In Praise of the Concrete-Protected Bike Lanes in Evanston, Illinois

Protected bike lane on Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Image: Courtney Cobbs
Protected bike lane on Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Image: Courtney Cobbs

Monday morning I asked my Twitter community if I should check out the protected bike lane on a trip to Evanston, Illinois, the northern suburb of Chicago that’s home to Northwestern University. Unsurprisingly 100 percent of the respondents said yes.

I made my way north after a rainstorm stopped and took Chicago Avenue (Clark Street in the city of Chicago) into Evanston. After a Pace suburban bus passed me way too close for comfort as I was riding past a cemetery, I took out my phone to record a video of my experience. Adding bollards to the unprotected “bike lanes” on Chicago Avenue (I put the term in quotes when the bikeways don’t offer any physical protection for riders) could easily increase comfort and safety in these lanes.

As I passed South Boulevard a solo driver in a minivan honked at me and passed way too closely. My choice was to bike in the door zone — putting myself at risk of striking an opened car door — or face the wrath of drivers. I held my own slightly out of the door zone as drivers went around me without honking or passing too closely. 

After I made a quick visit to Dave’s Down to Earth Rock Shop, I attached my phone to the back of my bike and recorded a short live stream of my ride. I had no idea how to get to Evanston’s protected lanes.

I thought about the contrasting experience of biking and driving. Drivers can drive around lost or aimlessly without any concerns about being injured or killed. I have to think about which routes put me in contact with the fewest drivers, which keeps me safer and exposes me to less fumes. 

Chicago Avenue and Church Street in Evanston. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Chicago Avenue and Church Street in Evanston. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

I made it back to Chicago Avenue without incident and marveled at the intersection treatment at Chicago and Church Street. 

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 12.36.39 AM
Intersection treatment at Chicago and Church. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

The green paint makes people on bike highly visible through the intersection and also helps raise drivers’ awareness of people crossing the street on foot.

Church Street. Photo: Courtney Cobbs
Church Street. Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Above is the intersection from Church. As you can see the green paint ends and folks on bike no longer have a lane. It was interesting to observe the difference between the bike lane on Chicago and the one on Church.

The lane closest to the sidewalk is a bike lane but the green paint has long faded along with its white border. Despite the worn paint drivers stayed in their designated lanes. I would love to see the green paint again along with a physical barriers — even plastic bollards would be helpful.

Screen Shot 2019-07-31 at 6.47.16 PM
Photo: Courtney Cobbs

Above is the beautiful concrete barrier-protected two-way bike lane on Chicago Avenue (a couple of blocks north of Church it becomes Sheridan Road.) I would love to see more barrier-protected lanes in Chicago. As I biked I saw a mother and her two children cycling, a scooter user, and two children biking unaccompanied. Protected lanes made this possible. In the city of Chicago, the majority of families that I see biking are on the Lakefront path. For me it’s a rare sight to see these families in the painted lines we call “bike lanes” that offer physical zero protection from cars. More barrier-protected bike lanes lead to a wider variety of folks on bike.

 

  • Daniel Joseph

    The Evanston protected bicycle lane on Sheridan Road and Chicago Avenue is an excellent routing for inexperienced Northwestern student bicyclist.

  • Anne A

    I agree. Evanston has done a great job.

    FYI – next time you’re up that way, Hinman (parallel to Chicago Ave., 1 block east) is a much more pleasant north-south alternative to Chicago Ave.

  • Joe Klonowski

    New bike lanes on 55th in Hyde Park also have concrete and are great!

  • JacobEPeters

    Well documented. You’ll find lots of families on the 606 and on the North Channel Trail south of Lincoln north of Lawrence. Otherwise I only usually see families on the kinds of calm side streets we highlighted on the MBAC bike tour we went on a few weeks back. Where I live at the Boulevard and Palmer there are a lot of families because Palmer & the boulevard side roads are both so calm. Interestingly, I rarely see families biking south of Palmer on Kedzie because those buffered bike lanes are primarily used as a secondary parking lane for drivers too lazy to pull up to an open curbside space nearby. Separation from high speed traffic is the key, whether through street calming (Argyle) or physical separation (Clinton). We need more curb protected bike lanes to connect otherwise continuous, calm, some may say “Mellow Bike Routes”.

  • planetshwoop

    Slightly off topic to the point of your article, but relevant: if you spend any time on Sheridan in the North Shore, including Evanston, it is mobbed with cyclists. It is obvious that these pedalers support a lot of the retail level businesses around the North Shore — every cafe/restaurant/brewery is filled with cyclists on the weekend, and it is clearly a core of their business.

  • Courtney

    I will keep that in mind.
    Chicago Ave is the only road I know of I can use to (relatively) safely get to Evanston from RP. On my way back home I saw some folks transition from the “bike lane” to the sidewalk. Can’t say I blame them.

  • Courtney

    I wish they extended the full length of Garfield. The street is certainly wide enough once you go west of Cottage Grove to accommodate protected lanes.

  • Anne A

    Taking Howard St. from El station west to Damen/Custer, then going north on Custer is another option. That’s good up to Main St.

    Over the years I’ve often used either Custer or Chicago to go north from Howard, then crossed over to Hinman to continue north to downtown or Northwestern.

  • copyEd

    Yeah, I used to commute to Evanston every day. There are a few “back ways,” between Clark/Chicago and Ridge, including Sherman, where the streets are wide with no bike markings (besides some signs), but are much more chilled-out. It’s kind of a feel thing, but eventually I found a few routes.
    Still, not family-friendly, per your point.

  • Sam Otis

    Dodge (California) is a popular north/south route…lane is protected in that it is between the curb and parked cars.

  • Aidan Kaplan

    Yes! Biking suddenly becomes very stressful when you cross Cottage Grove and enter Washington Park, and even worse when you exit the park and continue on Garfield. I’d like to see them emulate the bike lanes on Drexel Blvd that run next to the strip of parkland in the middle of the road.

  • Joe Klonowski

    Yeah get em to the green line at least

  • rwy

    Church street bike lane is not always free of cars, as you can see on this map from BLU: https://www.bikelaneuprising.com/chicago

    I have a few quibbles with the design, but it’s an overall joy to ride on the Chicago/Sheridan bike lanes.

  • Gary Chicago

    Curious , as everybody thinks bikes lanes the greatest , how do these bike lanes get paid for and maintained ?

  • Alex Farkas

    Everytime I go to dowtown Evanston (from main) I ride on hinman, it’s very safe for its low traffic flow. I wish there was a safe road to take from main to Loyola.

  • ChitownKen

    The same way the zillions of miles of roads built solely for motor vehicles get paid for and maintained — with our tax dollars, state and federal.

  • Gary Chicago

    The time is right for bikers to start paying their fair share of the bike lanes construction and maintenance
    Scooters are paying ,even Hybrid and electric vehicles will start paying more with higher registrations to off set their low /no gas use. Avoiding the
    retail gasoline tax that is supposed to go to infrastructure and roads .

  • David P.

    I used to ride to Evanston from near the Lake every week (I still do so, but take the NSCT now). I think the protected lanes on Chicago are terrific – they’re really well-designed. Coming from the south, as someone else pointed out Hinman is very relaxed. You can take this from South Boulevard (north end of the cemetary) to Sheridan at the south end of the NU campus. Unfortunately there is no alternative to Chicago unless you go west, but as Anne mentions Custer (Damen) is very low-stress.

  • dfiler

    Registration fees hardly even pay for the bureaucracy of registration. Gas tax is also a drop in the bucket. That’s not how roads are funded. Roads are mostly paid for out of general funds. Since cyclists pay taxes but put less wear and tear on the road, they are already paying more than their fair share. In fact, cyclists and transit users are subsidizing drivers. If anything, drivers should be paying more.

  • Gary Chicago

    those bike lanes take up a tax payer funded resources ….roads and labor and need continuing maintenance with specialized machines ie small snow removal machines. Taxes /users fees are the cost of a civilized society. the recent increase gas tax is suppose to raise 1$.2 billion for more capital investment in IL. If you think this is a drop in a bucket , then a few bucks from you wont really matter to you personally

  • Jacob Wilson

    Gary, I’m surprised nobody ever told you this but we live in a society! Sometimes we help offset the costs of things because they benefit society as a whole.

    Automobiles are an inherently destructive, anti-social mode of transportation that should be discouraged and phased out as most more developed countries are doing now.

    That said, In the USA we subsidize automobile travel substantially. People who don’t drive still pay property and sales tax which fund much of YOUR driving infrastructure and free parking in public spaces.

    If you want to engage this forum in good faith you should avoid the most cliche boomer arguments of the motor heads. We’ve heard them all 1000 times.

  • rwy

    Northwestern paid for part of it through their Good Neighbor Fund.

  • Gary Chicago

    I know commenting on this bike friendly site is liking pissing the wind
    I just trying to bring up , there are costs and consequences to all visions and agendas .
    If many on this site think they should not bear any costs , then your
    true convictions are the value on what you want to pay which is zero

  • dfiler

    What are you talking about? Nobody has advocated not bearing any costs. In fact, cyclists are currently subsidizing automobile drivers. It is likely you’re just not aware of the situation so let me explain.

    The clearest example of cyclists subsidizing drivers are big cities like new york. Everyone pays taxes that fund roads but not everyone has a personal vehicle occupying public space on those roads. People without personal vehicles also do not cause wear and tear that necessitates repaving every few years. Thus, drivers are benefiting from public roads subsidized by non-drivers and infrequent drivers. If it were just bicycles, public transit and business vehicles on the roads, we would need far less pavement and repaving far less often.

    Granted, goods and services are moved on these roads and everyone is reliant on that. However the fact remains that personal vehicles still require space and do damage to roads. So if you want to point your finger at a group which is free-loading off of society, you should be pointing at drivers.

  • Jacob Wilson

    But it’s non drivers who subsidize drivers. Those are the facts. User fees do not come close to paying for auto infrastructure.

    We DO think that everyone should share the costs but as it stands non-drivers are disproportionately burdened because their property and sales taxes are paying primarily for infrastructure they don’t use.

    You’re arguments are relying on a myth. A quick google search about who pays for roadways will turn up countless sources but here’s one to start you out:

    https://momentummag.com/free-rider-myth/

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Evanston City Council Advances Key Projects From Bike Plan

|
On Monday night, Evanston’s City Council held a special meeting solely to address four bike infrastructure or policy measures, all of which will implement pieces of the city’s recently adopted Bike Plan. The council advanced new protected bike lanes along Sheridan Road and along Dodge Avenue, in spite of considerable opposition over the latter, while deferring […]