CDOT Unveils Bold Vision for Milwaukee Bike Lanes; Drivers Grouse

bMilwaukee Avenue Spoke Route Presentation 2013 0430_Reduce
CDOT rendering of protected lane on Milwaukee, looking southeast from Ogden.

At last night’s community meeting at Intuit arts center, the Chicago Department of Transportation discussed its vision for innovative bike lanes on Milwaukee between Kinzie and Elston. The plan, which is actually much more ambitious than what was outlined on the CDOT website prior to the meeting, involves removing about half of the car-parking spaces along Milwaukee to make room for buffered and protected lanes on the entire segment. To really wrap your head around what’s being proposed, be sure to check out the department’s presentation on the plan.

Nearly all of these parking spaces could potentially be replaced by reconfiguring parking on side streets, CDOT staffers said. The project will also include street resurfacing, high-visibility crosswalks, countdown pedestrian signals and narrower travel lanes, which will deter speeding, so it would make conditions safer for people on foot and in cars as well. The street is scheduled to be repaved this month; pending continued community outreach and final approval, bike lane construction is slated for June.

View Milwaukee Avenue bike lanes proposal in a larger map

Milwaukee Avenue proposal: car-protected lanes are shown in green, buffered lanes (often delineated by flexible posts) are shown in blue.

CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein kicked off the presentation by discussing his hopes that the street rehab will give an economic boost to the area. “To me this is not just about creating a world-class bike facility but it’s also showing what making a street into a really complete street can do for the economic vitality of that street,” he said. “I’m personally very interested in measuring how retail stores are doing before and how much their business improved afterwards.”

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s being proposed, from south to north; we’ll provide more commentary on the details of the plan in the near future.

Milwaukee Avenue Spoke Route Presentation 2013 0430_Reduce-1
CDOT diagram of street changes from Kinzie to Hubbard.

Kinzie to Hubbard: On the east side of the street a buffered lane delineated with flexible posts will be added and parking would be removed. The viaduct just north of Kinzie would get better lighting and possibly a mural.

Hubbard to Ohio: Buffered lanes would added. Due to business uses here, most parking and loading zones will be retained.

Grand/Halsted: Bike lanes would be striped through the intersection and bike boxes will we added. While a nearby business owner complained about the proposed removal of a dedicated lane for cars turning right from Milwaukee onto Grand, CDOT staffers said traffic counts showed few drivers make this move during peak hours.

Milwaukee Avenue Spoke Route Presentation 2013 0430_Reduce
Proposed layout of Milwaukee/Grand/Halsted.

Ohio to Erie: On this one-block stretch on a bridge over the Ohio Feeder, existing bike/bus lanes will be converted into nine-foot-wide buffered bike lanes with flexible posts, with two bike lanes marked in each direction to allow faster cyclists to easily pass slower ones.

Erie to Carpenter: A parking-protected lanes would be installed on the east side of Milwaukee, a buffered lane with flexible posts would be added on the west side, and parking would be stripped from the west side. On-street bike parking corrals may be added.

Carpenter to Ogden: This would be the opposite of the previous segment. A parking-protected lanes would be installed on the west side of Milwaukee, a buffered lane with flexible posts would be added on the east side, and parking would be stripped from the east side. Bike corrals could be added here as well.

cMilwaukee Avenue Spoke Route Presentation 2013 0430_Reduce
Proposed layout of Milwauke/Chicago/Ogden

Chicago/Ogden: Bike lanes will be striped through the intersections. A bike box will be added on Milwaukee south of Ogden.

Ogden to Elston: Curbside buffered bike lanes will be installed and parking will be stripped from the east side of Milwaukee. To mitigate an existing conflict point at Milwaukee/Elston between right-turning drivers and northbound cyclists, a dedicated right-turn lane for cars will be added, as well as a dedicated bike signal and right-turn signal for motorists.

Articles by the Sun-Times and DNA have focused on negative comments from local residents and business owners about the prospect of narrower lanes and parking removals. However, I recognized many of the attendees as being bike commuters. Unfortunately few chose to speak up during the Q & A session.

The half of the room where most of the complaints came from. Photo by Martha Williams.

One exception came after a business owner complained about lawless bicyclists and told Klein that bike riders should be required to get licenses. “As non-cyclists we should know what we can expect from the cyclists,” he said. “Right now they think they own the streets. I’ve been hit twice by a cyclist.”

“I’ve been hit three times by a car and I almost broke my arm,” fired back a young man. “I was completely doing legal things each time I got hit, by people who are doing illegal things in things that are two tons and can kill me.”

Hopefully the negative feedback from the drivers present won’t result in this innovative project being watered down, as was the case with the Berteau Greenway. After all, last year over 2,800 people signed an Active Transportation Alliance petition in support of protected lanes on Milwaukee. If you live, work or spend money in the 27th Ward, be sure to contact Alderman Walter Burnett to let him know you’re in favor of reconfiguring car parking to make Chicago’s busiest bike street a safer, more vibrant roadway.

  • Jennifer

    Wait, why does the Halsted bike lane suddenly stop at Milwaukee?

  • Jennifer

    North leg of Halsted?

  • Hello John, thank you for the report. Since you mentioned it; What happened to the Berteau Greenway? At the time I wasn’t for it either for a variety of reasons, the most prominent being the location. We need E-W bike routes that connect the lake front trail all the way to Pulaski, not a little stretch for which you have to go out of your way. I like present proposals far better—putting bike lanes on main streets. Drivers need to see bikes, if only to be inspired to abandon their car and travel by bike themselves.

  • Good one—I’d say the pavement south of M has so many holes and is so boulder like that the paint wouldn’t stick. My Q: why does Halsted become a 4 lane highway right south of Harrison right next to a busy University?

  • Because it always has?

  • I agree that the berteau greenway isn’t in the best spot, but that area lacks good candidates since there’s two large cemeteries in the way. Leland is a good alternative and its on the 46th ward’s participatory budgeting ballot this year. Leland goes from the lake to Western.
    Berteau is a good, calm alternative to Irving Park, Montrose, or Lawrence and will be a good first step. Not everyone is going to the lake. Many cyclists don’t want to take arterials everywhere. Luckily bikes have almost all the same options as cars; if you’re comfortable biking on arterials, you can, if you’re not, you can take residential streets. It just might take longer, but it does get more people biking!

  • Guest

    This is bold? Just some paint on the pavement. Bold would be to build a system they have in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

  • Roger

    I am co-owner of a business that is right on the Grand/Halsted intersection and I applaud these plans.

  • Relocating 50% of the car parking to make room for BBLs and PBLs (which are more than just “paint on the pavement”) is a gutsy move. Raised lanes would be great, but Gabe Klein has said it doesn’t make sense to do them unless the street is being completely reconstructed. Milwaukee isn’t but, per Klein, look for a raised bike lane on a popular Chicago biking street in the next year.

  • Right on! Please make your voice heard. Which business is it? If it’s retail, our readers will be more likely to spend money there now since you’re a bike-friendly business.

  • Anonymous

    I’m really excited these changes to Milwaukee. Though the changes are mostly a result of adding bicycle facilities, this is really more of a Complete Streets project. Better crossings, slower speeds, and clearer delineation of who is traveling where will make me feel a lot safer, whether I’m riding, walking, getting to/from the bus and train, or being cabbed home. Two questions:
    1. Why don’t the bike boxes extend over the through and left turn lanes? Seems like a missed opportunity to help cyclists safely position themselves for left turns and to provide space for what already happens (cyclists moving in front of the queue of cars).
    2. On that one-block stretch over the Ohio feeder, there are two bike lanes going in each direction. Is this the first instance of such a design in the US? It’s pretty neat.

    And two comments:
    1. I’m glad for the extra buffers along this route. With 10′ travel lanes, buses and their mirrors will be filling up that whole space. That buffer, I hope, will prevent serious conflicts.
    2. I know CDOT is trying to create new parking spots, but I really hope they don’t change two-way roads to one-way. We have too many weird and random one-ways in the city as is.

  • Erik Swedlund

    Thanks for the motivation. I attended the meeting, but did not speak. I have just written to Alderman Burnett to let him know that as an employee of a 27th ward business, I strongly support the proposed changes.

  • I also want to hear more about that block over the ohio feeder, that was unclear and sounds incredibly interesting.

  • Excellent. Again, readers who live, work and spend money in the 27th Ward (If you haven’t yet patronized the Matchbox, Milwaukee and Ogden, I recommend it highly) should contact Burnett to voice support for the lanes. He’s expressed interest in promoting biking in the past:

  • Megan

    This is exciting news! I can’t tell from these plans, but is the approach to the left turn lane onto Kinzie (when heading South on Milwaukee) being addressed? I don’t know how you would do it, but getting over to turn left onto Kinzie is incredibly dangerous.

  • Anonymous

    Alex, there’s a cross-section on slide 23 of the presentation. In case you can’t open it on your computer, it’s: two south-bound bike lanes, with a dashed yellow line between; a 3-foot buffer; travel lane; painted median; travel lane; 3-foot buffer; two north-bound bike lanes, with a dashed yellow line between.

  • Good question – I’ll try to look into the status of the Berteau Greenway next week.

  • Christopher

    While I don’t live in that ward, this stretch of Milwaukee makes up the bulk of my bike commute to work. So on behalf of everyone who travels that route, please do whatever you can to encourage this happening.

  • Anonymous

    We need this! That intersection is so sketchy as it is, this will make everyone safer.

  • Erik Swedlund

    Mentioned at the meeting was the proposal to make the left-turn bike lane on southbound Milwaukee approaching Kinzie extend much further back from the intersection, allowing more time for a cyclist to move over to it. Better lighting under the viaduct would also help make cyclists attempting to move left more visible.

  • Erik Swedlund

    The section from Carpenter to Ogden is not the only parking-protected bike lane in the proposal–the section from Erie to Carpenter includes a parking-protected bike lane for northwest-bound cyclists.

  • Thanks Stefanie. I’ve added that link to the post.

  • Anonymous

    Separate lanes for slower and faster riders? Nice!

  • Yes, just on the short stretch over the Ohio feeder, so this is the exception rather than the rule. While the bike lanes are generally being made wider than they are now, since most of the new lanes would be car-protected or delineated by flexible posts, I predict we’ll hear some griping from fast riders who will complain that the design makes it harder to pass slow ones. That’s OK; you can’t build a mode-share omelet without braking a few fixed-gear eggs.

  • nards10

    Drivers are inherent grousers.

  • Hey, cut them some slack. Owning a car in Chicago and sitting in traffic jams on a regular basis must be pretty miserable sometimes.

  • Megan B

    Bravo, Chicago! I am so happy to see the city taking steps to put these significant improvements in place within a progressive timeframe. While no one will agree with every little detail of the plan (for example, I would forgo 5′ or 6′ medians on some of the stretches in order to give a little more space in bike lanes for passing – something that will be increasingly needed as more and more people bike with every passing year), I think it makes great strides for the community. I can’t wait to be using these by end of summer.

  • Milwaukee/Ogden/Chicago (which is really three intersections) has the highest number of bike crashes of any intersection in Chicago (data) with 39 bike-car crashes in 2005-2011.

    Milwaukee/North/Damen has the second highest number (data).

  • I couldn’t agree more about the better lighting. I think a green strip down the center (like Salt Lake City) would go far in advising drivers that people on bikes belong in either lane.

    The green light for this turn should also be extended from its current 12 seconds.

  • Question 1… CDOT would be the best organization to answer this question. To get over to the furthest left lane (regardless of its function), people would be best served by merging there because for much of the time, there will not be a red light (and not enough time) to move over there safely before traffic starts moving.

    Question 2… It’s not the first time in the United States a double bike lane has been built. Portland built one in 2007.

  • Adam Herstein

    It’s nice to see some upgrades on Milwaukee, but if it’s not 100% protected lanes, then it’s not good enough.

    Adding some buffered lanes and a few blocks of protected lanes is not bold. Closing Milwaukee to car traffic would be bold.

  • Anonymous

    I’m a bit confused about your comment re: the bike boxes. These are only proposed at the signalized intersections, so there will be red lights frequently. My point is that many people on bikes do not like merging from the far right bicycle lane into the auto traffic to make a left (as has been pointed out in regards to the left from Milwaukee onto Kinzie, where I also think a multi-lane bike box makes more sense). Extending the bike box over the through *and* left-turn lanes would allow people on bikes to arrive at a red light and position themselves within the bike box area — ahead of cars and without needing to merge — for a left turn. This is discussed as a benefit in the NACTO guide, and it’s something that I’d like to see tried on Milwaukee. (Of course, this is really a comment for CDOT — I don’t expect you or John to know all their reasons for the designs!)

  • Anonymous

    Look at the grouse! Look at the grouse! Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

  • Erik Swedlund

    In fact, there is already a multi-lane bike box on southbound Milwaukee at Desplaines/Kinzie.

    It is one option for bicyclists wishing to turn left onto Kinzie, instead of merging earlier. However, as I think Steven is suggesting, moving from the right bicycle lane to the left-turn bicycle box is not always safe or convenient, because the right-turn car lane frequently has a green light, forcing a bicyclist to wait along the right curb (and block other cyclists).

    This problem is less pronounced at other, more standard, intersections, but Steven makes the point that there may not always be enough time to move through the multi-lane bike box, depending on when you arrive at a red light.

    At many intersections around the city, I prefer to make a two-stage turn.

  • Anonymous

    But why not provide the opportunity for when there is time? And my apologies for not realizing the turn to Kinzie is multi-lane — cars are too frequently in the non-green portion of the bike box over the through lane for me to have noticed on my few commutes into the loop.

    I think this also brings up the fact that we (bicyclists in general) have different preferences. I don’t like two-stage turns because it means often means mixing with folks trying to cross the street and then awkwardly positioning in front of a driver who may be waiting to turn right on red (another issue all together). There’s nothing inherently wrong with a two-stage left turn; it’s just not my preference most times. When there’s a low-cost opportunity to provide for a preference, such as here with the multi-lane bike box, I think it should be taken.

  • Erik Swedlund


    And it’s pretty hard to notice that multi-lane bike box, especially because (as you note) cars ignore it, plus the paint is faded and a good chunk was lost because of some resurfacing. Combined with the right-turn arrow, it’s almost worthless.

  • Two-stage left turns can also be accommodated, and bike boxes at the cross direction help do that. CDOT built several two-stage left turn queue boxes on Dearborn Street, but I think they were mistakenly put on the east side – in traffic – instead of the west side, between the crosswalk and bike lane.

  • Grinding, not resurfacing, to remove undulating pavement or splotches of a second layer of pavement.

  • The roadway width is a limitation – you can’t get blood out of a stone. But if they’re able to pull off relocating 50% of the parking to make room for bike upgrades, that will be a big achievment.

  • Thanks, I made a cursory attempt to find that and failed, I’m glad you didn’t! That’s awesome!


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