Video captures “Milwaukee morning madness” as cyclists pedal towards Kinzie and Desplaines Streets


Brandon Gobel sent us this video showing dozens – I count 27 – of people bicycling southeast on Milwaukee Avenue towards the five-way intersection with Kinzie Street and Desplaines Street. There were 13 motorized vehicles in the same signal cycle.

You’ll notice about half are changing lanes from the conventional curbside bike lane to the single travel lane so they can merge to the bike left-turn lane ahead.


The view from the opposite direction, looking southeast at the intersection of Kinzie Street, Desplaines Street, and Milwaukee Avenue. 

Unfortunately, because of signal timings at the intersection they just left (Hubbard/Milwaukee) uncoordinated with their destination intersection, the first in the group won’t be rewarded with a green light for their tricky uphill lane change maneuver, and will need to stop at the red light, while those in the back of this group will likely get a slim chance at moving through a green light (the green light is only 12 seconds long).

I’ve heard from several people who cycle here, Gobel included, that changing lanes from the curbside bike lane in a dark viaduct to the travel lane in order to reach the bike left-turn lane ahead can be very stressful.

Another issue with the light, but not related to this video, is that the light cycle for people who want to cycle from Milwaukee to Kinzie (making a slight left to go eastbound) is designed such that if you enter the intersection at the end of the green phase, you will be in the intersection for the entire yellow phase, part of the red phase, and then the beginning of green phase for the cross direction. I explored this – long intersections – on my blog, Steven Can Plan.

20 thoughts on “Video captures “Milwaukee morning madness” as cyclists pedal towards Kinzie and Desplaines Streets”

  1. In my experience, many bicyclists heading southeast along Milwaukee do not stop for the red light at Hubbard, allowing them to cross over into the travel lane and bike left-turn lane ahead of cars stopped at that light. It’s not quite visible in the video, but I would guess that that is why you can see eight people bicycle past the camera in the 17 seconds before a car reaches the same point. I think from the hint of brake lights at the very right edge of the video coming from northeast-bound cars waiting at Hubbard that the light turns green about 8 seconds in.

    When I cross Hubbard on the green, the steady stream of cars makes it very difficult to move to the left, and because of the long green at Milwaukee, Desplaines, and Kinzie for the right turn onto southbound Desplaines from Milwaukee, I am not able to use the bike box extending across Milwaukee to move from the right hand bike lane to the spot aligned with the through-the-intersection bike lane onto Kinzie. The bike box is generally ignored by people in cars anyway, if there are not already people on bicycles in it.

    1. I turn right at this intersection, and most mornings, clusters of people have trouble making it across traffic to go left…so they stop in the bike lane…blocking it entirely. Or they slow to a snail’s pace waiting for a brief break in the traffic. I, like most bike commuters at Hubbard, also blow that red light. I concur that is how many are able to make the left. 

      1. That’s an interesting perspective; I hadn’t considered the plight of the right-turning bicyclist stuck behind people who want to move to the left-turning bicycle lane but can’t. Unfortunately, stopping there remains the only safe and legal option that I’ve found. If I had to stop, I’d try to not block the whole bicycle lane, but fortunately if I’m on that stretch of Milwaukee in the morning, I’m headed northwest.

        1. An option that Ash Lottes pointed out was taking Hubbard eastbound from Milwaukee to southbound Green Street to eastbound Kinzie and cross Desplaines/Milwaukee straight on Kinzie.

          1. That would be one way around the problem. I’m hoping for an engineering fix, such as your suggested bicycle signal head with a leading interval. I included your idea on my comment form at the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 open house this past Saturday.

  2. I always run the red light at Hubbard in the morning, as there’s usually very little traffic when SB Union has the green. It seems much safer to run the red and get out in front of traffic to make a lane change than waiting for the red and merging across with all the cars.

      1. This may be an ideal first test location for a bicycle signal head at the intersection. The bicycle signal head would turn green X seconds before the car signal head. Then, based on some observed speed, the signal at Kinzie and Milwaukee would turn green, and hold it long enough for X people to cycle through. The yellow phase would be of sufficient length to not let a cyclist be in the intersection on a red phase if they had entered on the green or yellow phase.

  3. I’m so wary of riding on Milwaukee that I normally take Hubbard to Green to Kinzie to get downtown. The straight green on Kinzie give me plenty of time to get across the intersection and onto the cycle track on my slow bike without feeling at jeopardy. 

  4. I’m a little annoyed to read about (and see) cyclists blowing the light at Hubbard. Especially since I’ve seen a couple of close calls at the intersection, often when cyclists run the light and a car is speeding down Union to make the light.

    I usually wait until I’m on the other side of the viaduct and in the sun before I start to merge over. Normally cars will let me and other cyclists over, though I did get flicked off this morning after giving a thumbs up to a car who sped up to keep me from merging as soon as she saw my hand signal.

    The other problem with this intersection is navigating all the other bike traffic, often new/fair-weather riders who are vying for their place at the front of the group. Talking with some new cyclists in my office, they’ve expressed reluctance to use that Kinzie bike lane because of this intersection and the treatment they’re getting from more confident (read: often reckless)  riders.

    1. Agreed.

      Although it seems some feel the low amount of crossing traffic at Hubbard and Union makes continuing on Milwaukee against the red less risky, I find the combination of the viaduct and the surrounding buildings makes this a rather “blind” intersection. Also, the light is red.
      I dislike being passed with inches to spare when I stop at stop signs along Kinzie.

    1. I think both should have bicycle signals, and a green wave. I’m disappointed that there’s no progress on building a green wave.
      People who cycle, much like water, want the path of least resistance (except we can change course and go uphill if needed ;). In other words, the path of least dissatisfaction. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction felt when bicycling in Chicago and it’s small “interventions” like green waves that reduce that dissatisfaction.

      1. That, and connecting the Kinzie St. bike lane to the Elston Ave. bike lane via Milwaukee would help as well. The bike lane on Milwaukee seems to disappear for a while after turning from Kinzie. At least paint a green turning lane though the intersection connecting to Kinzie.

          1. Both directions would be nice, but I think westbound Kinzie connecting northwestbound Milwaukee sahould be a higher priority. From my observation, that’s the direction most cyclists are heading. Although, admittedly I only take that route in the afternoons. The opposite may be true in the mornings.

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