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Tension rises at city bike plan hearing

A bicyclist rides bike lane Kinzie Street.  |  Sun-Times files

A bicyclist rides in the bike lane on Kinzie Street. | Sun-Times files

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:43AM

City officials Tuesday night outlined a plan for protected bike lanes along a near-mile stretch of Milwaukee Avenue – the busiest bike street in Chicago -- but caught some heat from anti-cyclists while doing so.

“They seem to think…they own the road,” one spectator complained about the city’s growing bicycling population at a public hearing on the proposed Milwaukee Avenue Spoke Route Project.

“I’ve been hit two times by cyclists,’’ the man complained.

An upset bicyclist in the audience interrupted with his own tale of woe: “I’ve been hit three times by cars and almost broke my arm. I’ve seen more people break laws in cars than bikes.’’

A lively debate ensued Tuesday night after Chicago Department of Transportation officials outlined a plan to create special bike lanes along Milwaukee, from Kinzie to Elston.

Six of the blocks would see a curbside bike lane, adjacent to plastic protection posts, then a lane of parking, and then an 11-foot-wide lane of traffic to be shared by cars, buses and trucks.

Two of the blocks would feature traditional curbside parking located adjacent to a bike lane, then a two-foot-wide buffer lane marked by painted stripes on the roadway, then a 10-foot-wide lane of traffic.

One spectator questioned the safety of one configuration in which buses would cross over into bike lanes to drop off passengers.

“Buses are weaving in and out. Bicyclists are weaving in and out. How does that work?” asked Denise Odell, 49, who lives in the area.

“It’s not ideal but right now it’s the best we can do,’’ said CDOT consultant Mike Amsden.

CDOT officials said the plan would remove about 50 percent of the parking on that .85 of a mile stretch of Milwaukee.

Some 55 to 60 parking spots would be knocked out, including 9 or 10 metered spots, but the city hopes to gain 50 to 55 parking spots elsewhere on side streets. The lost metered spots must be replaced somewhere else in the ward.

Although skeptics seemed more vocal than supporters at Tuesday’s hearing, one spectator said afterwards he supported the plan.

“I think it’s great. It’s a scary road to bike,’’ said Jack Cebe, 26.

CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein noted the plan is spiced with improvements for pedestrians (better crosswalks), drivers (new paving and improved traffic signals) and businesses, which should see more customers due to increased bike traffic.

Said Klein: “The faster somebody is going by your store, the less chance they are going to spend money there.’’

Repaving of Milwaukee is set for May and news stripes should be painted in June. Meanwhile, Klein said, the city will continue to gather input.

Ron Burke of the Active Transportation Alliance said the plan should create a “more organized traffic flow that is safer for everyone.’’

Narrowing the two lanes of traffic now on Milwaukee alone should improve things, as shrinking a street’s width slows down traffic by an average 2 to 3 miles per hour, one CDOT consultant said.

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