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Milwaukee Bike Lane Overhaul Includes Some Concrete Protection

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

The northbound bike lane now reaches Division Street but, right now, it's full of parked cars. Photo: Steven Vance

In the other direction, bicyclists going south from Division don't have to choose between pinch points anymore because the bike lane picks them up right at the crosswalk. There were two pinch points here, created by a failing sewer cover that was fixed a month ago: going to the right put cyclists at risk of being doored; going left put cyclists in front of fast-moving cars.

White dashes will be striped in the middle of this wide bike lane, creating a passing lane. Photo: John Greenfield

As part of the 2013 bike lane project the Milwaukee overpass above the Kennedy Expressway's Ohio Feeder got a road diet to make room for bikeways with two lanes in each direction. Not only does this calm motorized traffic, it also makes it easy for cyclists to pass each other. CDOT is doing a nearly identical treatment on the overpass above the Kennedy, just south of Augusta.

Between the Kennedy and Elston, the parking lane has been relocated to the left of the northbound bike lane to create a protected lane. The concrete parking caps are being installed to prevent parked cars from blocking intersections, crosswalks, and driveways. Parking has been stripped from the west side of the street to make room for a two-block long section of curb-protected bike lane -- see the photo at the top of this post.

Concrete "parking caps" are being installed by the northwest-bound bike lane, south of the Kennedy. Photo: John Greenfield

While there haven't been many miles of new bikeways installed in Chicago in 2015, a number of curb-protected facilities are debuting. CDOT installed the city's first curb-protected bike lane on Sacramento Boulevard in Douglas Park in May. The Illinois Department of Transportation is currently wrapping up construction Clybourn Avenue and Division Street in Old Town, and the new bikeway is already wildly popular. And CDOT is building concrete-protected bike lanes downtown on Washington Street as part of the Loop Link bus rapid transit project.

This trend towards concrete protection for bike lanes is encouraging. CDOT's previous standard for PBLs has been parking-protected lanes, delineated by flexible posts. These are essentially disposable -- they tend to look pretty ragged after a couple of years. The Kinzie Street PBLs, installed in 2011, are currently missing most of their posts and barely function as intended.

The new curb-protected lanes on Clybourn are already a hit with cyclists. Photo: John Greenfield

Curb-protected lanes offer more physical protection for cyclists, and they look better longer, which could help reduce opposition to new PBLs on aesthetic grounds.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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