Bicyclists and some neighbors liked the respite from traffic while the Emerson Street bridge was being replaced

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… that as of Jan. 1, it is illegal in Illinois to text while driving. The City is also considering a ban on cell phone use while driving.

… that so far the snow has been manageable. Plows and trucks have been out on the streets and most people have been shoveling their walks. The sad and, to TG, unconscionable, exceptions are the merchants and other commercial business-owners who refuse to keep their public walks ice-free.

… that Minnesota and Ohio have joined Michigan in, well, carping at Illinois to close the waterways into Lake Michigan and otherwise protect the Great Lakes from the dreaded and destructive Asian carp. They have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to order Illinois to close off the waterways, and the case is on the Court’s agenda for Jan. 8. The Alliance for the Great Lakes released a report in Nov. 2008, listing six options for separating the Great Lakes and the Mississippi water basin.

… that scientists at Northwestern University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have discovered that common bacteria can turn micro-gears when suspended in a solution. The scientists placed micro-gears with slanted spokes in solution along with common aerobic bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. (The gears are a million times more massive than the bacteria.) They discovered that the bacteria appear to swim around the solution randomly, but occasionally the organisms will collide with the spokes of the gear and begin turning it in a definite direction. This discovery, the researchers say, will provide insights for the design of bio-inspired dynamically adaptive materials for energy. The ability to harness and control the power of bacterial motion is an important requirement for further development of hybrid biomechanical systems driven by microorganisms, the researches say.

… that another decade’s over and a new one’s just begun. In the spirit of everyone else who feels it imperative to assess the 2000s, TG offers the following look back at Evanston’s traffic and transportation accomplishments and policies over the past decade. TG rates some of these as “smooth-riding” and others as “potholes,” but, like most everything else in life, the strength of the project can also seem its weakness, and of course vice versa.

Parking Garages: The Sherman Plaza Self Parking Garage opened on June 1, 2006, with a total of 1,583 spaces. The cost was about $44 million, but the City recouped about $6 million by selling 303 parking spaces to the Sherman Plaza condominium development for its residents. The City is still paying it off and using TIF funds to do so. The Sherman Avenue garage is taller and narrower than the 1,400 parking space Maple Avenue garage, which opened late in the 1990s. And the view from the top is spectacular. TG thinks: On the “smooth-riding” side, having no place to park is no longer an excuse for not going downtown. On the “pothole” side, as long as the City keeps building parking garages, it is not promoting public transportation as a sustainable way of travel.  

CTA Viaducts: Workmen installed a prefabricated 118 foot long, 480,000 pound CTA bridge over Main Street over a weekend in November, 2005.  The new bridge replaced a 95-year old concrete viaduct that deteriorated over time with exposure to the elements, and that was supposed to last 85 years. About one year later, crews installed a new pre-fab CTA viaduct over Church Street. By TG’s count, that leaves only seven more to go. TG thinks: This is all good – wish the CTA would fork over the other new viaducts promised almost a decade ago. As our mayor said recently to our state senator, who is still pursuing funding for those viaducts, “[Evanston’s] proximity to Chicago won’t mean much if people can’t get here.”

Ridge Avenue: In the late 1990s, IDOT wanted to repave and widen Ridge Avenue, and to upgrade the traffic lights there from post-tops to mast-arms, which would have extended their ugly metal tubing over the intersections. To preserve Ridge Avenue as is, and to save the canopy of parkway trees, the City agreed to take over jurisdiction of the road, as well as the obligation to maintain it in the future. After that deal was struck, the road was repaired and repaved, primarily with federal grants. The completion of the project (and Halloween) was celebrated with the first “Bike the Ridge” in October 2008. TG thinks: This move (like the assumption of jurisdiction of other parts of state roads within the City limits) is “smooth-riding” for the short-term, but long-term is probably a “pothole” policy, as the City is responsible for perpetual maintenance of these street segments. The now-annual Bike the Ridge, though, is an unqualified winner.

In an earlier effort to prevent widening of a road and to preserve trees, the City agreed with the State to take over jurisdiction (and responsibility) of McCormick Blvd. between Simpson and Green Bay. That section of the road was repaved and reduced from four to three lanes (with the middle lane designated as a turn lane). While TG was initially skeptical of the three-lane proposal, after testing it out, TG proposed that Ridge Avenue be made into a three lane road, a proposal kicked to the curb.

Bike Lanes and Bike Paths: In mid-2007, the City sought approval from the state and federal officials for a network of bike lanes and bike routes across Evanston. Some streets received designated 5-foot lanes and others new bike route signage. In the fall of 2008, the City began to implement phase one of a lakefront plan by constructing separate pedestrian and bike paths between Clark and Lee Streets. The new bike paths, closer to Sheridan Road (pedestrian paths closer to the lake) will be 12 feet wide, with a center dividing strip. Further west, the Twiggs Park paths were reconstructed, as was one segment of the Arboretum path.

TG thinks: Creating bike routes, bike paths and bike lanes is  a “smooth-riding” policy. Bumps come about when either bicyclers or motorists – sometimes both – flout the rules of the road. Drivers should be especially careful, for example, about the bike lane at Ridge and Davis, which is to the left of the right-turn lane, allowing (mandating) bicyclers to continue on Davis although cars can turn onto Ridge.

Bridges over the Canal: It was the bridge, not the water, that was troubled when the state decided in 2008 to replace the Emerson Street bridge over the canal as part of a statewide infrastructure project sparked by the Minneapolis bridge disaster. TG thinks: This was a good and necessary “smooth-riding” project but hears that many neighbors and bicyclists, enjoying a respite from the east-west traffic, found the re-opening somewhat bittersweet. There is a “pothole” a few bridges south, though, where, after more than a year of complaints, center lines on the Main Street bridge still need to be painted.

Sewers: Evanston’s sewer relief system, completed in 2008 after 18 years of work at a cost of $215 million, was recognized as the most important civil engineering feat in Illinois last year. Lots of roads were torn up and repaired as part of this massive project, and the engineering feat. This engineering feat won a statewide award. TG thinks: Underground and for the most part out of sight, this project of storm and relief sewers should also relieve the basement-flooding worries of many residents.

Bump-outs: This relatively new traffic concept (also called a “knuckle,” but TG would say a “pedestrian intervention”) is a big help – extending the curb into the street to give pedestrians a bit of a head-start in crossing a street. We’re seeing them on Central at Prairie (west) and Maple at Church and, coming soon, TG thinks, on Oakton near Grey.

Welcome to 2010, everybody.

Get those vehicle stickers before the deadline – and, hey, let’s be careful out there.