Believe It or Not, Evanston Mulling More Bike Bans

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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.

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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:

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.

  • tewhalen

    I’m not convinced that Evanston has the authority, under home rule powers, to ban bicycles from roadways. 625 ILCS 5/11-1502 in the Illinois Vehicle Code says “Every person riding a bicycle upon a highway shall be
    granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of
    the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this
    Code, except as to special regulations in this Article XV
    and except as to those provisions of this Code which by their
    nature can have no application.” and this seems to apply directly to
    65 ILCS 5/11-40-1 (The corporate authorities of each municipality may regulate,
    subject to the provisions of “The Illinois Vehicle Code”, as now and hereafter
    amended, the speed of animals, vehicles, cars and locomotives. The corporate
    authorities may also regulate vehicles conveying loads within the municipality.) which grants home-rule units a limited authority to regulate in this area.

  • oooBooo

    Banning bicyclists from where roads did not have bicycle lanes or paths has long been a foreseeable consequence of the argument that roads aren’t safe for bicycling without them. I’ve actually run into such bans on roads where the local safety nannies have decided that the road wasn’t safe for bicycling. Either outright bans or worse, restriction to the sidewalk. If the road isn’t safe the sidewalk is worse.

    It’s also a backlash of making road space reservations through the political process. Why is it shocking that people who only drive wouldn’t use the established political process that reserved road space for bicycling wouldn’t use it to establish bicycle free zones?

  • oooBooo

    Such bans already exist. Within Evanston and other northern suburbs and nowhere that I ever found the vehicle code prevents them. The quoted passage is with regards to using roads where permitted. For instance to rely on that passage means the ban from limited access highways is not legal.

    I believe Evanston bans bicycles on Ridge, and further north there is a curvy road that bans bicycling as I recall. Sidewalk restrictions I’ve also seen in the north burbs along the lake. It’s been some time since I was out in that area, so specifics are foggy.

    Also there is the Baub decision, which basically means that bicyclists are not intended road users of any road that doesn’t have a bicycle route sign or bike lanes. Thus free to be banned.

  • Anne A

    I wouldn’t consider either Green Bay or Oakton to be “comfortable corridors” for a lot of riders. It’s disturbing that they’re even thinking about a bike ban on any streets in addition to the longstanding ban on the southern 2/3 of Ridge.

  • Rince1wind

    As an Evanston resident with a terrible sense of direction but who cycles whenever possible, the proposed bans add a daunting level of complexity to any ride with an actual destination. If they happen, I will have to scour maps before any trip I make. I might as well just take the car.