show a bike-specific detour, and one wasn’t mentioned in the original press release. “My mistake,” said CDOT spokesman Pete Scales when I asked him about the oversight. “We recommend that cyclists use the designated bike lanes along Damen and Armitage to avoid the area.” He told me he would update the website posting, which he did.

CDOT's map modified to show their recommended bike detour in green and the more convenient alternative in yellow.

CDOT’s map modified to show their recommended bike detour in green and the more convenient alternative in yellow.

However, a more intuitive solution for the bike detour would be a bit more direct, saving people on bikes 0.2 miles and a minute of pedaling time. If a northbound contraflow bike lane was added to the short southbound stretch of Leavitt between Wilmot and Milwaukee, cyclists could use the same detour route as pedestrians.

While Scales was responsive to my request to add a bike route to the posted detour info, at this point CDOT really shouldn’t need to be reminded to accommodate cyclists during construction projects. However, even as the pace of bike lane construction has dramatically increased over the last three years under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, this continues to be an issue. Read more…