A hot debate is building in Evanston and the city wants to hear as many voices as possible. In the north suburb’s growing commitment to become both bicycle friendly and safe, a new proposal has been brought up that could possibly restrict cycling on certain stretches of roads in Evanston.
After an initial survey sent out and completed by both residential and commercial members of Evanston, the city is floating the idea of keeping bicycles off stretches of Dempster, Maine and Chicago in addition to a few others. However, before any decisions are made, a second survey has been sent out so the city can hear all sides of the argument. The closings wouldn’t be the only change to the bicycling infrastructure in Evanston, plans to open new and longer stretches of bike protected roadways and trails are also being considered.
“The goal for us is to promote harmony and safety,” Suzette Robinson, Evanston Director of Public Works said. “Bicyclists should be able to connect to any given point in the city and get to where they are going. But that doesn’t necessarily mean on every road way. There are several roads that trucks aren’t allowed to drive on either.”
The issue, Robinson said, is finding the harmony in all commuters. With a growing number of cyclists she said the city is just doing what they can to make sure everyone can be safe. However, some believe the city is taking it too far. John Jacobs from Evanston Bikes said there is no need to prevent cyclists from enjoying parts of Evanston. The truly dangerous areas to ride, Jacobs said, are areas that nearly no cyclists would even consider anyways. This proposition would prevent cyclists from getting to major parts of downtown Evanston.
Jacobs said he believes that this is more about keeping space for cars to park than the safety of cyclists. Local merchants are afraid that if streets are narrowed to allow for cycling lanes and parking spots are removed, their bottom line will hurt. Robinson said that this is an issue, especially in a neighborhood like Evanston where parking can often be at a premium. In order to prove that the loss of parking spaces won’t hurt sales and show their support for the cycling community, Jacobs is organizing a group ride on Friday through Evanston.
“We hope to be festive, celebratory, positive,” Jacobs said. “We plan on obeying all traffic laws. This is an event that is intended to gain respect [for bicyclists] so therefore we need to respect other modes of transportation. In addition to that, we hope to stop along the way for shopping and errands.”
Jacobs said he hopes the ride can show local stores that more cyclists doesn’t mean less business, and having space for bikes will be a net positive. The ride will begin Friday evening at 5:30 at the south-west corner of Sherman and Church. No registration is necessary and Jacobs said they hope to ride for roughly an hour. Following the ride there will be a post-ride wrap up at the Celtic Knot.
Robinson said they welcome the cycling groups, especially the commuters and families who use their bikes instead of cars. Any changes that may happen as a result of the survey would also come with new stretches of bicycle protected infrastructure. Robinson said that new grants will help the city introduce new bike paths that can not only help Evanston riders get around, but connect them to other communities. This is all part of the overall plan to make Evanston as bike friendly, and eco-friendly as possible. The same people who helped to bring the protected bike lanes to Evanston over the last few years will be the ones working on this new project, Robinson said.
While Jacobs said he was surprised by the idea of closing down more streets to cyclists, Ridge road from Emerson to Howard is already closed, the city is a long way from making any decisions. The survey, open to the public, will remain available until June 21. It’s not until then that the consulting team hired to conduct the survey will collect and compile the numbers for Robinson’s team to deliver a presentation to the city. That wouldn’t happen until sometime in July, Robinson said.
While debate remains open, the key seems to be harmony. Robinson said that any decision made will be done with the full input of the community and for the overall best interest. “We are just asking questions and collecting data,” Robinson said. “There are trade-offs for everything out there, we want to get everyone’s voice.”