Evanston officials have chosen engineering plans to improve the busy Emerson Street-Ridge Avenue-Green Bay Road intersection, though some residents continue to raise questions about safety concerns and provisions for biking along the route.
At the Monday, Feb. 23 Evanston City Council meeting, aldermen approved a nearly $500,000 contract with the Naperville-based ESI Consultants.
The city received approval for a grant of $1.78 million from the Federal Surface Transportation Program in support of the project.
In survey polling, a three-lane cross-section with a left turn at Emerson proved the most popular of three options, garnering “most preferred” status from 21.62 percent or 96 respondents.
By comparison, the other option in the running — a one-way northbound lane on Green Bay — was judged “most preferred” by only 2.51 percent or 12 respondents.
Addressing the City Council’s Administration & Public Works Committee, Sat Nagar, the city’s assistant director of engineering and infrastructure, said the Green Bay-Emerson-Ridge intersection currently has “outdated signals” and contains 130 “conflict points,” or places which contain the potential for accidents.
The primary mission of the project “is to enhance pedestrian safety,” he told aldermen. Officials believe the changes will reduce the conflict points by about half.
Currently, Nagar told aldermen, ” We have the lanes pretty much all over, so we need to simplify the traffic patterns and the lane usage and coordinate the signals.”
The three-lane cross-section option project with one lane each way and a left turn off of Green Bay onto Emerson will free up green space along Green Bay Road, said Nagar. The change also allows for bus pullouts, improves traffic low and creates safer pedestrian crossings, he said.
Ald. Jane Grover asked about bicycle use of Green Bay Road under the new design. Nagar said travel lanes will be wider under the new design to accommodate bikers.
Also addressing the issue, Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said the plan allows for biking along Green Bay to occur on an “informal, share-the-route basis.
In remarks during the citizen comment portion of the meeting, Nancy Sreenan, an avid cyclist, indicated bicyclists had hoped for more than that, referring to the Complete Streets program, a citizen initiative which advocates for non-motorized access.
She said that while she was glad to hear that lanes will be reduced from four to three at the intersection, she was disappointed to learn that cyclists use of the area had been “pretty much relegated to that of an afterthought,” under the selected option.
She pointed out that the city’s current bike plan identified the intersection as one of the city’s “high-crash” intersections.
She urged council members to use the opportunity of the plan to make the intersection safer for all users.
Some other residents expressed concern that safety issues weren’t being addressed by the plan and maintained some conditions might even be made worse.
Tina Paden, a nearly 40-year resident of the area, at 1222 Emerson St., overlooking the intersection, handed council members photographs she has taken over the years, showing accidents at the corner.
She encouraged aldermen to reject the option on the table.
“As you can see from the pictures it is a terrible intersection,” she said. “The real issue here is the [traffic] lighting system, which I don’t think has been appropriately addressed. The light going east bound on Emerson Street has a longer green. That’s been a problem for years and years and years.”
Also, she predicted, with the new plan’s call for an east-bound turn off Green Bay onto Emerson, “you’re going to see more accidents.”
Her sister, Renee said, based on the city’s spending on the project, she expected that simulation tests would have been run on the various options being considered.
She said officials should also have included a fourth option in choices presented residents, marked “none of the above.” She also questioned the focus placed on landscaping in the plan.
“Since when does landscaping improve traffic,” she said, maintaining some of the additional trees will end up obstructing the views of motorists.
With council approval, the consultant will next submit an engineering report for Illinois Department of Transportation approval, officials said. Final construction plans will have to be approved by IDOT and the state.
Cyclists are going to have to get over the idea of being the ‘fair-haired child‘ on a perpetual basis. Anything that makes it safer for pedestrians works for everyone. We have no more right to want to be accommodated than a person who rides a skateboard.