Eyes on the Street: A First Look at New “Dashed Bike Lanes” on Milwaukee Avenue

Even the drivers of monster trucks seems to be staying to the left of the dashed lines. Photo: John Greenfield
Even the drivers of monster trucks seems to be staying to the left of the dashed lines. Photo: John Greenfield

Last week when we broke the news about the Chicago Department of Transportation’s plan for “dashed bike lanes” on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park there was a strong response from readers — much of it negative. The city is trying this new style of bikeway on Milwaukee because, while many residents at recent community meetings asked for bike lanes on this crash-prone stretch, there isn’t sufficient road width for full bike lanes without stripping all the car parking spaces from one side of the street, which is probably a non-starter politically at this time.

The dashed bike lane layout. Image: CDOT
The dashed bike lane layout. Image: CDOT

The idea behind the dashed bike lanes is that car drivers will tend to stay out of the bike lanes, but drivers of larger vehicles such as trucks and buses will be allowed to cross the dotted line when necessary, as long as they yield to cyclists. However, many commenters on our post argued that the new bikeways wouldn’t be any better than the status quo of bike-and-chevron “sharrow” markings next to the parking lane — drivers would simply ignore the dashed lines.

And the vehicular cyclists — followers of “Effective Cycling” author John Forester, who preaches that cyclists are safest when they bike in the center of the travel lane — were completely dismissive of the idea. Some of them even argued that the dashed lines would make the Milwaukee Avenue dooring epidemic even worse by sending the message that cyclists are required to ride within a few feet of car doors.

Pretty soon you'll be able to say "Aloha" to new paint-and-post curb extensions at many intersections. Photo: John Greenfield
Pretty soon you’ll be able to say “Aloha” to new paint-and-post curb extensions at many intersections. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT started work on the Milwaukee Avenue complete streets project (see a full rundown of planned improvements here) and the dashed bike lanes are already largely completed between Division and North, minus the bike symbols. Steven Vance and I both checked them out today and while there’s bound to be a learning curve while cyclists and motorists get used to the new layout, it already appears that car drivers are generally respecting the dashed lines. Even bus and truck drivers seem to be doing a decent job of not driving in the bike lanes.

Dashed bike lanes are making Milwaukee Avenue somewhat more bikeable, but it's still not Amsterdam. Photo: John Greenfield
Dashed bike lanes are making Milwaukee Avenue somewhat more bikeable, but it’s still not Amsterdam. Photo: John Greenfield

Of course, that doesn’t mean things are going to be peaches and cream on Milwaukee from now on. Just as there were before the lanes went in, there are plenty of issues with motorists double parking, as you can see from the video Steven shot, above. That issue is a tough nut to crack because this is such a busy retail district. Beer truck deliveries to the zillions of bars on the strip alone pose a significant nuisance for all road users. (But, hey, I’m certainly not calling for a ban on beer deliveries.)

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A drone’s eye view of new dashed and conventional bike lanes at Division/Ashland/Milwaukee, looking northwest. Photo: Steven Vance

So, no, the dashed lanes have not magically transformed Milwaukee into cycling Nirvana. But by encouraging people to drive closer to the centerline and park closer to the curb, they do seem to be giving cyclists more breathing room, an improvement over the previous set-up. Still, let’s keep pushing for CDOT to take a bolder approach to improving safety on the Hipster Highway in the next year or two, even if it means rethinking the assumption that both sides of Milwaukee must be used to provide storage for privately owned metal boxes.

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