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Eyes on the Street: Checking out paint-and-post upgrades on Milwaukee in Logan

6:33 PM CST on November 4, 2019

The giant sidewalk extension at the southwest corner of Milwaukee and Belden. Photo: John Greenfield

What can you buy with $75,000 in Chicago transportation funding? Well, that would pay for about one-quarter of a single traffic signal. Or you could spend it on several blocks worth of quick-and-cheap street improvements to make conditions safer for pedestrians, bike riders, and motorists alike, and possibly even create a new street performance space.

The Chicago Department of Transportation and the 1st Ward opted for the latter approach, recently installing a third of a miles of dashed bike lanes, green bike boxes, and paint-and-post sidewalk extensions on Milwaukee Avenue between California and Sacramento avenues in Logan Square. According to a Block Club Chicago report by Mina Bloom, the whole project cost about $75K.

A very similar approach was used by CDOT on Milwaukee in Wicker Park a couple of summers ago, and it has made that corridor a nicer place to walk and bike, as well as calming motor vehicle traffic, increasing compliance with the speed limit. As a bonus, closing off a channelized right turn lane at the south corner of the vibrant six-way North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection with flexible plastic bollards created a new pedestrian space that's popular with buskers.

Not everyone is a fan of the dashed bike lanes, which CDOT has been installing lately on corridors that are too narrow for conventional bike lanes without stripping car parking, which is politically difficult. Drivers are allowed to cross the dashed lines if necessary, but they generally stay out of them. According to CDOT counts, 52 percent fewer cyclists are riding in the door zone nowadays than before the Wicker Park dashed lanes were striped, and 37 percent fewer motorists were observed driving in the bike space. So I'd argue they're a welcome addition to Logan.

A cyclist rides in one of the new dashed bike lanes on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield
A cyclist rides in one of the new dashed bike lanes on Milwaukee. Photo: John Greenfield

I'm less of a fan of the bike boxes, which, as they currently function, sort of seem like a waste of paint to me. Cyclists don't really use them. Drivers generally don't respect them. The main argument for them is that they advertise the presence of bikes. Part of the problem is that most drivers, and probably plenty of cyclists don't understand what the boxes are for (giving bike riders a place to wait for the green light in front of the line of cars), so perhaps education and outreach about them would help.

Photo: John Greenfield
Photo: John Greenfield

The new Logan sidewalk extensions are great though. They shorten pedestrian crossing distances, prevent illegal car parking near the intersections that blocks sight lines, and probably encourage safe speeds by drivers. And the one at the southwest corner of Milwaukee and Belden Street, across the street from Revolution Brewing (which has a large on-street bike corral)  is so big that it's practically a pedestrian plaza. I predict that street musicians will start playing there come summer to take advantage of the heavy evening foot traffic in this bar district.

The sidewalk extensions shorten crossing distances. Photo: John Greenfield
The sidewalk extensions shorten crossing distances. Revolution Brewing's on-street bike corral is visible in the background. Photo: John Greenfield

Logan Square residents I've checked in with generally gave the project a thumbs-up, but not everyone is satisfied. "The Cyclist's Alliance to Liberate Milwaukee (CALM) frowns upon halfway measures," wrote Chicago Critical Mass cofounder Michael Burton on Facebook. "Car-free Milwaukee Avenue now!"

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