Evanston is planning walk/bike improvements on Chicago Avenue and Church Street

The Dodge bike lanes in Evanston. Will protected bike lanes also be coming to Chicago Avenue and Church? Photo: Steven Vance
The Dodge bike lanes in Evanston. Will protected bike lanes also be coming to Chicago Avenue and Church? Photo: Steven Vance

Living in the Far North Side Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park, I’m no stranger to Evanston, the Chicago suburb just to the north. I regularly ride to Evanston for my weekly grocery shopping and find my cycling experiences to be more calm than in my own neighborhood. Evanston is currently considering walking and biking infrastructure improvements on Chicago Avenue and Church Street.

Chicago Avenue

While out of town visiting family over the summer, I was surprised to learn Evanston was holding a public meeting to discuss potential improvements to cycling conditions on Chicago Avenue. (Clark Street in Chicago becomes Chicago Avenue once you cross Howard Street into Evanston.) Improvements are being considered from Howard to Davis Street, a little under two miles north.

The project area. Image: Google Maps
The project area. Image: Google Maps

When you’re cycling into Evanston on Chicago Avenue from Howard to South Boulevard, about a half-mile north of the border and just north of Calvary Cemetery, you’re riding in a non-protected curbside bike lane, basically on the shoulder of the road. And even that modest concession to cycling disappears a few hundred feet before you reach the stoplight at South. At that point I head east on South Boulevard for a block and turn north on Hinman Avenue, which parallels Chicago Avenue, for less vehicular traffic and generally slower vehicle speeds. If I were to continue north on Chicago Avenue, it would be an uncomfortable ride for me with no bike lanes, parked vehicles to my right, and speeding vehicles to my left.

Chicago Avenue north of South Boulevard. Image: Google Maps
Chicago Avenue north of South Boulevard. Image: Google Maps

On July 27th of this year, the city of Evanston held a public meeting on potential multimodal improvements to Chicago Avenue from Howard to Davis. Attendees were provided with aerial photos of Chicago Avenue with crash data from 2016-2020 overlayed. They were asked to select what type of bikeways they preferred: separated or on-street facilities; along with their preferences on landscaping, bus stops, “green” infrastructure such as bioswales and rain gardens, LED lighting, and public space activation options.

Attendees expressed a preference for protected bike lanes, according to a writeup of the meeting on the website Evanston Now by Bill Smith. The layout of Chicago Avenue, which runs just east of the CTA Purple Line, is tight, with narrow travel lanes and parking on one or both sides of the street. It’s not clear whether the city is converting some of the parking to make room for bikeways. Meeting materials are available on the City of Evanston’s website.

Bikeway treatments under consideration for Chicago Avenue in Evanston.
Bikeway treatments under consideration for Chicago Avenue in Evanston.

According to the Chicago Avenue project timeline, an advisory committee meeting was held in late summer/ early fall. The city will hold another public hearing on November 11th from 4-7pm at , City Volkswagen of Evanston, 1034 Chicago Avenue. The purpose of the meeting is to present the proposed changes to the street. If you’re unable to attend, you can fill out a comment form on the project website. In late winter of 2022, the final design will be submitted to the Illinois Department of Transportation for approval. You can learn more about the project  and submit feedback on the City of Evanston website.

Church Street

Church Street is a key east-west route across Evanston. Church provides access to the North Shore Channel Trail, Evanston Township High School, and retail options. According to the project website, bicycle facilities are desired to fill the gap between the off-street path along the east side of the channel between Harbert Park to the south and Beck Park to the north.  Currently Evanston is in a preliminary environmental and design study to improve Church Street. There are currently bike lanes along the south side of Church Street east of Dodge Avenue.

Protected bike lane on Church Street in downtown Evanston. Image: Google Maps
Protected bike lane on Church Street in downtown Evanston, looking west. Image: Google Maps

The project website states, “The objectives of the study are to improve safety for people walking across Church Street within the project limits, fill a gap in the bicycle network on Church Street between Dodge Avenue [a north-south street about a half-mile east of the waterway] and the west city limits, and fill the gap in the trail network along the east side of the North Shore Channel between Dempster Street and Church Street, with the goal of improving safety and mobility for people walking and riding bikes within these corridors.”

The Church Street project area.
The Church Street project area.

According to a summary of the public engagement feedback received, when asked what improvements would encourage folks to walk along Church Street, respondents were interested in rebuilding the sidewalks and/or repairing places where they are cracked or uneven; additional marked crosswalks across Church Street; and pedestrian islands or curb extensions to shorten crossing distances.

Asked which improvements would encourage people to bike along Church, residents said they would like to see dedicated bike lanes, separation from moving traffic and parked cars, and better connections to other bike routes. Painted bike lanes, a two way cycle track, and a side path are the three options for cycling improvements.

Options for cycling improvements to Church Street in Evanston.
Options for cycling improvements to Church Street in Evanston.

You can learn more about the Church St project on the project website. According to project materials, the final design is expected to be approved in the spring of 2022.

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