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Posts tagged "Milwaukee Avenue"


Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection


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

Illinois Bicycle Lawyers - Mike Keating logo

Note: Keating Law Offices, P.C. has generously agreed to sponsor two Streetsblog Chicago posts about bicycle safety topics per month. The firm’s support will help make Streetsblog Chicago a sustainable project.

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.”


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.

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Mega Mall Developer Adds Housing, Reduces Number of Car Parking Spots

Mega Mall - Logan's Crossing, north elevation

Motorists driving into and out of the parking garage would disturb people walking up and down the street. Rendering: Terraco/Antunovich Associates

The company that’s redeveloping the Discount Mega Mall site in Logan Square has released a reworked proposal that adds much needed housing and dials back the number of car parking spaces, which makes the project a better fit for the walkable, transit accessible neighborhood. Terraco Real Estate and 32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack are hosting a public meeting on the development, dubbed Logan’s Crossing, at the Mega Mall on Thursday, May 7, at 6:30 p.m.

Terraco originally proposed a low-rise building for retail use, including a medium-sized grocery store and a two-story fitness center, zero residences, and 426 parking spaces at the site, which is located one long block southeast of the Logan Square Blue Line stop. The latest proposal adds several stories to the development to make room for 268 residences, and has 387 parking spaces – 39 fewer than before.

In general, the city’s zoning rules require a 1:1 ratio of car parking spaces to housing units for new buildings, but the 2013 transit-oriented development ordinance reduces this to a 1:2 ratio for developments within 600 feet of a rapid transit stop. However, Logan’s Crossing will be about 1,000 feet from the ‘L’ station, so it’s not eligible for the parking requirement reduction. This means there will need to be one parking space per unit, regardless of whether the occupants own a car.

Terraco’s first proposal provided more car parking than required, and the addition of 268 residences and the reduction in parking spots means the ratio of people to cars on the site would be much improved. However, 387 car spots may still be excessive for this location, in a walkable, bikeable area with the lowest car ownership along the Blue Line, the sixth-busiest Blue Line station, and good bus access.

The TOD ordinance has generally been working out well – it has spurred the development of nearly 20 multi-family buildings near CTA stations. However, the short distance threshold is problematic, since 600 feet is less than one standard city block. Most people are willing to walk several blocks to access rapid transit, and a couple of blocks to get to a bus stop.

The ordinance hasn’t been updated to reflect that reality. It doesn’t even offer a smaller reduction in the number of required spaces for developments located more than 600 feet from rapid transit. An exception to the 600-foot rule, however, is made for developments on Pedestrian Streets – these projects can be up to 1,200 feet from stations and still be eligible for the 1:2 ratio.

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Actually, Logan Square’s Neither Traffic-Choked Nor Overcrowded

Caption. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Rendering of a proposed development near the California ‘L’ stop. Image: Wheeler Kearns Architects

Late last month, over 100 people crowded into a public presentation to hear about a proposed development of 254 housing units, plus 72 car parking spaces and retail, on what’s now a vacant lot around the corner from the California Blue Line ‘L’ station in Logan Square. The number of parking spaces proposed is 182 fewer than the city’s zoning would typically require, but recent changes to city laws make it possible for exceptions to be granted on sites near transit, and an adopted plan for this area encourages taller buildings with less parking.

Many attendees echoed the auto-centric concerns commonly heard at such meetings. Some said that the car parking proposed will prove completely insufficient, or that 300 or more new residents would result in unfathomable congestion. A flyer distributed door to door in the neighborhood sternly warned that in “High Rise City,” “They will make it impossible to drive on California or Milwaukee.”

Here’s the rub, though: Traffic volumes on major streets near the development have dropped substantially, and so has the local population. If there are fewer people and fewer cars, how could it be that some perceive traffic congestion to be worse than ever?

Between 2006 and 2010 (the most recent year available), the Illinois Department of Transportation reports that the number of drivers on Milwaukee Avenue and California Avenue declined by 17.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively. Traffic volumes on both streets fell by thousands of cars per day: approximately 2,600 fewer cars on Milwaukee and 4,600 fewer cars on California.

Population loss in the area has also been dramatic, since household sizes are rapidly declining. The population in the area around this proposed development declined by over 3,000 people, or 16 percent, from 2000 to 2010. The number of housing units increased by 316, but that was more than offset by an average household size that dropped from 2.7 to 2.2. It’s unlikely that the population trends have changed much since 2010: Census estimates project that the development’s Census tract added fewer than 100 people from 2008 to 2012.

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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.

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


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.


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


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.


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.


Hulk no like “No Parking” sign! Photo: John Greenfield

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Milwaukee Bottleneck Is Being Fixed, After Streetsblog Alerted CDOT


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.


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


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.


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.


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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