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Only 24 percent of jobs in the region are accessible by transit in 90 minutes or less by a typical resident — and that number drops to 12 percent in the suburbs.

First look: city shows off plans for new Milwaukee Ave. protected bike lane

It turns out when you build complete streets with community input, everybody wins. And based on new plans the city announced this week, West Town residents are about to win big.

At an April 30 public meeting hosted by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), community members got their first look at plans for a new protected bike lane on Milwaukee Ave. from Kinzie to Elston.

The proposed design would dramatically improve conditions for people riding bikes, who make up as much as 40 percent of traffic on Milwaukee Avenue during peak periods, while also enhancing safety for motorists and pedestrians.

The plan includes many of the elements highlighted in a petition circulated by Active Trans and signed by more than 2,800 supporters. In a big victory for safety advocates, barrier-protected bike lanes will be included along much of the length of the project, similar to those already installed on Kinzie Street downtown. /

A few media reports may have hyped Tuesday’s meeting as a tense showdown between people who drive and people who ride bikes, but the plan’s details clearly show consideration for the needs of all road users. The proposed design will increase overall safety and livability, which is welcome news to many local business owners.

Milwaukee Avenue is currently chaotic and there's a lot of unsafe speeding, said Tim Coonan, owner of Big Shoulders Coffee, located at Milwaukee and Chicago. Most of our customers arrive by foot, bike or transit, so safety improvements and protected bike lanes will really capitalize on one of our strengths and help attract more customers.

In order to achieve desired improvements in safety, the city is proposing the removal of parking along one side of the street in certain areas. Some observers have seized on this aspect of the plan in an effort to drum up controversy, but local business owners say that the changes will ultimately help them attract more customers in a neighborhood that is rapidly becoming more bike and transit friendly.

Protected bike lanes will make Milwaukee Avenue a more vibrant and livable place, said Doug O'Donahue of Upgrade Cycle Works. By providing safe, comfortable and appealing places for people to bike, the new protected bike lanes will contribute to the area's growing energy and economic vitality.

Upgrade Cycle Works was one of several Bike Friendly Businesses in the area that joined Active Trans in releasing a statement early this week showcasing business support for the city’s plan. Active Trans’ Bike Friendly Business program partners with nearly 200 businesses throughout Chicagoland spreading the word that bikes are good for business, which is a connection many West Town merchants are already making.

The faster the money goes by our front door, the less likely it is to end up in our establishment, said Angelo Karras, owner of Windy City Café, located at Milwaukee and Chicago. The planned safety improvements and protected bike lanes will help to calm traffic while making our block more welcoming for walking, biking and lingering.

West Town isn’t the only neighborhood poised to benefit from improved biking conditions. Several other corridors around the city are slated to receive improvements this year, according to the city’s Streets for Cycling Plan 2020.

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