Last summer a controversy erupted over the installation of bikes lanes on Dodge Avenue. While many supported the lanes, others appeared at City Council meetings demanding that the lanes be removed. Eventually the Council decided to keep the lanes, but to modify them by removing the lane-separating bollards.
After that decision a group of Evanstonians began meeting to figure out how to support future street improvement projects. Last month we announced the formation of a new group, Go Evanston, to promote safe and efficient streets that work for everyone.
The installation of bike lanes on Dodge was not a hasty decision by City leaders. The lanes were part of the City’s bike plan, which was developed with input by citizens, elected officials, staff, and experts. The City has many plans relating to transportation: a multimodal plan; a climate action plan; a health plan; an age-friendly plan; and more. The City works hard to make sure all plans reflect the shared values and input of our community – and they all aim to make Evanston greener, safer, healthier, and more livable.
Evanston is not alone in this effort. Cities around the world are implementing ambitious plans to grapple with the challenges of our new century. Evanston, like many progressive cities, has a Complete Streets policy, which defines streets as community spaces that should be shared by all users. Complete Streets accommodate automobiles but also support “active transportation,” a term used to describe walking, bicycling and using public transit. By encouraging these modes of transportation, Complete Streets can have a profound impact on our community.
First, we can make our streets safer. Evanston averages more than 2,600 car crashes annually, and a tenth of those cause injuries. Complete Streets, which have been shown to curb speeding, reduce both the number and severity of traffic injuries.
Second, we can reduce congestion. Evanston is booming, and traffic is getting worse. More people on foot, bike, and transit, particularly for short trips, means less crowded streets and more parking.
Third, we can reduce carbon emissions. Climate change is real, and we all, as individuals and as a community, must use less carbon fuel. Walking, biking, and using public transit more is a great place to start.
Fourth, we can improve our health and reduce healthcare costs. We face a national obesity epidemic, so severe it is even affecting our children. This raises medical insurance costs and shortens lives. The American Public Health Association supports Complete Streets because data show that people who walk, bicycle and use transit routinely are healthier.
Fifth, Complete Streets are good for business. Transit centers, bike lanes, and pedestrian-friendly design are a boon for the local economy. Business owners who worry about losing parking spots are missing the big picture: if we make Evanston more livable – and accessible by other modes – it will be a more desirable destination and everyone will gain, including property owners.
Sixth, and most importantly, our streets should work for all members of our community, regardless of whether they drive. Seniors should not be stuck at home because they don’t drive. Children should not depend entirely on their parents for transport nor be denied the joy and freedom of biking because of fear. Everyone, regardless of age, ability, mode, or where they live in the city, should be able to get around safely and efficiently.
In short, Complete Streets make our community greener, healthier, safer, and more livable.
Go Evanston is not only advocating a set of policies. We also aim to help our neighbors use our streets better. For those who are ready to drive less, but need help getting started, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will help you. For parents who want their children to have more independence, but are concerned about their safety, email us about our programs to teach safe biking and walking. We will launch more events and programs in the coming year.
Go Evanston is not anti-car. Go Evanston wants our community to do more to provide safe, fully functional streets for everyone, and we want more of our neighbors to join us as we walk, bike and use transit. So, as Evanston rebuilds its infrastructure in the coming years, let’s make sure that our streets are shared community space, built with all users in mind.
Victoria Jacobsen and Ethan Spotts are co-founders of Go Evanston.