Hundreds of Northwest Side residents packed a community center Wednesday to talk about major changes to protect pedestrians, drivers and bicyclists on Milwaukee Avenue between Lawrence and Elston.

The proposed changes could include getting rid of a lane in each direction and losing parking spaces in some cases.

The city says there were 910 crashes in the corridor within the past five years, with many caused by speeding drivers.

The Chicago Department of Transportation unveiled three detailed designs for the first time, two of which would require getting rid of one lane in each direction. The two plans — which require a reduction in lanes — differ by bike lanes. One features buffered lanes, while another would get protected bike lanes. The plan featuring protected lanes would affect parking, reducing spots by about 20 percent. A third design would keep the current five lanes but would narrow the center median and add a buffer for bicyclists, according to CDOT planner Mike Amsden.

“This really benefits pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. It slows down traffic to speeds that are more appropriate and more in line with the 30 mph speed limit, and it’ll eliminate some really high-speed and dangerous driving,” Amsden said.

Not all are sold on the changes, specifically a reduction of lanes on an already swarming thoroughfare. About 20,000 drivers use that area every day. 

David Wians, president of the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce said he’s worried about traffic congestion, especially for emergency vehicles and funeral processions.

“Creating all of this is just upsetting the community and just making them angry. This kind of congestion is going to be unavoidable,” Wians said.

Wians and his organization created a petition, which has garnered more than 4,000 signatures. The petition opposes any sort of lane reduction on the 2-mile stretch of Milwaukee.

But Ald. John Arena (45th), who was on hand to speak with residents, said he’s  not convinced by the petition.

“They stopped petition signatures a month ago, yet we’re only now seeing the three designs, one of which doesn’t involve reducing lanes,” Arena said. “. . .  How can you put out a petition asking an educated position on those things that don’t exist at the time?”

Arena said any changes made to that stretch are meant to create a more safe road.

“As far as I’m concerned, we need to get speed down to a reasonable level, get them close to 30 mph instead of the 40 or 45 mph,” Arena said. “. . . We can have parents and seniors and every walk of life making better choices and feeling more comfortable walking across the street.”

Longtime resident Joe Diciaula, 47, thinks safety improvements to the stretch are a no-brainer, but he’s not convinced businesses will see a positive effect.

“This is only one piece for this stretch. We’ve got a lot of other issues. How does this impact the business that me as a resident want to go frequent?” Diciaula said. “It’s a part but there needs to be a broader plan in order to see how this fits in with the larger plan.”

Longtime business owner Joseph Bianco, 57, called designs that would eliminate parking and lanes “one of the dumbest ideas” he’s ever heard. 

“It stinks. You already have — emotions aside — a 2-inch snow ban on the route. Where are you going to park? People already put dibs here. It’s only going to escalate the problem,” Bianco said.

Besides parking, Bianco is worried about what he already calls a bottleneck, as well as safety for the many senior citizens who drive in the area: “It’s going to be a giant bottleneck with a lot of businesses affected.” 

CDOT is planning another public meeting for late summer. Construction should begin in 2015.