May 6, 2021

New bike lanes protect Logan Square cyclists but keep customers away, some business owners say

Milwaukee Avenue in Logan Square is now home to the city’s newest public safety initiative for bicyclists: bike lanes protected with plastic curbs and bollards.

The street is one of the most heavily traveled routes in all of Chicago, with nearly 500 accidents in less than five years, according to Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st). Chicago’s traffic safety data shows two-thirds of crashes from 2014 to 2018 on Milwaukee Avenue involved people walking and biking. The $320,000 bike lane expansion project funded by the Chicago Department of Transportation is expected to dramatically lower that number.

“Almost 500 crashes in five years is not sustainable. That’s not healthy, particularly as we see an uptick in increased cycling during this pandemic, an uptick that we want to see stay,” La Spata said Friday afternoon at the unveiling of the enhanced bike lanes.

“That said, it was imperative, not only to restructure our infrastructure for the way Milwaukee Avenue is actually used, but to also respond to public safety concerns.”

Using plastic curbs and bollards instead of concrete saved time and money; they took three weeks to install instead of months, according to David Smith, Chicago’s bicycle and pedestrian program manager. And in winter, snowplows can go over them, instead of around them.

The project is part of CDOT’s Vision Zero traffic safety program, which also includes pedestrian safety infrastructure and transit access improvements. Vision Zero began in 2017, as the city identified 43 “high crash corridors” — areas where a disproportionately high number of people have been killed or severely injured in traffic crashes.

The Milwaukee Avenue project was designed in partnership with residents, businesses and the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce; it joins nearly 30 miles of new bike lanes being implemented across the city this year.

Map of completed and expected bike lane expansions throughout Chicago in 2020.
Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)

However, for some businesses along the busy street, the public safety initiative only added to a cycle of disappointment, coming after business losses from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To install the curbs, 100 parking spots along the street were moved to intersecting side streets. Jessica Wobbekind, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce believes this will spur consumer spending; cyclists, she said, are more likely to stop and purchase items than motorists.

Gillman’s Ace Hardware on Milwaukee Avenue has been run by the Gillman family for 75 years, but owner Alan Gillman says he doesn’t know how he’ll stay open. In the week since the protected bike lanes were completed — and parking spots in front of his store were removed — he estimates he has lost about one-third of his business.

“I can’t employ anybody and I can’t feed my family if they’re going to take my parking away,” he says. “I’m a taxpayer and I’m going to protest this. I have nothing against bikers at all, but they’re taking away our livelihood.”

Alan Gillman, owner of Ace Hardware in Logan Square, poses for a portrait Friday afternoon, Oct. 2, 2020. Gillman is opposed to the new protected bike lanes along North Milwaukee Avenue and said it has caused a decline in customers because they have no place to park.

Alan Gillman, owner of Ace Hardware in Logan Square, is opposed to the new protected bike lanes along North Milwaukee Avenue. He’s lost customers, he said, because they no longer have a place to park.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. La Spata said during the implementation process, his staff and CDOT representatives held online forums and canvassed door to door along the street to get the community’s perspective. Though, Gillman says he was never asked for input.

In the weeks since the project was approved, Gillman said he has built a coalition of seven businesses who oppose the project and gathered over 600 signatures on a petition. He suggests reducing the width of the sidewalk to allow room for both a bike lane and parking, though if the sidewalks are too narrow, they would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In the meantime, work on Milwaukee Avenue is expected to continue later this fall with the installation of two new crosswalks and expanded pedestrian space at multiple intersections.

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