LOGAN SQUARE — A longtime Logan Square business owner said he might have to shut his 75-year-old store because he’s lost parking spaces — and customers — to protected bike lanes on Milwaukee Avenue.
The bike lanes have proven controversial, with some shop owners on the stretch saying their bottom lines are hurting, too. But others say they haven’t been affected and they want improvements to the lanes to better protect cyclists.
Alan Gillman said the protected bike lanes on his stretch of Milwaukee Avenue have “ruined” business at his 75-year-old hardware store, Gillman Ace Hardware at 2118-20 N. Milwaukee Ave., because they replaced street parking spots for customers. Business is down “at least a third” since the lanes were installed in fall 2020, Gillman said, and he’s had to lay off an employee and might close.
Advocates for the lanes said they improved safety on the stretch, which is a popular route for cyclists but is a dangerous “high-crash corridor.” Crashes involving bikes declined after the lanes were installed.
Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) has defended the lanes, saying they were needed to protect people and have “not been a deterrent to economic success.”
“I think there are a lot of factors in the last couple of years that may have impacted the economy in Chicago,” La Spata said. “… Most places that have added protected bike lanes across the city, in many cases it draws new customers, in part because cyclists make as much money as anyone else. They want to shop in their community.”
Gillman said he supports having bike lanes and understands the need to protect cyclists, but he is disappointed the lanes were installed in a way that removed convenient parking for his customers. He just wants parking, he said.
“It just used to be an easier thing. Throw it in their car and stop and go,” he said. “… If business continues this way, I’ll have to close.”
‘Please Find Parking For Us’
When the protected bike lanes were installed in October 2020, they eliminated 100 street parking spots and were were met with mixed reactions. At the time, Gillman created a petition to get the parking spaces back, and it racked up more than 500 signatures.
The bike lanes use bollards to separate drivers from bicyclists. Parking spots in front of some businesses, like Ace Hardware, were eliminated, while other businesses were given spots that zig zag into Milwaukee Avenue.
Ace Hardware’s customers now have to “walk a whole block with 70-pound gallons of paint. It’s horrible,” Gillman said. “We just want to keep serving the community like we’ve been doing for 75 years.”
It’s hard to attract customers if it’s not convenient for them to park, or if they have to walk long distances with heavy purchases to get back to their car, Gillman said.
“In the late ’70s, we were dodging bullets to get in. It was a different neighborhood,” Gillman said. “But there was parking.”
Business owners on the stretch who made requests or had permits for loading zones kept their parking, La Spata said. Gillman’s Ace Hardware did not get its parking redesigned because Gillman didn’t make that request, the alderman said.
Gillman said he asked La Spata to help him buy a nearby parking lot, but it didn’t work out. He hasn’t heard back from La Spata about creating parking, he said.
“Please find parking for us,” Gillman said. “That’s all.”
La Spata said he plans on getting back to Gillman soon.
“… I’m trying to figure out a solution,” La Spata said. “We’d never want to put anyone in a position to be less than successful.”
Gillman said other business owners are struggling because of the lack of parking, too.
“Take away the bikeway,” Pauta Fausto, the owner of Fausto’s Jewelers at 2116 N. Milwaukee Ave., said in Spanish. “There is no parking. It’s dead. I have a very nice store, but I don’t have customers.”
Some business owners said they weren’t told about the lanes until they were installed, so they couldn’t give feedback.
Prior to the bike lane’s installation, members of La Spata’s staff and the Chicago Department of Transportation “knocked on every door” to talk to business owners about the plan, the alderman said.
Gillman and Cecilia Salas, owner of Happy Cuts Salon Unisex, 2124 N. Milwaukee Ave., said they didn’t get those door-knocks.
“We got no communication that they were going to be installed,” Salas said in Spanish. “Before, we had a lot of Latino customers, but gentrification has pushed them out.
“Now, clients come, but if they can’t find parking, they leave.”
Fewer Crashes, But ‘Constant Confusion’
La Spata said it would have been “really irresponsible” for him to not have taken action to protect everyone on Milwaukee Avenue by installing the protected bike lane.
Milwaukee Avenue from Western to Sacramento avenues saw 446 crashes 2014-2018, according to Illinois Department of Transportation data. Of the crashes that resulted in injuries, half involved cyclists.
Overall crashes fell 56 percent after the bike lanes were installed, and there’s been a 73 percent drop in bicycle crashes in 2021, said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Susan Hofer.
And some shop owners in the area said they don’t think the bike lanes have hurt their business — but they’d like improvements to make them safer or to help other shop owners.
The design of the lanes has made the road “really dangerous,” said Mary Swabel, director of hospitality at brewery Pilot Project at 2140 N. Milwaukee Ave. There is “constant confusion” on the street, with drivers “unclear where they can park,” Swabel said.
Bicyclists often have to go into the middle of the street because drivers illegally park in the bike lane, Swabel said.
“And drivers are already on high alert because of the zig zags,” Swabel said. “The barriers are good; they just need to make sense.”
Max Hertz, owner of The Bike Lane at 2130 N. Milwaukee Ave., said the bike lanes “need quite a bit of improvement.” Some of the bollards are damaged, and the posts don’t prevent drivers from parking in the bike lane “every single day, multiple times a day,” Hertz said.
Hertz has called the alderman’s office to ask about replacing broken bollards and adding concrete barriers, he said.
“If you want to make it a functional bike lane, you go all the way,” Hertz said. “Make it a bus-centric and bike-centric street and cars will take other routes.”
La Spata said the bike lanes were designed for shared use by cars, public transit, bicyclists and pedestrians to “marry economic success for businesses and safety for cyclists.”
“Our goal is for everyone — whether they get around by car, foot, CTA, bike or scooter — we want that to be a safe and comfortable experience for them,” La Spata said.
The owners of Pilot Project said the pandemic has made it difficult to tell if the bike lanes have impacted their business. But co-founder Dan Abel said losing out on alternating parking spots “unfairly disadvantaged” Ace Hardware.
“We love Al, and what he’s advocating for is extremely fair, and he was dealt a very bad hand by the city in this entire ordeal,” Abel said. “He’s like the Godfather of the street.”
Hertz said his bike shop has not been financially impacted.
“I think it’s really easy to blame the bike lanes without looking at the bigger picture,” Hertz said.
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