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Two traffic signal debates dominated an otherwise subdued City Council meeting on Sept. 14, with the real highlight of the evening being the rapid-fire passage of an ordinance banning video poker in the City (see story on page 3). Perhaps the presence of television cameras from several Chicago news outlets subdued the Council, but a quick look at the agenda points to another source: there was simply not much going on.

A proposed new traffic signal at Sheridan Road and Church Street drew the most discussion, with residents coming out in favor and opposed. The signal – proposed to address concerns about the difficulty of safely crossing Sheridan Road to get to the Lakefront that arose during the Lakefront Master Plan visioning process – is designed primarily for pedestrian usage.

A group of residents led by Tom Connelley opposed the signal, proposing instead a concrete median running down the center of Sheridan Road, a lower speed limit, and “stop for pedestrians” signage. The downsides of traffic lights, they argued, include “beat the light” driving, diversion of traffic through neighborhoods to avoid the light, and a limited benefit to pedestrians with one light along a several-block area in which pedestrians regularly try to cross to get to the lake.

The alternate proposal met with an appreciation but not support. Suzette Eggleston, interim director of public works, opposed the median as a serious impediment to snow removal, particularly being so close to the lake. Paul Schnieder, director of transportation and engineering, expressed concern over pedestrians getting caught on the median while crossing. In the end, the Council seemed to agree with citizens and staff in favoring the new traffic light, voting to introduce the ordinance. Barring a change of heart or in the facts in the next two weeks, the new light appears to be on its way.

The second traffic light issue concerned the modernization and interconnection of Central Street traffic signals at Girard Avenue and Ridge Avenue in front of Evanston Hospital. Surprised by the nearly $500,000 price tag (reduced by a $200,000 contribution from the hospital), the Council questioned the wisdom of going with decorative mast arms rather than plain arms. Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, led the opposition, joined by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, joined for fiscal and aesthetic reasons, saying that she favored design-neutral signals. Of the decorative mast arms she said, “I don’t think they are appropriate in the community.”

Opposition fell away, however, between the Administration and Public Works meeting and the full Council meeting. City Staff referred Council to 2004 Council documentation directing staff to pursue the decorative mast arms. The cost difference, estimated to be approximately $100,000, would also be offset by new engineering studies required by IDOT if the signal design changed. Ald. Jean-Baptise withdrew opposition, saying the City staff “did what we told them to do,” and approval of the contract to install the signals passed unanimously.

In other actions last night, the City donated a used Yukon Truck to CEDA/Neighbors at Work to replace a 1990 van purchased from Cahill Plumbing. Ald. Rainey said that the old van was so dilapidated that it immediately diminished one’s impression of the street on which it parked, and carried around pictures of the replacement Yukon for all to see. The City loses whatever the Yukon would have brought at auction, but CEDA now has a working truck from which to continue its good work offering minor repairs and painting assistance to low-income residents.