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Davis Street Disagreement Tables Evanston Bike Plan Progress

Evanston bike plan by Melissa
A map of proposed bike routes in north Evanston, showing the "comfortable bike corridors" along Church and Davis, just west of downtown Evanston.

Last year, the City of Evanston started work on a 2014 Bicycle Plan Update [PDF], envisioning further improvements in its cycling infrastructure. The previous bicycle plan, adopted in 2003, resulted in 38 miles of bicycle facilities and a marked increase in bicycle ridership. The new plan will bring a new focus on "comfortable bike corridors" along Evanston's major streets, like Howard, Emerson, Greenleaf, Lincoln, Harrison, and Central -- and along the intersecting side streets of Hinman, Chicago, Maple, Orrington and Crawford. The city estimates the construction cost of these comfortable corridors at $4 million, and hopes that funding will come from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program or other state and federal grant programs.

Although the plan update is largely complete, residents concerned with topics like parking and aesthetics have temporarily tabled the plan before the City Council.

On Saturday, the Public Works Department, along with the contractor, TY Lin, hosted an open house for residents that focused on their Sheridan Road proposal [PDF]. The Public Works Department discussed their proposal, and received feedback from participants. A common theme throughout the feedback was that removing parking lanes might cause backlash from drivers.

Other suggestions included wider bike lanes that would permit safer passing, as well as better connectivity from the Green Bay Trail through downtown to Sheridan. Sharon Feigon, an Evanston resident for over thirty years, noted that while conditions have improved since 2003, more work needs to be done. She said that “riding through Wicker Park was safer than in Evanston,” and is thrilled that Evanston is pursuing the Complete Streets concept.

A police officer, and daily bike commuter, who lives in Evanston also attended. Her concern with the new plan was that, while it improves infrastructure and will likely increase ridership, what's really necessary is more education for both cyclists and drivers. The officer also supported separating driving and biking lanes. When asked about traffic law enforcement, and if it will be increased, the officer replied that the police are limited by manpower -- but when residents call in, police are dispatched quickly to react and enforce the law for all parties.

On Monday night, the Evanston City Council's meeting featured discussion of the Bike Plan on the agenda. Nearly all of the over 20 public comments addressed the bike plan, continuing for 45 minutes. The comments were primarily in favor of the bike plan, though several repeated concerns about its effects on the historic district along Davis Street, near Asbury.

Tim Turner spoke during the public comments segment. He felt that an infrastructure-centered plan was premature, and that money could be better used on traffic law "education and enforcement" first. Tim supported the Evanston Public Works Department's efforts to incorporate Complete Streets concepts, but wanted to incorporate more concepts than just bike lanes in these projects.

Evanston bike plan by Melissa
Residents examine drawings of the Sheridan Road improvements proposed under the bike plan update. Photo by author.

The historic preservation concerns focused on a three to four block stretch of Davis Street west of downtown. Davis runs as a couplet with Church Street through downtown, and leads to the Metra and CTA stations at the heart of downtown. Multiple issues were raised, namely that removing on-street parking would hurt garage-less residents and encourage drivers to speed, and that installing bollards along the bike lanes would not fit the area's character and require Historic Preservation Commission approval. Rebecca Kuchar, who lives within this segment of Davis, said that although she supports the bike plan in general, she "only supports it where it makes sense" – and not where it will inconvenience residents. She suggested that Greenwood, which runs roughly a quarter mile south of Davis, would be a better alternative to the current proposal.

Since a large number of council meeting attendees were waiting to hear about or comment upon the bike plan, a council member suggested moving it up in the council agenda. There was a brief discussion among the council members regarding what they were to discuss -- whether the 2014 Bicycle Plan Update was simply being presented, or if it would be voted on. 2nd Ward alderman Peter Braithewaite, whose ward includes the proposed Davis bike lanes, stated that he had discussed with Public Works whether that particular project could be postponed until next year, and that a better design could be ironed out in the interim.

Ultimately, a council member motioned to table the agenda item, to allow more time to resolve topics like Historic Preservation Commission approval and concerns from residents along Davis west of Asbury. The motion passed, and the agenda item was tabled. No specific timeline was discussed as to when the item would be presented again.

Tom Witt, Treasurer of the Evanston Bicycle Club, submitted a statement about the plan to each council member. The club, it says, "is confident that a better infrastructure for cycling, along with robust awareness and education program in support of the plan, will benefit those who use Evanston’s streets in their cars, on their bikes and on their feet. [That] will go a long way to alleviate the confrontation that motorists, pedestrians and cyclists have with each other."

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