Evanston’s Fountain Square Rehab and Road Diet Is Creating a Great Public Space

The new plaza. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen
The new plaza. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen

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The city of Evanston has recently been renovating and extending a plaza in the heart of its downtown, narrowing the streets around it, and making the area more walkable.The $5 million project, financed by the Washington National Tax-Increment Financing district and general obligation funds, is nearly complete.

Orange on the map is street space that has been turned into public space. The map has been rotated so that north is on the left side.
Orange on the map is street space that has been turned into public space. The map has been rotated so that north is on the left side.

The new section of the plaza extends south of Davis Street from the existing Fountain Square, a block east of the Purple Line’s Davis station. This section, which has been open to the public since last fall and has already been used as an event space, replaced a small landscaped median that separated Orrington and Sherman avenues. The new plaza is flush with the street and features movable outdoor seating and tables, plenty of bike racks, lighting, and young trees that will grow to provide shade for visitors.

View of the plaza from Sherman Avenue. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen

When the northern end of the plaza is finished, it too will feature additional seating and benches near a renovated fountain. The previous fountains rose above the ground and were a rather uninviting place to sit. The new design is a zero-depth fountain with a veterans memorial at its north end.

When I visited over the warm Memorial Day weekend, the plaza was not being heavily used; people in the area seemed to prefer sitting at other nearby locations that provided more shade. However, as the trees mature, I assume more people will find the space more appealing in summer. Until then, it would be nice if the city could install some umbrellas or sail canopies over the tables to provide some relief from the sun.

The median between Orrington and Sherman prior to the renovation and road diet. Image: Google Street View
The median between Orrington and Sherman prior to the renovation and road diet. Image: Google Street View

The project features a shared-street concept with a road diet, slimming northbound Orrington from three lanes to one at its intersection with Davis. Southbound Sherman has also been narrowed near the plaza. The narrowing of the street should force drivers to slow down and respect other road users around the plaza. It’s always great to see projects plaza that take underutilized vehicle lanes and repurpose them for public use, as recently in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where a stretch of roadway was converted into a new plaza.

Evanston has been a local leader in safer street design and accommodating different modes of transportation in its street designs. In the downtown area alone, several streets have protected bike lanes, and protected lanes on were recently installed other main streets, such as Dodge Ave and Chicago Ave. (An attempt by Evanston Alderman Ann Rainey to have a stretch of the Dodge protected lanes removed was outvoted last month.) These improvements are proof of Evanston’s commitment to creating safer streets and a more pleasant environment for residents and visitors.

This post is made possible by a grant from Freeman Kevenides, a Chicago, Illinois personal injury law firm representing and advocating for bicyclists, pedestrians and vulnerable road users.  The content belongs to Streetsblog Chicago, and Freeman Kevenides Law Firm neither endorses nor exercises editorial control over the content.

  • rwy

    A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t find a table to eat my poke because the new space was so crowded. I think it was the first day with warm weather or something.

    Anyways I really like the new fountain square. The last time I went through, I noticed that there was an area for bikes making a left turn from Davis onto Sherman to wait.

  • Austin Busch

    It’s been nice to see it finally take shape, though very delayed. A bit of a shame how much is still paved though, as it will be a heat sink for years before the trees grow back in. I’m sure it will be good for summer festival closings with the older plaza spaces across the street.

    I’m not totally a fan of some of the new pedestrian timers though. It’s never been great, but crossing Davis west of Sherman now takes about a minute for a 15-second window. Thankfully there’s been a road-diet, otherwise the completely valid jaywalking would be dicey.

    (Also, pictures are downside-up, and map is sideways?)

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As noted in the caption, the map is rotated (for space reasons), but I’ll look into the photo issue. In the meantime, try another web browser like Google Chrome.

  • Kevin M

    The main picture at the top of this article is loading upside-down in my browser.

  • Kevin M

    And so is the 2nd picture from the top.

  • rwy

    It happens in Firefox. Image loads fine for me in Chromium.

  • Anne A

    I’m curious to check it out. Ped crossings have always been a challenge there, so I hope this redesign works well.

    I wish they’d included more planters and will look forward to more shade as the trees grow.

    BTW, I’m viewing this in Chrome and having no trouble with photos or maps.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The issue should be fixed now — let us know if you’re still having problems. Thanks.

  • I’m glad to hear it was busy! I went on a warm day and hoped to see more people, but the sun was directly overhead, and more people were sitting at benches nearby that were under mature trees.

  • Ann Rainey

    The 3 block stretch of protected bike lanes that Ann Rainey objected to on Dodge Ave in Evanston passed by Dawes Elementary School, The Levy Senior Center, The Jewish Reconstruction Synagogue, the Dobson Plaza Nursing Home, the Veterans Administration Center, the driveway to a parking lot for a daycare center and numerous small single family homes and townhouses where many very elderly people live and park at the curb. Further, these 3 blocks empty onto Howard St. These are all extra ordinary, heavy uses in every way including bus routes and lightly used by cyclists. Ann Rainey asked that only these 3 blocks retain the existing bike lanes and not convert to the so called protected lanes that now place numerous other populations in danger. Thanks. Ann Rainey


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