Developer: Milwaukee Avenue Bike Counter Project Hit a Pothole Due to City Red Tape

Rendering of the winning design on a bike counter. Image: Jay Byrnes, Fourth is King
Rendering of the winning design on a bike counter. Image: Jay Byrnes, Fourth is King

keating

In November 2016 it looked like the plan for a bike counter on the Milwaukee Avenue “Hipster Highway” corridor in Wicker Park – Chicago’s busiest bike route – was a done deal. The developer of a new transit-oriented development at 1237 North Milwaukee, LG Partners, was donating an Eco-Totem bike counter to the city, and was planning to pay for the Chicago Department of Transportation to install a sidewalk bump-out to accommodate the device. The counter, featuring an eye-catching design chosen by Streetsblog Chicago readers, had already been manufactured, and City Council had approved the installation, which was slated for spring 2017.

But a year and a half later, the project has come to a dead end, apparently due to excessive bureaucracy at City Hall. According to Barry Howard, formerly with LG partners and now with Core Spaces, the bike enthusiast who spearheaded the initiative, after the building was sold to Los Angeles-based real estate company CIM Group in fall 2017, the new owners “were really sold on trying to make this work.”

The new TOD. The closed slip lane, which was modified with paint and posts, is visible in front of the building. Photo: LG Partners
The new TOD. The closed slip lane, which was modified with paint and posts, is visible in front of the building. Photo: LG Partners

While Howard said “CDOT was really helpful” in trying to make the project happen, he added that the city’s law department required a new economic disclosure statement from CIM, and Howard said CIM spent several months and thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees going back and forth with the city on the matter before becoming frustrated with the process and giving up. “It was going down a legal and document route [CIM] didn’t want to go down.” A spokesperson for CIM did not respond to a request for comment.

Howard added that after CDOT closed a slip lane at the northwest corner of the Division/Ashland/Milwaukee intersection, next to the planned sidewalk bump-out location, as part of last summer’s Milwaukee Avenue complete streets makeover, the department said that it was no longer possible to install the bump-out. CDOT did not respond to a request for confirmation of Howard’s story by press time.

Barry Howard
Barry Howard

Jerry Mandujano, an assistant to local alderman Joe Moreno, who sponsored the ordinance approving the bike counter, more-or-less corroborated Howard’s story, although he seemed to put some of the blame on CIM. “The city and the building took some time to come to a legal agreement to formalize the use of the public way,” Mondujano said via email. “In that time, the building was sold to new ownership, who weren’t interested in completing the necessary disclosures required by the contract. From various conversations with CDOT personnel since then, my understanding is that a privately funded bike counter installation would need to be ‘bundled’ with a building construction in order to go forward. Alderman Moreno is still very interested in the installation of a counter, but we need to identify a private partner willing to go through the necessary bureaucracy.”

Howard said he also still hasn’t given up on installing the counter, which could help build support for adding protected bike lanes to Milwaukee in Wicker Park by quantifying the amount of bike traffic. The counter, which is now owned by CIM, is currently in storage in the now-completed TOD. “I explored having the counter donated to the Wicker Park/Bucktown and West Town chambers of commerce,” Howard said. “I even reached out to the Trust for Public Land about installing it on The 606.” TPL manages the development of the elevated trail. “We’d love to see it go somewhere.”

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.

  • A bike counter on the 606 is useless. The entire point was to demonstrate that there are tons of bikes on Milwaukee so maybe put in a damn bike lane. Really, I don’t think they want to know the counts.

  • JacobEPeters

    Why doesn’t CDOT just install it in one of the curb bumpouts that were created by flexible posts & paint along Milwaukee further north? It could even be installed in the closed slip lane at Milwaukee/North/Damen, there is plenty of room.

  • Tooscrapps

    No bigger footprint than one of those Big Belly trashcans. Give it to the local chamber and put it on the damn sidewalk.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I think you are right. This sounds a lot like the squishyness I hear when it comes to those rush hour parking controls, me: “So are they lanes, or are they just no parking signs?” Multiple CDOT staff, over many years: “We’re looking into that and will get back to you.”

  • rohmen

    They do know the counts. CDOT has run several counts in the past, released the results, and have already shown that bicycle use on Milwaukee makes up a substantial portion of load-share. I think this is simply bureaucracy rather than a conspiracy to suppress bike counts, but pretty inexcusable none the less considering the amount of blocking sidewalks the City tacitly allows go unchallenged in other ways.

  • Carter O’Brien

    The issue isn’t whether CDOT knows & releases the counts, it’s whether they are dragging their heels in an effort to ensure the public sees the counts in real time, in a high visibility location. Because to bingaman’s point, that public awareness is what will force change.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As stated in the article, Howard said that CDOT was helpful in facilitating the installation — they apparently want the bike count data. Keep in mind that they’re already doing their own bike counts here on a regular basis, so this would make that job easier. It’s the law department that is requiring all the paperwork.

    That said, it’s puzzling that the slip lane closure supposedly conflicted with the planned bump-out construction. CDOT still hasn’t got back to me to confirm that this was the case and, if so, what the exact problem was.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Your article is a tale of two different CDOTs, as this later quote states:

    “From various conversations with CDOT personnel since then, my understanding is that a privately funded bike counter installation would need to be ‘bundled’ with a building construction in order to go forward.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    It may be the case that CDOT has no control over that policy.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Maybe – but if it’s policy/procedure based, shouldn’t we know what that policy is, then? I’m not suggesting there’s necessarily some grand conspiracy, just that this seems like a lot of undue inertia. Likely reasons for this are just somebody happy with the status quo, who doesn’t like change. It only takes one domino not falling to kill the movement, you know? And a lot of pro-“keep the traffic moving” sentiment is out there residing in individual hearts and minds.

  • BlueFairlane

    Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

    This isn’t come conspiracy to hide numbers that will miraculously transform Milwaukee Avenue. This is multiple sets of stupid bureaucratic processes bumping up against each other in a city where that exact thing happens all the time.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • Carter O’Brien

    hmm, my comment last night was vaporized.

    Quickly, while you may very well be right in this case someone just screwed something up, I would be hesitant to attribute things of nature in City government as due to the stupidity of any individual. Those bureaucratic processes that slow down change are there intentionally, I don’t think they are malicious so much as designed to continue the status quo, which is in 2018 is traffic chaos.

    Paraphasing our most loquacious leader, the original Hizzoner, “the City isn’t there to create disorder, it’s there to preserve disorder.”

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