Numbers Show the Milwaukee Ave. Makeover in Wicker Park Has Boosted Safety

The North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection after the makeover, looking northeast. Photo: John Greenfield
The North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection after the makeover, looking northeast. Photo: John Greenfield

In summer 2017 the Chicago Department of Transportation did a quick-and-cheap safety redesign of the Milwaukee Avenue corridor in Wicker Park and Bucktown. The department used street paint and plastic posts to create sidewalk bump-outs and close dangerous “slip lanes” that had allowed drivers to whip around corners. It added new crosswalks and green bike boxes at the six-way North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection. And, since Milwaukee is too narrow in this part of town for striping standard bike lanes without stripping lots of parking — politically difficult on this retail-dense strip — CDOT experimented with installing bike lanes with a dashed line on the left side.

At today’s Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council Meeting, CDOT deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton announced that the department has almost completed an evaluation of this “rapid delivery project” and shared a few stats from the upcoming report.

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An aerial view of North/Damen/Milwaukee after most of the work was completed, but before a new crosswalk was striped at the northwest side. Photo: Steven Vance

While some commenters on Streetsblog previously argued that striping the dashed bike lanes on the narrow street would actually make cyclists less safe because it would encourage them to ride closer to parked cars, putting them in danger of being doored, CDOT’s counts show that’s not the case. It turns out that 52 percent fewer cyclists are riding in the door zone nowadays than before the lanes were striped. That doesn’t surprise me because, in my experience, drivers are doing a pretty good job of staying out of the lanes, which allows people on bikes to ride further to the left. Indeed, Hamilton said, 37 percent fewer motorists were observed driving in the bike space than before the striping.

The dashed lanes  give cyclists more room to stay away from car doors. Photo: John Greenfield
The dashed lanes give cyclists more room to stay away from car doors. Photo: John Greenfield

At locations where new bump-outs and zebra-stripe crosswalks were added, 10 percent more motorists are yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk than before. And the number of people driving at or below 20 mph has increased by 16 percent since the speed limit on the corridor was lowered to 20 mph as part of the project.

Bump-outs at Honore and Milwaukee shorten crossing distances. Photo: John Greenfield
Bump-outs at Honore and Milwaukee shorten crossing distances. Photo: John Greenfield

CDOT recently got data from the CTA on how the changes are affecting bus service. The final report should be released early next year.

MBAC attendees praised the project for making the area safer, but one man noted that some of the crosswalks are currently badly faded, including a new crossing that legalized a popular, but previously verboten, pedestrian shortcut across North/Damen/Milwaukee. CDOT engineer Dave Smith said he’d look into the issue.

The closed slip lane at the south side or North/Damen/Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield
The closed slip lane at the south side or North/Damen/Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

Attendee Elizabeth Tieri said that it seems like some motorists still aren’t familiar with how they’re supposed to operate around the unusual street features — she’s seen drivers attempt to make right turns into the closed slip lane at the south side of North/Damen/Milwaukee, for example. She asked what was being be done to educate the public about the project.

Hamilton responded that the department has tried to get the word out through outreach events with the city’s Bicycling Ambassadors, and via the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, which helped plan the project. CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said she hopes that, as this kind of infrastructure becomes more common across the city, it will be “normalized” and drivers will get more comfortable with it.

  • Carter O’Brien

    That point on education is a good one, and I’d throw out there that what we could use in the bigger picture would be getting this kind of thing into CPS in the form of civics and/or sustainability curriculum.

  • outerloop

    Thanks John.
    Do we have a link available for the data gathered by CDOT for comparison?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    No, the report will be released early next year.

  • WoooHooo! What a great feel-good story. Cheap immediate results what more can we ask for? Well yes give us an inch …

  • Courtney

    It’s really DRIVERS who need to be educated considering they have the most potential to injure and kill someone. I agree wholeheartedly that if we had more safe intersections/ more intersections and streets designed with folks on bike and folks on foot more drivers would know how to drive more safely.

  • Courtney

    Signs like this in the area by parking would be great: https://velojoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/look-taxi-decal-500px.jpg

    Having a few CDOT employees go out and putting these on folks’ windshields….

  • 1976boy

    That’s true but street design does encourage bad behavior. I’d like to see these treatments be made permanent with actual curbs, trees, and real raised walking spaces citywide. Don’t even give bad drivers any excuses.

  • The entire dashed lane is in the door zone, so I wouldn’t agree with CDOT’s assessment.

  • johnaustingreenfield
  • A solutely it’s all about street design. We have decades of this type of data and opinionated design from European cities. Why do we act like our streets in the US are somewhow special or unique?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    If you want better drivers, make drivers license requirements/tests make much more rigorous. Also, take a tip from Holland, and pass laws that clearly and forcefully place the responsibility and liability onto those driving the vehicles that have the potential to do the most harm — i.e. the drivers of motor vehicles . Holland starts educating kids re cycling early, with a national test that, when passed, (age 4-5?) is a BIG event in kids’ lives.

  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Love this.

  • Jessica Wobbekind
  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Wondering how people feel about the orange planters that the Wicker Park Bucktown SSA #33 installed in spring 2018? Good for traffic calming/safety, or only good for street beautification, or both, or neither?? Looks like there are plans to install 40 more this upcoming April-May (http://www.wickerparkbucktown.com/clientuploads/SSA/Agendas_&_Minutes/2019_2_20/2019_FEBRUARY_-_Agenda_-_SSA_Commission.pdf)

    If unfamiliar, please see @johnaustingreenfield:disqus & @stevevance:disqus ‘s reporting on this (https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/05/23/the-new-planters-along-milwaukee-avenue-are-blooming-fantastic/) or Alisa Hauser’s piece from the same time period (https://medium.com/block-club-chicago/32-bright-orange-planters-installed-along-wicker-parks-hipster-highway-b343246ae595).

    Was involved with SSA #33’s efforts in getting the initial permits in 2017, and felt strongly at the time that the planters would be especially helpful in (a) visually reinforcing that the slip-lanes at Milwaukee/Ashland and Milwaukee/Damen are now closed to vehicular traffic, and (b) overall brightening the Milwaukee streetscape because the white bollards/delineators were just so vanilla…….so I’m probably biased in this, and would love some other opinions. Thanks!

  • Michael Ashkenasi

    Also, anyone able to confirm when the new crosswalk between Starbucks and Walgreens was installed? Surprised to hear it’s faded already, and it was another good piece of CDOT’s plans I was in favor of: “….but one man noted that some of the crosswalks are currently badly faded, including a new crossing that legalized a popular, but previously verboten, pedestrian shortcut across North/Damen/Milwaukee. “

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