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New Bike Lane Design on Milwaukee Should Reduce Crashes and Frustration

The bikeway upgrades on Milwaukee Avenue between Elston Avenue and Kinzie Street were completed Wednesday, adding bike lanes separated from traffic with parking and flexible posts. Other features include green striping before intersections and the city's first two-lane bike lanes allowing faster cyclists to pass slower ones on the bridge over the Ohio Street ramp to the Kennedy Expressway.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue

Chicago Department of Transportation bikeways planner David Smith gave an overview of the changes at the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Council meeting on Wednesday. One feature Smith mentioned is the new signal timing at Milwaukee and Elston. In the northbound direction, the right-turn lane and the bike lane have been swapped, eliminating the dreaded center bike lane where drivers consistently merged across the path of cyclists. Now, bicyclists have a dedicated bike signal designed to eliminate conflicts with right-turning drivers.

Smith also said that traffic signals at Milwaukee and Ogden Avenue would be modified soon, bringing in a new "protected left turn" -- in which northbound traffic will have a dedicated left-turn signal. This will eliminate the "yellow trap" seen at this kind of six-way crossing, in which turning drivers and bicyclists are caught in the middle of an intersection when their light turns red, while, unbeknownst to them, oncoming traffic still has a green. Two weeks ago I was on the wrong end of a yellow trap at this intersection and almost got broadsided by a motorist.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue

Upgrades were made at Grand and Halsted as well, striping bike markings in both directions all the way up to and through the intersection, though northbound cyclists do ride through a bus stop on the far side of the intersection before the bike lane begins again.

New bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue

It's possible that the shared bike lane-bus stops could get upgraded to a design with less potential for conflict. CDOT has previously expressed interested in adding concrete bus islands with bike lanes bypassing on the right. That treatment could be in the works for Milwaukee, but not during this phase of the project. Much of the Milwaukee redesign is on newly resurfaced streets, but this segment, between Ogden and Erie Street, is scheduled to have water main repair work done soon. Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly told Streetsblog that "we are absolutely looking at adding in concrete islands" but because of the water main project, "we are holding off on resurfacing until it is complete."

With these modifications – and several others not touched on in this post (you have to see it for yourself) – Milwaukee Avenue, the city's busiest street for bicycling, will become safer and less frustrating to ride, and some of the intersections that see the most bike crashes in Chicago will be improved. Specifically, the intersections of Grand-Halsted-Milwaukee (tied for sixth on the crash map) and Chicago-Ogden-Milwaukee (tied for second) may no longer be among the worst bike crash locations.

The next MBAC meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, September 11, 2013, from 3-4:30 PM in Room 1103 at City Hall, 121 N LaSalle Street.

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