No Cycling Wins in 45th Ward PB Election But Milwaukee PBLs Still Possible

The ward’s PB election logo.

For the second year in the row, voters passed over bicycle projects in the 45th Ward’s participatory budgeting election. But separately, a safety overhaul of Milwaukee Avenue, including protected bike lanes, may still be in the works for this Northwest Side district.

In 2013, ballot items included buffered bike lanes on Milwaukee and Lawrence, as well as on-street bike parking corrals at three locations, but none of these made the final cut. However, the Lawrence proposal, which called for upgrading conventional lanes on the street from Cicero to Long at a cost of $70,000, garnered enough votes last year to be included on the 2014 ballot.

When I talked to Alderman John Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh last month, he didn’t think bike corrals would be on the ballot this year. However, a new proposal to add corrals near the Irving Park/Cicero/Milwaukee intersection at a cost of $8,843, something the Six Corners Business Association has been pushing for, did appear on the ballot.

After voting wrapped up on Saturday, the bike projects lost once again. Residents opted to spend 55.1 percent of the $1 million budget on street repaving, leaving $449,000 for other projects. They voted to spend $240,750 to plant 450 trees throughout the ward, $100,000 for a new playground at Independence Park, and $150,000 for pigeon abatement at ten viaducts. View the full results here.

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Mobile voting at the Jefferson Park Transit Center. Photo: Maria Hadden, PB Chicago

There wasn’t enough left to fund the bike lanes, which finished in fourth place, or the corrals, which came in seventh. “The bike lanes got lost by only 12 votes, so this is obviously an idea that has some support in the ward,” Brugh told me today. He noted that a recent Census report found that bike commuting doubled in Chicago over the last decade, so the demand for bike infrastructure in the ward is something “that is going to gain steam.” He said his office will talk with the Chicago Department of Transportation about other funding options for the Lawrence lanes, and will talk to the business association about finding money for the corrals.

This year, 516 people voted, down from more than 650 in 2013, but Brugh said this kind of sophomore slump is normal with PB elections. He pointed out that Alderman Joe Moore’s 49th Ward, which pioneered the PB process in the U.S., also experienced a decline in voting in the second year, but had its biggest turnout ever in 2014, with 1,763 participants. “Through aggressive outreach, we were able to keep the drop in our ward in the acceptable range,” Brugh said.

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5400 block of North Milwaukee Avenue

In other ward biking news, Brugh said Arena is still considering a CDOT proposal to reconfigure Milwaukee between Lawrence and Elston to make it a safer, more livable street. North of the Jefferson Park Transit center, Milwaukee is generally a five-lane speedway, with four travel lanes and a turn lane, plus conventional bike lanes or sharrows. There have been nearly a thousand crashes on this stretch over the last five years, including at least 17 serious injuries and three fatalities.

CDOT has proposed converting the street to two travel lanes and a turn lane, plus protected bike lanes, which they say could reduce crashes by 30 percent. This segment of Milwaukee consistently averages well under 20,000 vehicles per day, the recommended threshold for this kind of road diet. There’s been stiff opposition to the plan from some local residents and business owners, but many Chicagoans have also expressed support for the road diet.

Brugh said CDOT is currently doing a new round of discussions with business owners, including those with intensive delivery schedules, about how they use the street. “The goal is to have a street that meets the needs of all road users, so that involves a lot of conversations,” he said.

“I don’t think any idea has been wholly accepted or rejected at this point,” he added. “It’s a slow process, but we’d rather do it slowly and correctly than do it quickly and wind up causing problems.”

  • Probably not known to those outside the 45th ward but we had the city’s department of forestry out here last month cutting down hundreds of trees stricken by ash borer disease. I imagine this played a role in the enthusiasm of the neighborhood to plant new trees.

  • Mishellie

    I… can’t figure out why street repaving is considered optional. Of course peopel will pick street repaving when it needs to be done.

  • It shouldn’t be optional. It should be part of a proper maintenance budget but instead we rely on individual aldermen to maintain bike lanes, crosswalks, and regular lane lines and see varying quality around the city. This means that a bike lane may be well-maintained on one block and disappear the next.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    Alderman love having people rely on them. Makes them feel important and I’m sure it helps with reelection. Its the same reason they hated giving up the garbage collection powers when the mayor pushed through the more efficient grid system of collections, centralizing garbage pickup and taking away aldermanic powers.

  • Anne A

    Having repaving fall under ward budgets is a real problem for wards that cover a larger geographic area and have more road mileage than the majority of wards. The net result is that many roads remain in poor condition longer than they should and non-road projects may never see the light of day. This is especially true of some south and west side wards (note: not the current map, but sizes are about the same).

  • Anne A

    This problem has affected many city neighborhoods. Some lost a lot of parkway trees. Some lost many trees in parks. (Douglas and Columbus Parks are high on this list, with each losing hundreds of mature ash trees in the last few years.) Some lost in both categories.

    I’m glad that folks in the 45th ward care about planting new trees. That creates environmental benefits for all of us.

  • Jim

    Great to see these types of stories. Seems like most people in the wards dont want bike lanes and greenways. Just supports the fact the narrow minded views expressed here don’t repeesent the majority of people. And in the end, the people will decide.

  • “Most people in the wards don’t want bike lanes and greenways”? Last year bike lane and greenway projects won big in the PB wards where (unlike 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston) the aldermen actually allowed bike projects on the ballots:

    Despite the fact that this far-Northwest Side ward is not yet a hotbed of biking, 147 people voted for the Lawrence buffered lanes, And, as Brugh said, it’s likely we’re going to see more support for bike infrastructure in the ward as cycling continues to grow in popularity citywide.

  • Fred

    I wonder how much is due to the harsh winter. Pretty much every street in the city got obliterated with the never ending storms, so roads are in far worse shape than normal. Also, with the never ending winter, fewer people are outside on bikes and such so it is not as on the mind as it would be if it had been 70 degrees for the last 2 months. People have short memories and short term planning so they vote for what is on their minds NOW.

  • Mishellie

    I mean sure, but it’s really just too bad that the majority of people consistently vote against their own best interest.

  • As a resident of the 45th, I can say that biking has become a critical issue in the community, as Streetsblog reporting has shown. The complete streets project on Milwaukee Ave. is critical in connecting the ward and points south with the North Branch bicycle trail head. Recreational biking is more popular than you would think with the forest preserve nearby, but I strongly suspect commuter biking is not quite as popular – probably due to the distance to downtown.

  • rohmen

    I’m all for creating more bike infrastructure in the city, but I wonder what will happen after this area of Milwaukee gets PBLs. These will be pretty far removed from the loop, and the city seems to only have a very few street sweepers and plows designed to clear pbls that are not designed wide enough to fit a regular plow/sweeper. How do you realistically plow the pbls in the loop and far flung pbls like this if you only have one or two special design pieces of equipment?? Are they making a commitment to improve things after last winter?

    Lake is a mess for example–as this site has reported already. That isn’t stopping CDOT from expanding Lake even further, though it hardly even functions as a useable lane in its current state. Are pbls simply becoming a way for CDOT to design a road diet and meet Rahm’s quota, without much consideration as to how they will actually be maintained and function in the future?

    PBLs aren’t much of a victory if they simply become unrideable within a year or two of going in; or make the road even more dangerous for cyclists during the winter when they aren’t plowed properly.

  • ohsweetnothing

    You think that we don’t realize that our “narrow minded” views are in the minority?
    Also, where else do you believe that the opinions held by majority are better/more important/more valuable?

  • 2Fast2Furious

    How is it in their best interest? Are you saying people can’t determine that for themselves?

  • Fred

    I would say that there are certainly times when people can’t determine what is actually in their own best interest. Especially among the FEAR CHANGE AT ALL COSTS!!!! crowd.

  • 2Fast2Furious

    I guess this is why the founding fathers of this great nation instituted the Electoral College.

  • Russ F.

    As the individual that has proposed the Lawrence Ave. Buffered lane project for the last 2 years while speaking to people, and representing the proposal at every PB exposition in the 45th ward, I have seen a greater majority of people come up to me in favor of it once I explained the them the benefits of of it from a ward standpoint. Of course I had some people that were, well, unhappy about any cycling project. Yet many more were energetic especially about bringing more people West to the ward itself. The participatory budget process is really cool and by seeing the great vote turnout (147/516 = 28%!!!!!) I will only hope to calmly and dilligently advocate for this proposal again.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Kinda like the two block long PBL they are putting in Uptown for what purpose? Are they going to run up to Uptown regularly and clean that PBL with their mini street sweeper or snow plow? They should just make it a regular bike lane for heaven’s sake.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    No, they just thought the poor white everyday man, the slaves and women were too stupid.

  • leftoverbacon

    When are we going to start investing in perpetual pavement? It costs a little more in the beginning, but it it pays dividends in durability.

  • I walk under those overpasses every time I walk my kid to school, and we play on the Independence Park playground three times a week or more.

    The existing playground there is one of the very coolest, most awesome playgrounds within walking distance. I am very disappointed, especially since I’ve seen the plans and cost estimates, and at only $100K they’re probably going to halve the total playground area. :-/ At minimum all existing equipment will “have to” be removed (because any playground that gets soft surface “has to” have all existing playground equipment removed and not put back — I’m not sure why, but the companies that do soft surface all insist upon brand new bought equipment), and the swings are going to go from awesome 10′ high old ones to the new 6-8′ wimpy ones that are standard. Sigh.

    “Pigeon abatment” means they’re going to install something that might help for a month or two and then do no good thereafter … instead of what we’ve been urging Arena to do, which is make a recurring budget line-item to have a crew come several times a year automatically on A SCHEDULE to power-wash away the pigeon poop and all the mud that washes down from the highway and covers the sidewalk to inches deep. As it is, if it becomes impassable and you file a complaint with the ward office, he can hire a crew to come just once (usually about two months after you complain). I seriously doubt there’s much they can do to ACTUALLY prevent, long-term, pigeon poop, dead pigeons, and mud from accumulating daily under those overpasses, especially the one on Keeler just north of Irving Park.

  • The hardest upcoming problem to do with the North Branch trail will be how one gets from Eugene Field Park (where it peters out at Avers) to the north section of Gompers Park (which picks up well past Pulaski).

    If you feel like biking on Foster, that’s an option, but it’s not a very good one …

    Also, biking from Albany Park to the Lake is a great option and could use some help on east/west streets (also a help for commuters, once installed).

  • The never-ending storms … and the record freezes right after flooding … and, of course, two years of minimal budget for repaving or pothole fixes, which means we went INTO this winter with more potholes than we came OUT of winter to in 2007. :->

  • References and links, please?


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