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Ongoing efforts to make Evanston a more bike-friendly city met some resistance at City Council on Sept. 29, as aldermen favoring more bicycle protections narrowly prevailed over aldermen concerned about the loss of parking spaces along Dodge Avenue.
The item was one of four bicycle-related matters on the agenda for the Special City Council meeting called primarily to address bicycle issues. Tabling the Sheridan Road/Chicago Avenue improvements until 2017, and holding Mason Park improvements, were less controversial. The final item, regarding overall bike policy, was a discussion item only.
The Dodge Avenue bike lane dominated the discussion because of a change proposed by City staff to the original grant request. The original request, already submitted to state and regional agencies and approved there, called for a protected bike lane along Dodge Avenue from Howard to Church Street. Protected lanes, like those on Church and Davis Street downtown, run to the right of parked cars and are therefore protected from traffic by barriers and immobile vehicles.
Staff proposed instead a buffered lane, with parked cars remaining curbside and added paint protecting the bike lane from car traffic. The City’s Director of Public Works, Suzette Robinson, said the change was made because the City “looked at reducing parking impact.”
Even with a buffered bike lane, Dodge Avenue would lose 32 of 532 parking spaces. Most lost would have been in front of the Dempster-Dodge Shopping Center, said Ms. Robinson. Under the protected lane plan, Dodge will lose over 100 parking spaces beginning near the Levy Center and continuing north all the way to Church.
“The protected lane has already been approved by CMAP and IDOT,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, referring to the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“Are we expecting the revisiosn to be approved, or merely hoping?” asked Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. Staff confirmed that there is no guarantee the altered plan shifting to buffered lanes would be accepted.
Safety biking along Dodge was a primary concern among a number of aldermen. Ald. Wilson, an avid biker, said he shied away from Dodge as much as possible because it is just not safe. A protected lane is not right for all streets, but on Dodge where safety is such a concern a protected lane makes sense, he said.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, agreed. Staff confirmed that the buffered lane would consist of simply “more paint” and more striping. “I am not sure how people respect that striping,” said Ald. Wynne. “I never let my kids ride to school on Lake Street because it’s just not safe.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward contains the southern end of Dodge Avenue, protested the loss of parking necessitated by protected lanes. “People need a place to put their cars,” she said… “Cars are not a bad thing. Some people cannot ride bicycles.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, whose Second Ward contains the northern stretch of Dodge Avenue, said that parking was a serious issue in his ward. He also made clear that any discussion of “danger” around Dempster and Dodge concerned traffic only, and no one on Council was calling the area “dangerous” in any context other than traffic-related.
“This is really a question of prioritizing safety,” said Ald. Wilson. “If you’re in a car, you don’t want to hit a bike or a pedestrian. That’s the worst thing that can happen…. We have a bike lane [along Dodge] already. More paint is not going to change anything.”
Ald. Braithwaite moved to accept the changed plan and reject the protected bike lane. His motion failed by a 5-4 vote, with Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and Alds. Braithwaite and Rainey voting yes. Ald. Wilson then moved to approve the original plan and his motion passed 6-3, with Ald. Fiske, Braithwaite and Rainey voting no.
The vote highlighted the split on Council over biking in general, with a group of aldermen prioritizing bike and bicycle safety while others prioritize parking and residents who do not bike. The issue came up again with the Chicago/Sheridan plan, debate over which caused City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to call the special bike policy meeting in the first place.
Alderman Coleen Burruss, 9th Ward, heavily criticized the initially proposed plan as unsafe while eliminating valuable downtown on-street parking spaces. Rather than attempt to adjust the plan on the fly, the City instead decided to put it off.
Mr. Bobkiewicz called the project “a very large project, a very complicated project, and we want to make sure we get it right.” Changes to the original proposal include a shift of the two way protected cycle track to the east side of Sheridan and Chicago, but these changes will have to go back through the full planning process.
Ald. Burrus thanked staff, saying, “While it would be great to have it constructed, getting it right is more important than getting it fast.” The process will continue over the next year or two giving the City plenty of time to get it right.
The Mason Park project is similarly held pending further information. Council found it difficult to determine exactly where the bike path would go from the maps and information provided. Ald. Rainey asked for a map showing areas where parking spaces would be removed, and Ald. Wilson asked for a map showing the proposed bike path itself. Mr. Bobkiewicz promised that when the item returned, staff would include “better maps with better labeling.”
Because the bike lanes would connect with the ETHS bike corral, Council also asked the City to approach District 202 about a possible contribution.
Finally, the Bike Policy Next Steps and 2015 Initiatives presentations introduced Ylda Capriccioso, assistant to the City Manager, as bicycle program coordinator. The program, she said, will continue to gather information from the community before offering additional program proposals “moving forward,” with initiatives to launch in spring and summer 2015.
Several aldermen praised the initiatives, saying safety should be a primary concern and efforts to make Evanston more bicycle friendly should go forward. Alds. Braithwaite, Fiske and Rainey had no comment.