Active Trans Asks Wicker Park / Bucktown Residents to Support Bike Lanes on Milwaukee
Big groups of people commuting on bikes are a common sight along Milwaukee Avenue, nicknamed the Hipster Highway, especially during the warmer months. The Chicago Department of Transportation designated Milwaukee as a spoke route in their Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 due to its key role as a diagonal route between the Northwest Side and downtown. During the high season, some 5,000 cyclists a day make up about 40 percent of the traffic on Milwaukee on the Near Northwest Side making it the busiest biking street in Chicago. Recently CDOT has made the corridor friendlier to cyclists by installing various types of bikeways on different sections, including parking-protected lanes in River West.
However, the protected bike lanes disappear in Wicker Park and Bucktown. Due to the narrow right-of-way on this stretch and the heavily used curbside parking, this stretch only has “sharrows,” bike-and-chevron symbols that have at best a small effect on improving safety. With no protection from opening car doors, it’s no surprise that this section has seen an epidemic of dooring crashes as bike traffic has skyrocketed in recent years. According to CDOT data, there were a reported 195 bike injury crashes on the stretch between Division and West from 2011-2015.
In cooperation with local aldermen, and the Wicker Park Bucktown Special Service Area #33, CDOT is planning to make low-cost walking and biking improvements at the intersection of Milwaukee/North/Damen. (Please respect 32nd Ward alderman Scott Waguespack’s wishes and don’t call this six-way intersection “The Crotch.”) The pilot plan will use some recommendations made in the WPB SSA’s 2016 Master Plan. The plan proposed the installation of full bike lanes on Milwaukee between Division and Western, which would require the removal of car parking from one side of the street. The Active Transportation Alliance recently launched a petition urging city officials to build the lanes.
Last night, the advocacy organization hosted a gathering at the Arc’Teryx store in Wicker Park to encourage local residents to have their say on the changes that are happening in their community, including advocating for the bike lanes. Over 30 people showed up to learn about the city’s plans and provide input on the safety improvements they would like to see. Active Trans staffers also recommended that residents contact their aldermen to voice their opinions.
There were talks about the feasibility of the having a dedicated bike lane on Milwaukee between Division Street and Armitage Avenue. People currently riding their bikes along that stretch are in dangerously close proximity between parked and moving vehicles. According to CDOT data, there were a reported 195 crashes from 2011-2015 where cyclists were injured. If a bike lane were to be installed, parking on one side of the street would have to be removed.
At the event, Kevin Klein, who’s lived in the neighborhood since 2011, argued that the number of people parking cars on Milwaukee is probably lower than people might think due to low turnover. “It’s full of loading zones, and people who park there seem to park there for the day…as part of their commute.” He thinks this might account for a comparable number of vehicles as those belonging to shoppers. He added that parking on the strip is cheaper than downtown, which encourages long-term use of metered spaces.
Klein said he rides his bike on Milwaukee almost every day and he would like to see the dedicated bike lanes installed, especially at The Crotch — sorry, North/Damen/Milwaukee — where he was almost hit by a speeding driver. He had to swerve into the wrong side of the road to avoid getting creamed. Klein added that bike boxes, green-painted areas where cyclists can wait for a light in front of cars (there’s already on Wood at Milwaukee), would be a nice addition to Milwaukee.
“I bike, walk, and sometimes drive down Milwaukee Avenue,” said Active Trans advocacy director Jim Merrell at the gathering. “No matter how I’m getting around, a lot of the time there’s more stress than I would like there to be. It’s not the type of experience we should be offering for people walking and biking if our goal is to get more people to walk and bike.” Merrell says CDOT plans to wrap up the planning process at the end of summer and that they’ll start building things this year.
The next community meeting hosted by CDOT will be held on Wednesday, July 12th from 5:30-8 p.m. at A.N. Pritzker School’s auditorium, 2009 W. Schiller St. Visit the project website for more information.