Believe It or Not, Evanston Mulling More Bike Bans

by Melissa Manak and John Greenfield
Friday, May 16, 2014

Source: StreetsBlog

Ridge Avenue. Depending on the bicycle plan update, we could be seeing more “No Bikes” signs in Evanston. Image: Google Street View

Ridge Avenue. Depending on the bicycle plan update, we could be seeing more “No Bikes” signs in Evanston. Image: Google Street View

Evanston has a reputation as one of Chicagoland’s most progressive suburbs. That could change if the city’s bike plan update, intended to encourage more pedaling, takes the counterproductive step of recommending banning bikes on some streets. Earlier this month, a public input session for the plan left many locals distressed about the possibility of the city “restricting” cycling on segments of some roads.

That would be an odd future for what’s currently one of the region’s most bike-friendly ‘burbs. Evanston already has high-quality protected bike lane lanes on Church and Davis downtown. Last year the city won a $480,000 state grant to build new PBLs connecting the existing ones to the Chicago border via Dodge, as well as to install bike racks and lockers.

In April, the state granted Evanston another $1.4 million to build on-street protected lanes and/or off-street paths connecting downtown to Wilmette. “So you’ll be able to go all the way from Wilmette to Chicago on protected routes,” said Suzette Robinson, Director of Public Works. The new bikeways should be completed in 2015.

Protected bike lane on Church Street. Photo: David Wilson via Flickr

Protected bike lane on Church Street. Photo: David Wilson via Flickr

Since October, the city and consultant T.Y. Lin International have hosted several meetings to gather feedback from residents about current conditions for cycling and what changes are needed to create a better biking environment. “Our bike traffic has doubled, so we’re trying to ensure that we don’t have an increase in crashes,” said Robinson. “Our goal is to have a complete streets network where all modes respect each other.”

At the recent meeting, city and T.Y. Lin staffers presented a draft of the plan to residents. To collect additional feedback, a new online survey will launch on Monday, continuing until June 20, and staffers will talk with local employers and buttonhole shoppers in the retail districts, Robinson said. After the input is collected, Public Works may present a final plan to the City Council in July.

During the first part of the meeting, the planners discussed the results of an earlier survey that asked residents how comfortable they are sharing the roads with cars, and how drivers respond to them. Next, the meeting covered potential improvements to Evanston’s more bike-friendly corridors, including strategies to improve safety on these streets, and to better link up the north, south, east, and west sections of town. Here’s a list of the streets identified as “Comfortable Corridors”:

  • Corridor 1: Chicago and Hinman (Howard to Church)
  • Corridor 2: Howard (Chicago to McCormick)
  • Corridor 3: Asbury and Green Bay (Church to Isabella)
  • Corridor 4: Maple, Noyes, and Sherman (Grove to Central)
  • Corridor 5: Greenleaf (Sheridan to McDaniel)
  • Corridor 6: Oakton, Callan, and South (Sheridan to McCormick)
  • Corridor 7: Sheridan and Edgemere Court (South to Lee)
  • Corridor 8: Lincoln, Harrison, and Lincolnwood (Sheridan to Crawford)

In the final segment of the meeting, participants were surveyed via keypad polling about “High-Stress Corridors.” These included truck routes, streets and intersections with high crash rates, uncomfortably narrow roadways, streets with high parking turnover, as well as streets where state jurisdiction makes it challenging to implement bike improvements. Here are the High-Stress Corridors along with proposed alternative routes:

  • Main: McCormick to Hinman. Alternative: Greenleaf, Lee
  • Dempster: McCormick to Hinman. Alternative: Greenleaf, Greenwood
  • Central: Lincolnwood to Green Bay. Alternative: Lincoln
  • Green Bay: Lincoln to Isabella. Alternative Route: Poplar, Prairie, Ashland
  • Chicago Avenue: South Blvd to Dempster. Alternative: Hinman

Many attendees were alarmed that the survey brought up the idea of banning biking on problematic streets, instead of making them safer. Sample question: “Based on the factors that identify it as a stressful corridor, do you support restricting bicycling [on X street from Y to Z]?”

This resembled the reasoning behind the 1958 city Council Decision that banned cyclists from Ridge in Evanston, a prohibition that’s still in effect. During the current planning process, community members have voiced support for reconfiguring Ridge, a relatively narrow four-lane street, to allow for safe bike access. It’s obvious that banning cycling from additional streets would be a backwards pedal stroke for a city whose stated goal is to get more people on bikes.

Some council members have said as much. Downtown Alderman Don Wilson said he opposes any additional restrictions on cycling in the city. 9th Ward Alderman Coleen Burrus, a member of the city’s bike planning committee, also said she was not in support of banning bikes from streets unless there truly is no practical option for making a street safer.

Shortly after the meeting, DePaul public policy professor Hugh Bartling tweeted his incredulity that Evanston is even considering bike bans:

How will the @CityofEvanston plan for bike safety? Apparently by banning bikes from commercial districts. http://t.co/FLyAwGk7OA #bikechi

— hughbartling (@hughbartling) May 5, 2014

Robinson defended the inclusion of the bike ban questions in the survey. “The city is not making any recommendations here,” she insisted. “This is not an anti-bike plan. We want to establish more harmony between bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.”

It’s disappointing that Public Works, which is otherwise doing a great job of promoting cycling, hasn’t ruled out this “fighting for peace” strategy. Fortunately it’s not too late to voice your opposition. Be sure to fill out the upcoming survey to let them know that further restrictions on biking won’t make Evanston safer.


Background Reading

TakeAways

Over the past year I have visited and ridden the streets of Evanston many times. For the most part the streets are inviting. But a few are downright frightening to me. Now I am not a superhero when it comes to dangerous streets but most anywhere in Chicago is a ‘cakewalk‘ when compared to something like North Avenue here in the suburbs. It almost makes me laugh when I hear ChainLink Forum riders whining about how very difficult their morning commute is. What they perhaps do not understand or choose to ignore is that statistically the suburbs are more dangerous than the city when it comes to mortality rates for riders on bicycles. Part of this might just be the generally darker streets than one finds in Chicago. It is however a nicer place to ride when side streets are used.

Evanston Bike Infrastructure Has Some Design Issues

Protected bike lane on Church Street. Photo: David Wilson via Flickr

Protected bike lane on Church Street. Photo: David Wilson via Flickr

When we first rode Church Street in Evanston with an eye towards considering just how well it worked I was stunned to see riders approaching me westbound. The street itself is one-way. And the bike lane which is of the rather horrid design type as the ones used in Chicago is also one-way. Frankly this design type is ‘like putting lipstick on a pig‘.

But the pretty green paint and the ugly PVC bollards was not what surprised me the most. It was the fact that everyone in the city seems to want to use the PBL going westbound. Now for all those self-righteous folks who simply cannot abide ‘salmon‘ riding, there is really no other choice when leaving downtown Evanston on Church Street.

(Note: Look closely at the image to the right and you will note that the riders in the PBL are coming towards the camera. I counted far more riders heading westbound than ever there were heading eastbound during my visits. Evanston’s Church Street is the ‘salmon‘ capital of the northern suburbs.)

That says to me that the street designers need to sit down and figure out how to plan their PBLs to not only make them safe but also serviceable. Forcing riders to use a rather narrow PBL in ‘salmon‘ mode reflects poorly on the entire concept of bike infrastructure. It is easy to whine about wanting more infrastructure. But what you really want is better infrastructure and more of it. Chicago has made the fatal mistake of allowing it so-called Cycling Community Experts to pressure it into making lanes that do not work well, are not easily serviced or maintained and frankly look horrid. But hey, if it is quantity and not quality that you crave, Chicago is your place.