Residents of Chicago’s Northwest Side recently gathered in a community center to discuss the major changes to be made in their neighborhood, the 45th ward, and specifically Gladstone and Portage Parks. Among these changes include protected or buffered bike lanes, fewer parking spaces, improved crosswalks and reduced lanes. Bicycle injury attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm detail the proposed plans and how it will affect local drivers, bikers and pedestrians.
According to city reports, there were more than 900 crashes in the Milwaukee Avenue corridor (between Lawrence and Elston) over the past five years, many of which resulting in serious injury or death. Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised in his campaign to build more protected bike lanes than any other city in the U.S., to make Chicago a truly green, healthy, and safe global center.
The Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which we have written about before, was adopted by the Chicago Department of Transportation to develop the infrastructure necessary to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the country. The Plan includes building a 645-mile network of on-street bikeways, redesigned intersections to make them safer for cyclists, and improved residential streets not only for bicyclists, but for pedestrians, motorists and residents as well.
There are three potential designs for the Milwaukee corridor, two of which require removing one lane in each direction (from five lanes to four). One of these designs includes a buffered bike lane – which means painted lanes instead of physical barriers – while the other features protected bike lanes, like we already have on streets like Dearborn in the South Loop.
A third design would not take out any driving lanes, but would significantly narrow the center median and have buffers for bicyclists. The plan that features protected bike lanes would reduce parking spots on Milwaukee by about 20%.
The plans also change the posted speed limits to 30 MPH, which city officials hope will eliminate some high-speed, dangerous driving. Drivers in particular are not yet sold on any of these plans: an estimated 20,000 drivers travel through Milwaukee corridor each day, and they are concerned about traffic congestion. Drivers have even drafted a petition, stating opposition to any type of lane reduction.
The Chicago Department of Transportation will hold another community meeting toward the end of summer 2014, when the project design is finalized. Construction on Milwaukee is expected to complete by 2015.
Making the City Safer For All
Alderman John Arena stated that any changes made to Milwaukee Avenue will have the sole intent of making it a safer road for everyone traveling on it. By reducing the speed and putting in protected or buffered lanes for cyclists, residents of every walk of life will feel more comfortable using the street.
This Milwaukee Route Project is also intended to complement the city’s bike-sharing program, Divvy. During peak traffic hours, bicyclists on Milwaukee represent over 40% of those on the road, making it the busiest street for bicycling.
The residents that attended the community meeting voiced their opinions on both sides of the issue. To many, the divide seems largely generational. Older residents are less comfortable with changing Milwaukee from how it is currently, some saying they don’t think there should be any bike lanes on the road whatsoever. Younger residents are more used to the concept of using bicycles as a daily mode of transportation rather than just for fun or fitness.
Of the 900 crashes that have occurred in Milwaukee corridor over the last five years, 40% that lead to a serious injury involved a bicyclist or pedestrian. A major factor in the severity of crashes is how fast the driver was going at the time. Bicyclists and pedestrians are extremely vulnerable on city streets, and making them safer will benefit everyone and perhaps even save lives.
Residents need to have more options in how they travel – no one should be forced to drive a car when they would prefer to walk or bike. Residents should not hesitate to bike Milwaukee Avenue simply because of its safety issues. This new project will make the community healthier, safer, and far less congested with traffic and pollution.
The number of residents commuting by bicycle has doubled in the last decade – a pattern which is expected to persist, if not grow. Our team of bicycle accident attorneys is excited to see how these changes impact our city for the better – and we will be here reporting on each project as it is announced. If you or someone you love was involved in a crash while on a bicycle, remember that you have a team of local attorneys ready to fight on your behalf. Our legal consultations are always free, so give us a call today.