Milwaukee Avenue protected bike lane debate heats up on Northwest Side

The protected bike lanes would stretch from Lawrence to Elston and remove one lane of traffic on Milwaukee in each direction.
January 30, 2014 3:27:44 PM PST
Some residents want to put the brakes on plans for bike lanes on a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. The protected bike lanes would stretch from Lawrence to Elston and remove one lane of traffic on Milwaukee in each direction.

It's a small part of a relatively large project -- a $1.5 million plan to improve a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue on the Northwest Side -- but it's the dedicated bike lanes that are getting most of the attention, and most of the debate. A lone cyclist braved the snowy conditions in the designated bike lanes on Dearborn in the Loop Thursday afternoon, and he's grateful to have a place to ride.

"It's just nice not having to be in the traffic, you know," said the cyclist.

The protected bike lanes on Dearborn were put in last year, and to make room they eliminated a lane for traffic. In Gladstone Park on the city's Northwest Side, they have bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue, but they are not dedicated lanes like downtown. Part of a proposal to reconstruct a two-mile long stretch of Milwaukee would add the dedicated bike lane and turn a four-lane road into two lanes. A number of business owners and residents are opposed to the idea.

"CDOT is saying, oh no, it's going to increase the flow of traffic. Well, that just doesn't make sense to me and a lot of other people," said David Wians, Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce.

"We support everything except removing a lane of traffic to make room for these protected bike lanes. We have over 500 supporters of the petition now, and we just want to have our voices heard," said John Garrido, resident.

45th Ward Alderman John Arena says the idea behind the bike lanes is to reduce traffic and encourage alternate forms of transportation. He also says having more cyclists and pedestrians would help businesses.

"If you can get people out of their cars, slow them down to the speed of a bike, there's a huge increase in spending in local neighborhoods when you can do that," said Ald. Arena.

The alderman has held a number of public hearings on the issue, including one last night. Most of the objections involve the dedicated bike lanes and the parking spaces and driving lanes. Supporters say the safer bike lanes would encourage more people to ride rather than drive. Rich Betts sees both sides.

"It would be nice to have a buffer to increase the safety of the rider, but I can understand why motorists wouldn't want that," said Rich Betts, resident and cyclist.

There are online petitions both opposing and in favor of the protected bike lanes. The Chicago Department of Transportation should have their final plans sometime in the next few weeks. Construction on the project could begin in the fall.

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