Evanston Catches Residents Off Guard by Suggesting Bike Bans

main street station shopping district
A sign on Main Street says “explore it all” – but not by bike if a ban suggestion is implemented.

A survey to collect resident feedback about the draft Evanston Bike Plan launched yesterday, and some of the questions have alarmed residents and advocates. The survey has several odd questions, beginning with a requirement that respondents complete a quiz about bicycling laws. What truly alarmed respondents like Wheel & Sprocket store manager Eric Krzystofiak, though, is a question asking, “should bikes be prohibited from the following roads if alternate parallel biking corridors are established?”

Krzystofiak rides from his home in Chicago to the bike shop, one block from the Davis Street Metra station. “What’s great in Chicago is that you can ride anywhere,” he said, so “it seems counterproductive to see roads that cyclists aren’t allowed on, when we’re trying to be bicycle friendly in Evanston.”

The suggestions were first revealed in a public input session last month, where Public Works director Suzette Robinson said the city wasn’t making recommendations but seeking to “increase harmony” among bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.

The survey asked respondents to consider banning bicycles on five distinct street segments, without describing where the “alternative parallel bike corridors” would be or what infrastructure, if any, they would have. The five street segments, totaling 4.6 miles, are:

  • Main Street, between McCormick Boulevard and Hinman Avenue
  • Dempster Street, between McCormick Boulevard and Asbury Avenue
  • Central Street, between Lincolnwood Drive and Green Bay Road
  • Green Bay Road, between Lincoln Street and Isabella Street
  • Chicago Avenue, between Dempster Street and South Boulevard

Evanston bike ban map, corrected
This map shows the Evanston street segments in question.

Ron Burke from the Active Transportation Alliance said that “banning bikes to relieve roadway stress is like banning light bulbs to prevent sunburns.” Burke continued, “The survey frames this notion as a possible way to ‘improve harmony between motorists and cyclists on high stress roads.’ We see that Evanston is already using the most effective strategies to achieve this goal: developing comfortable biking routes that connect key destinations so people don’t need to bike on high stress streets, and using traffic calming measures to make these streets less stressful places where everyone can travel safely.”

There are certainly many bicyclists who currently ride on these streets. The small subset of bicyclists who use Strava to track their rides have left virtual tracks upon all of them, notably along Chicago.

Sue Carlson is a 40-year Evanston resident and represents the Citizens for Greener Evanston group on the city’s Bike Plan Committee. “I don’t think they should be shut out to bikes,” Carlson said. She also mentioned that the survey was “hard to comprehend,” because “you have to imagine the whole length of the street they list on the survey.” The survey lacks a map, and not every resident may be familiar with each detailed segment.

Evanston bike plan survey screenshot
The Evanston Bike Plan survey asks important questions without context.

I talked to one Evanston resident, a father who bikes with his young daughter and who asked to remain anonymous, to describe some of these streets. Along Main Street, he said, a business district begins at Hinman Avenue, “lined with coffee shops, restaurants, and outdoor seating. [It’s] hardly a speedway.” It passes three schools, a community center, a park, and CTA and Metra stations. Chicago Avenue, he said, has space for bike lanes between Dempster and Main, and “while busy, it’s still bike-able.” Chicago Avenue runs between a row of local businesses and the railroad viaduct carrying both the CTA Purple Line and Metra UP-North line. Banning bikes on both streets would eliminate lawful bike access to the Main station.

Confusingly, documents on the city’s website also describe proposed “comfortable corridors” for bikes [PDF], two of which overlap streets where the survey suggests bikes could be banned instead. A “comfortable corridor” along Chicago Avenue could feature a a two-way protected bike lane, or a one-way protected bike lane with a neighborhood greenway on parallel Hinman. A similar situation is proposed for Green Bay Road, where the bike plan appears to offer a choice between banning bikes, or building a protected bike lane in each direction.

Carlson, the Bike Plan Committee member, granted that the improvements are “not low-cost” – the “comfortable corridors” are estimated to cost $250,000 to $350,000 – but that, like other communities, “you can alter how streets are set out and make them less stressful for bikers” without a ban. The survey also proposed specific infrastructure designs for certain streets – again, without illustrations or a map – that offered respondents a choice between removing parking to provide a bikeway or “impacting” trees. “When it’s proposed that parking is removed for bike lanes,” Carlson said, “that’s a political issue.”

  • TR

    Your map above has a problem: the section of Central St with the possible ban is from Lincolnwood east to Green Bay–you have it shown from Lincolnwood west to Crawford, which currently has a bike lane striped on it.

  • J

    I’m used to seeing maps of where bicycle access is expanding. It’s alarming to see a map where bicycle access might be declining.

  • CL

    So it’s cyclists’ turn to experience Evanston’s ridiculous micromanaging local government. They’re not happy unless they’re making your life difficult. Evanston transportation / parking regulations will make you long for Chicago.

    Parking is very scarce up there, so residents will likely oppose eliminating parking — and they also love their trees. However, I expect “road diets” could be popular.

    Cycling is already prohibited on Sheridan through Northwestern, but the students just ignore the law and do what they want. I doubt there would be much enforcement if cycling were banned on a few streets. But I voted no to more cycling bans — it makes sense on Ridge and that one stretch of Sheridan, but I don’t think it makes sense on the locations they listed in the survey.

  • Thank you for pointing this out. I’ve corrected the map and I’m going to delete this comment.

  • I’ve heard from a couple readers that they don’t mind not being allowed to ride a bicycle on Ridge – not because of traffic but because there are no businesses along the ban segment.

  • Last time I checked, there were no bike bans on Sheridan, except in Lake Bluff, where the McClory bike path runs alongside the road, and in the Winnetka Ravine, where you could make an argument (that I would argue with) that cycling is dangerous.

  • R

    Was there a comparable question about where cars should be banned?

  • IMO if you are to ban bikes from one road, the parallel alternative must be car-free.

  • Anne A

    I’ve never had any desire to ride on that section of Ridge because it’s just too narrow.

  • CL

    Here’s a link that explains the four current bike bans, including the one on Sheridan through Northwestern. I was actually unaware that bikes were banned on those stretches of Main and Green Bay until I looked it up just now.

    http://www.northwestern.edu/fm/about/policies/bicycle-policy.html

  • Mishellie

    Isn’t there a ban on Sheridan where the lake front path ends? I thought you couldn’t ride north on sheridan from there. Am I wrong? Because if I was wrong I’d be thrilled!

  • Mishellie

    Amen.

  • Anne A

    There’s no signage banning bikes from Sheridan Road in Edgewater. However, most people don’t ride there due to traffic conditions. There IS signage banning bikes from *sidewalks* in Edgewater and Rogers Park.

  • Anne A

    Except for the ban on Ridge, those are all news to me. You’d think there would be some signage at Main & Custer, because so many of us ride Custer in this area. I looked at street view for the Elmwood intersection. No signage there either. Is this a very recent change?

  • The survey quality, generally, was very poor. The first question, asking you to “check all the boxes that describe you” offers the option for “minority cyclist”.

    What the heck does that response mean? Yes, cyclists are a minority group of transportation users. Or…wait…do they want to know if the respondent is in a minority racial, ethnic, or income group?

  • what_eva

    It’s been a while since I was a student, but I’m around Northwestern’s campus here and there. Back then and what I’ve seen recently, students ride on the sidewalks along Sheridan, not on the street. The sidewalks along Sheridan are very wide, so it’s more comparable to the lakefront path than your average sidewalk.

  • what_eva

    Why? Sheridan there is terrible. Why *wouldn’t* you use the bike lanes on Kenmore/Winthrop? It’d be nice if they’d cut the speed bumps in the bike lanes, sure, but those streets are much more pleasant than Sheridan. Unless you’re talking really off hours.

  • CL

    There are definitely far more students on the sidewalk than in the streets (and they often ride too fast and endanger pedestrians on the sidewalk, but that’s another story). But cyclists on Sheridan happen regularly — and I always notice because it’s very disruptive to car traffic. The lanes are very narrow.

  • what_eva

    I think that NU page may be inaccurate. I checked in Evanston City Code, found this page:

    https://library.municode.com/showDocumentFrame.aspx?clientID=15159&jobId=&docID=1

    Which is a *very* detailed spelling out of all kinds of things with Evanston streets, from no parking zones to truck routes to speed limits to one ways.

    Find XV (B), that lists the streets where bicycles are prohibited. Only Ridge from Howard to Emerson is listed.

    XV (A) has a bunch of streets where vehicles under 5bhp, except bicycles, are prohibited. That I’m confused on. Scooters tend to have more than that, so what’s that section about?

  • CL

    Northwestern regularly sends reminders about not biking on those streets — they seem pretty certain about it, but I don’t know where it’s written.

  • Wewilliewinkleman
  • John

    That survey was overly complex, poorly worded, and difficult to interpret for the average citizen. Terrible work.

  • John

    Except for Bike the Ridge, which is fun.

    I lived within a block of Main St for 10 years. You can legally bike on Main St. It is a little narrow and stressful, but doable for an experienced cyclist. Similar for Central. Chicago Ave is not a problem at all, mostly wide enough for bike lanes. Green Bay Rd just needs a road diet.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Maybe the survey was poorly drawn. However, perhaps trying too hard to be sensitive.

  • Anne A

    I’ve ALWAYS avoided that section of Sheridan and used the parallel sections of Kenmore and Winthrop because conditions on Sheridan are so horrible at most hours of the day.

  • Anne A

    Between discussion here and my own research, I wonder if NU’s public safety dept. is simply trying to discourage bike use in those areas.

  • Anne A

    Bike the Ridge is a very cool event, lots of fun.

  • what_eva

    That’d make sense for Sheridan, perhaps NU wants to encourage students to use the paths on campus instead of riding on the busy street. No idea where they’re getting the Main and Green Bay bans though.

  • Pete

    The communists on the Evanston city council won’t ever be happy unless they’re banning something or otherwise telling people what they can do with their lives.

    How much does it cost for an Evanston resident to obtain the necessary city permit required to hang a picture on their living room wall?

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