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CDOT Discusses Plans for Buffered and Protected Lanes on Milwaukee Tonight

Waiting for the light

If you live or work on the Near Northwest Side and/or bike commute regularly on Milwaukee Avenue, try to stop by tonight’s community meeting on the city’s proposal for buffered and protected bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston. The meeting takes place from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Intuit arts center, 756 North Milwaukee.

Milwaukee has been designated as a bike-priority "spoke route" in the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, and this .85-mile segment is the missing link between existing protected lanes on Kinzie and Elston. Since this stretch of Milwaukee is only 50-to-52 feet wide and has significant bus and truck traffic, CDOT considers it too narrow to accommodate parking lanes and protected bike lanes on both sides of the street.

Earlier this year the department proposed “consolidating” parking, removing spaces from one side of the street to make room for protected lanes. To replace some of the lost spaces, CDOT proposed converting curbside spots on some of the wider adjacent side streets from parallel parking to diagonal, which would make room for more spaces. In March, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett’s office expressed skepticism about removing any parking spaces. Local business owners I spoke with said they supported safer biking conditions on Milwaukee, as long as they didn’t lose nearby parking.

View Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes in a larger map

Stretches with buffered lanes (blue), protected and buffered lanes (red) and design-to-be-determined (green).

CDOT recently posted proposed street configurations for Milwaukee that seems to represent a compromise between the totally protected bikeway many cyclists wanted and Burnett’s desire “to keep parking wherever possible.” A .2-mile section starting a block north of Kinzie, from Hubbard to Ohio, just south of the bridge over the Ohio Feeder to the Kennedy Expressway, would get buffered lanes with no parking removed.

A .1-mile segment starting north of the bridge, from Erie to Morgan, a block south of the Chicago/Ogden intersection, would have parking stripped from one side to make room for a protected lane on one side, and a buffered lane on the other. CDOT has not released plans for the stretch of Milwaukee from Morgan to Elston, including Chicago/Ogden, a six-way that is one of Chicago’s most crash-prone intersections. CDOT Project Manager Mike Amsden said this stretch will be discussed at tonight’s meeting.

Bike advocates may be disappointed that these preliminary plans call for only a short stretch of protected bike lane, on only one side of the street, so it’s really not an “8-to-80” facility, suitable for use by kids and seniors. On the other hand, stripping parking to make room for a protected lane is an unprecedented step in Chicago, perhaps a foot in the door for bolder street reconfigurations in the future.

At any rate, it’s probably best to withhold judgment until CDOT provides more details on the plan at tonight’s meeting.  If you show up tonight, be sure to voice your support for protected lanes on the stretch from Morgan to Elston.

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