Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue steals spotlight from State Street


Brent Norsman, owner of Copenhagen Cyclery, relaxes in front of the store before riding with his daughter on the street.

Call Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park and Bucktown the right blend of commercial and residential density to support a livelier, possibly better attended instance of Open Streets. Not to mention it was 1.5 miles long with only one crossing for cars and buses.

The longer distance allowed the programming (which there seemed to be an equal or lesser amount than on State Street) to be more spread out, providing more room to ride a bicycle with your crew. And unlike the event on State Street, it seemed that most people were intentionally choosing to be here, rather than finding themselves at Open Streets when shopping on State Street.


A man carried people on his “walking powered” rickshaw. 

I especially enjoyed the slackline demonstration and competition sponsored by REI and Gibbon Slacklines. Think of a slackline as a loose tight rope or a 2-inches wide trampoline. Even transportation commissioner Gabe Klein gave it a try.


Enjoy the photos and video of what some people I talked to thought should be the standard procedure on Milwaukee Avenue: more people and fewer cars.


Josh Greenwood performs a trick on the slackline in the Aldi parking lot. 

I’d like to point out two opportunities to improve the experience:

1. I think the police and workers from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) could have been more pleasant in how they “shut down” the event. One OEMC worker drove a car and used the car’s megaphone to say “Get off the street, we’re opening it up soon to traffic” (or was it closing the street, because this was “open streets”?). When he said this, I was enjoying a late lunch at Antique Taco, reveling in the absence of automobile pollution and noise. I was sitting in the same restaurant after the State Street Open Streets one week earlier watching backed up car traffic on Milwaukee Avenue, in both directions, as people on bikes slipped past. A friendlier way to do this would be to say, “Please walk on the sidewalk and bicycle on the side”.

Half an hour later, I watched the police threaten a cyclist with a citation, seemingly for riding in the street.

2. Traffic Management Aides from OEMC were letting drivers make left turns against the red light at the sole car crossing: North Avenue and Damen Avenue. Open Streets attendees had the green light on Milwaukee Avenue but the TMAs would instruct drivers to make their left turns during that green phase. This shouldn’t happen.


Everyday reality: Milwaukee Avenue with cars. Photo by Christiaan_25.


Yesterday’s reality: Milwaukee Avenue with people. Photo by John.

See more of John’s photos of Open Streets Wicker Park/Bucktown.

29 thoughts on “Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue steals spotlight from State Street”

  1. While you were playing hopscotch on a major urban traffic artery I was watching an insane number of cars and trucks file by my house on a sidestreet all day. Gee, I wonder how much of that hipster taco grub you were blithely nibbling on was biked in?

    1. Food deliveries are often made early morning, and rescheduling them for ONE DAY for a 1.5 mile stretch is hardly asking a lot. Maybe you should’ve come out and enjoyed the event instead of sitting around and looking at traffic.

    2. Agreed. Funny that we shut down a commercial street to make it feel residential for a day, then divert the commercial traffic to a residential street that is not built to handle it.

    3. The point of Open Streets is to get people engaged in their community and get exercise. With chronic obesity problems in our country there is a serious need to help people get out and get active. Events like Ciclovias and Open Streets help to build community spirit, inspire changes, and generally improve communities for the better–especially over time. So this Saturday, locals ditched their cars and walked to restaurants and stores instead of driving there. Maybe next weekend, they’ll consider doing it again, having realized that it’s pretty fun and do-able. Every small step like this improves the livability of your neighborhood. And just think, if a significant number of your neighbors start walking, biking and using public transit to get around, YOU won’t have to try to work around all their cars when YOU drive or try to park!

  2. How populated was the event? Your language seems to be not factual but based opinion/bias to say the event was highly attended but from other reports it did not sound like it was.

    1. There was a respectable turnout in Wicker Park/Bucktown, but it would have been great to see more people out. I think one issue is that the two ciclovias weren’t announced until a few weeks beforehand, so I think a lot of people who would have been interested in attending didn’t hear about them in time.

  3. Im so sick of the Active Transportation Alliance treating Chicago as the new Amsterdam.

    We are a city built for cars, please stop trying to demonize cars and their usefulness in 312.

    This event while nifty, showed exactly why dense urban intersections should NOT be closed for pet-projects that cost the SSA $70,000.

    Please hold your future events in a large park.

    1. Todd, our last big blizzard, last year, cost about 37.3 million dollars to clean up…mostly for the cars. That’s one snowstorm Todd. Just one. Good thing we have those cars. I don’t have one…but I keep on paying paying taxes so you can drive in style 24/7. I don’t have a problem with this little blip on the tax radar.

        1. Yep, the two events this year were paid for by the local Special Service Areas (which are funded by an additional property tax on retail property owners in the designated SSA area which goes towards services like street cleaning and special amenities and events like public art and festivals), as well as corporate donations.

          The city itself essentially spent no money on this; Active Trans paid the the salaries for the (largely superfluous) police and traffic control aides present. Gosh, with the traffic aides at North/Damen/Milwaukee, it seemed like traffic would have flowed more smoothly if cars had just been allowed to follow the traffic signals; the people waving orange flashlights seemed to only make things more confusing. It reminded me of the old Richard J. Daley quote, “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder.”

    2. A “city built for cars”? No, Chicago is not–but Detroit is. Been there lately? You might find it more your style, Todd. Empty 6-lane streets in every direction. Traffic? Not much a problem. Pesky bike, ped, and transit groups? They’re pretty quiet. Go, have a look, and drive drive drive all around the motor city. It might be just the city for you.

  4. I’d guess that people in Amsterdam are overall healthier than those in Chicago — more active transportation + less pollution. Why shouldn’t Chicago want that for its citizens?

  5. The way I see it, when you decide to live in the city, you accept the fact that traffic is going to be horrible, good parking spots are going to be hard to find, and major streets are going to be shut down from time to time for some BS hipster festival. So you may as well take advantage of the latter instead of sitting around complaining about it, right? At least you don’t live down the street from the Obamas’ house.

    Anyway, there was a ridiculous amount of people during the last hour of the event, so I wonder if it might not be more successful holding these things during 12-5pm, when people are actually out and about. I suppose the idea was to make sure the streets were “clear” for traffic during that out-and-about time, but that strikes me as ironic given that most people drive to that sort of neighborhood precisely so that they can ditch their car (preferably on a side street so they don’t have to pay—don’t tell me that people are voluntarily cruising up and down the arterials looking for a metered spot, because that’s usually a last resort and you know it) and then linger for a few hours.

  6. Agreed on point #1. A policeman in a police car drove aggressively up to a breakdancer on his breakdancing mat, turned on his siren, and ran over the mat as the megaphone bellowed, “Get off the street!” This was 6 minutes after 3:00. I understand the need to clear people out, but the CPD could learn some crowd control etiquette. I agree with Jennifer– there were a lot of people around at 3, and it was too bad it shut down then. However, this one was set up better and felt better received than the one downtown. Both events had absolutely perfect weather.

    1. To his credit, I did see an officer driving down the street at walking pace calmly announcing over the PA, “The festival is now over. Please get on the sidewalk.” That’s how it should be done.

  7. With the Bucktown 5K that morning and the Open Streets following right after, it was like those 2 neighborhoods were transformed into a glorious celebration of outdoor activity, if only for a short while. The only downside? The next day was Monday.

  8. Would Open Streets be considered a classic ciclovia really or are they more street fests with space for bikes and rolling. I would say they are closer to a street fest so far with room for strolling and biking.
    I htink these two Open Streets we a good warm up to the idea that might be an Open Streets that would begin in a neighborhood and make it;s way ( with activities on the side roads mostly) all the way into the Loop. Say Andersonville or Logan into the city.

    1. I’ve been trying to answer this question for myself, as I find it somewhat difficult to explain what Open Streets is to new people. It’s very easy to point to photos and videos of Sunday Parkways in Portland, and ciclovias in NYC, SF, and LA. But what Open Streets (and Sunday Parkways in 2008, 2009) has been is not what those cities make.

  9. This event was ridiculous. Close yet another street and limit business’ ability to get customers just so bicyclists can have free reign? Don’t they already pretend they have that right everywhere else? I tried to get to the grocery store on my one free day of the week. It was so poorly marked I got stuck in one way alleys with traffic coming the other way. Move to Amsterdam if you want to bike so much. Either that or all bicyclists should have to 1) get permits 2) have a license plate 3) get ticketed for being on the sidewalk, etc.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, and sorry you had problems accessing the Aldi. Actually, when ciclovias are done right (this one was a little under-publicized but turnout was still pretty good) they improve businesses’ ability to get customers, because they fill the streets with lots more people than can usually fit when the roads are clogged with metal boxes. True, bicycles did have free reign that day, but if you look at the before/after photos at the bottom of the post it’s clear that cars have free reign the other 364 days of the year.

    2. Ron Burke, director of Active Trans, says, “The turnout and activity was clearly good on Sunday, and the early reports from businesses along Milwaukee were glowing. They reported way above average sales. I went into Red Hen about 330 and they had sold out of things. They saw many ‘new faces’ and were really pleased. The Chamber got similar feedback.”

    3. People biking were the minority at Open Streets. I’d posit a guess that the majority of people here were younger than 18, and most of the young people were here with their families. It’s not everyday that families can enjoy the street so safely, bringing their children’s “mobility devices” (I saw every kind).

      These are my two favorite photos of Open Streets on Milwaukee Avenue:

      Family competing in potato sack race:

    4. Your comment is ridiculous. First, you complain about bicyclists “pretending” to have free reign, presumably on the street, and then you demand that they be ticketed for being on the sidewalk. Well, where do you want them to be, the street or the sidewalk? Second, you also complain about difficulty accessing Aldi by automobile due to a street closure, but then also seem to blame, again, bicyclists riding on the sidewalk. Well, if they’re on the sidewalk, then they’re off the street, so the street must be closed for some other reason. Please try again.

      If it’s bicycles themselves that are so offensive to you, regardless of where they are or what their riders are doing, then stop mincing words and just say so. It will make the bike advocates’ job a lot easier, knowing in advance that logical arguments are worthless to some people.

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