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The “Hipster Highway” Bike Counter Will Soon Be a Thing

LG Milwallukeelll Bike Counter_150420
The future location of the Milwaukee Avenue bike counter.

Instant gratification is great, when you can get it.

Yesterday, I proposed installing a Copenhagen-style bicycle counting device on Milwaukee Avenue, known as "The Hipster Highway" due to its high level of bike traffic. This would help build support for reallocating right-of-way on Milwaukee in Wicker Park to make it safer for cyclists. Today, we got confirmation that the bike counter idea has actually been in the works for a few months and will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

LG Development Group will be working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to install the device as part of a new transit-oriented development project at 1237-53 North Milwaukee. “We didn’t want to just say we’re cutting car parking,” said LG partner Barry Howard, a frequent bike commuter who has been car-free for the last decade. “We wanted to make a statement that this is a bike-friendly building.”

LG Milwallukee jjjBike Counter_150420
Barry Howard, with the unicorn-like red Divvy bike.

Howard noted that the site, which currently houses a Bank of America branch, is close to the Blue Line’s Division stop, CTA bus lines, a taxi stand, four Zipcar locations, bike lanes, and a Divvy station. “Why do people put such a focus on building car parking, when there’s all these amenities that around us?” Howard said. “If people use them, they don’t need their own cars.”

The 60-rental-unit building will include only 15 car spaces – half the ratio the city’s 2013 TOD ordinance typically requires for residential developments near train stations. Yesterday, City Council passed a beefed-up ordinance that will eliminate the parking requirement in TOD zones altogether.

The LG building, which is currently under construction, will include at least 60 indoor, above-ground bicycle parking spaces, which will be accessible via a bike-only ramp. The developer may use some below-ground space to double the number of bike spots. There will also be an pump and a work stand with tools for basic repairs.

LG reached out to the Active Transportation Alliance about making the development even more bicycle-friendly, which led to the idea of the bike counter. “It will help demonstrate the high volume of bike traffic on that stretch of Milwaukee, and the need to reconfigure the street to more safely accommodate people on bikes, along with other travel modes,” said Active Trans director Ron Burke.

Eco-TOTEM Portland
An Eco-TOTEM in use in Portland, Oregon. Photo: Eco Counter

ATA put the developer in touch with the Chicago Department of Transportation, who helped identify a location for the counter. It will be a rectangular, vertical device called an Eco-TOTEM, manufactured by the Montreal-based company Eco Counter. “I was worried that the city might put up a stink about it, but they’ve been very enthusiastic,” said Howard. “They just want us to share the data.”

“We think it's a great idea,” said CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. “It will provide good additional data about bicycling, so we are working with them to try to make it happen.” Howard also credits 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno with being supportive of the concept.

The Eco-TOTEM will be installed on a new curb bump-out at the northwest corner of Division/Ashland/Milwaukee, in front of the development, Howard said. A display at the top will show the number of cyclists who have passed each day. A vertical display will show the total number of bike trips on the stretch for the year.

1237 N. milwaukee view 3_compressed_140725
Rendering of the new building at 1237-53 North Milwaukee.

The data will also be accessible through a public website. LG is footing the estimated $25-35K bill for the bike counter, which includes the hardware, software, installation, and permits, Howard said. City Council will have to vote to approve installing the device on the public way, but he hopes LG will get the go-ahead by next spring.

The building itself should be completed by late summer or early fall of next year. It will be a mixed-use development with retail on the first floor (the Bank of America will remain in place), and it will include six affordable units.

Howard said the fact that development includes only a modest number of car parking spaces was a big factor in making it financially viable. “When you build more parking than what’s really needed, the cost gets passed on to tenants,” he said. “If you really want to be smart about affordability, density and getting rid of excess parking is a huge factor.”

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