Construction zone creates obstacle course on ‘Hipster Highway’

SHARE Construction zone creates obstacle course on ‘Hipster Highway’

Thousands of bicyclists have been scratching their helmets in bewilderment this week.

How, they wonder, are they supposed to navigate a construction site on Milwaukee Avenue that has rendered bike lanes on the city’s busiest bike thoroughfare mostly useless?

City work crews ripped up the sidewalk outside 401 N. Milwaukee Ave. last week to replace the pavement, said Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation.

During construction, workers erected concrete barricades that partially obstruct Milwaukee Avenue’s northbound bike lane. Southbound car traffic also has been reconfigured, causing close encounters at a five-way intersection that can be confusing enough without additional construction obstacles.

Many cyclists heading northwest, out of the Loop, have been making a last-second decision as they approach the concrete barrier: Veer toward the curb, or into a lane of car traffic.

Inbound cyclists must navigate a confusing turn lane that might appear to be only for bikes, but is now fair game for cars.

Riders also have been wondering why construction crews haven’t been seen at the project for several days.

Claffey said on Tuesday that work will resume Wednesday and take six to eight weeks to complete.

“This is extremely dangerous,” said one rider who asked not to be named. “They have to finish this — and fast.”

At that particular corner, hordes of bicyclists traveling into the city on Milwaukee during the morning rush either head east on Kinzie Street into the Loop or turn south onto Des Plaines Street.

Conversely, cyclists from Kinzie and Des Plaines converge on Milwaukee during the evening rush to head out of the Loop.

“I’d hate to see someone get hurt,” said Matt Gehring, 32, of Ukrainian Village. “There’s a lot shouting and yelling between cars and bikes that always happens. I just try to be careful and ride defensively.”

<small><strong>The intersection of Kinzie, Milwaukee and Des Plaines is confusing enough for bicyclists without the added hurdle of a construction zone. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times</strong></small>

The intersection of Kinzie, Milwaukee and Des Plaines is confusing enough for bicyclists without the added hurdle of a construction zone. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Milwaukee Avenue is known to some as the Hipster Highway because of the large volume of bicyclists from youthful neighborhoods such as Wicker Park and Logan Square who bike on it daily.

“The bottom line is that the city has a responsibility to provide safe conditions during construction projects,” said Jim Merrell, who works on safety campaigns for the Active Transportation Alliance, a group that promotes biking in the city.

“If people feel they are not safe, they should call 311 and report it,” he added.

“Any time there are motorized vehicles mixing with bikes, there’s a potential for conflict,” Merrell said. “Not only is Milwaukee Avenue the most heavily biked street in the city, it’s one of the most heavily biked streets in the whole country.”

About 2,400 bicyclists use Milwaukee daily during the morning and evening rush hours. And about that many cyclists roll down the road daily during non-peak hours.

“We’re asking for everyone who travels through this corridor to use caution and bear with us while we carry out this badly need infrastructure improvement,” Claffey said. “CDOT explored all options for staging equipment. However, due to the narrow geography of the roadway, it will be necessary to temporarily close a short section of the bike lane for the duration of the project.”

<small><strong>A construction zone on Milwaukee Avenue has made for a difficult commute for cyclists on the “Hipster Highway.” | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times</strong></small>

A construction zone on Milwaukee Avenue has made for a difficult commute for cyclists on the “Hipster Highway.” | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

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