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Officials from both the City of Evanston and Chicago Department of Transportation, on Aug. 2, briefly met with residents at the Levy Center to discuss plans for an extensive renovation of the Howard Street corridor.
The goal of the project is an overall improvement of safety, access and landscaping along Howard Street. Among the proposed changes are additional bike lanes, curb-cuts and cosmetic improvements, officials said, but planning is only in its most initial phases. Evanston City Engineer Lara Biggs and Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey both said that the $2.4 million project would be “transformative.” Chicago Aldermen Joe Moore, 49th Ward, and Debra Silverstein, 50th Ward, both of whose wards border Evanston on the south side of Howard Street, also attended the meeting.
Ald. Rainey called the area in question – extending from Hartrey to Callan avenues – “a very tired strip in some places.”
The total cost for the project, which is slated to be implemented in three phases, would be about $2.4 million. The City of Evanston would pick up the cost of Phase 1– the initial planning and modeling – which amounts to about $300,000. The other two phases – Phase 2 would be finalizing plans in 2018 and Phase 3 would be the actual construction in 2019 – are to be paid for from a combination of federal funds as well as funds from both the cities of Evanston and Chicago. The project’s funding comes under the auspices of a grant from the North Shore Council of Mayors.
The project divides the corridor into three portions: the first from Hartrey Avenue east to Asbury Avenue; the second from Asbury Avenue east to Ridge Avenue; and the third from Ridge Avenue east to Callan Avenue, said Michael Kerr, Executive Vice President of Rosemont-based Christopher B. Burke Engineering, which is doing the surveying. He outlined a number of design alternatives for each portion. Some included potentially closing lanes of traffic to make way for bike lanes, while others essentially would keep the lanes as they are presently. Mr. Kerr said the portion between Asbury and Ridge avenues would likely see the most overall changes.
Some residents were not pleased to hear about reductions in traffic lanes, especially between Asbury and Ridge avenues. While officials suggested that those extra lanes were being used largely for passing, audience members reminded them that the extra lanes are needed if a car is stopped and waiting to make a left-hand turn, particularly in areas around the McDonald’s at 1117 Howard St.
One resident said that both Touhy Avenue in Chicago and Oakton Street in Evanston are “dead-slow,” and that “Howard is the go-to street not to be in a traffic jam – I request that the lanes not be reduced.”
Mr. Kerr answered that the various scenarios had yet to be modeled and no decisions had been made. Ms. Biggs did note, however, that the funding for the plan is contingent on accessibility and safety improvements for pedestrians and bicycles as well as motor vehicles.
Another audience member challenged Ald. Rainey on the financial viability of the project, given the municipal fiscal strains the City faces elsewhere, asking, “Do we really need this?”
“If we don’t do this now, then we will be looking at a $10 million project five years from now,” said Ald. Rainey, who further reminded the audience member, “We have a City Council who voted unanimously for this project.”
A number of residents, as well as both Alds. Rainey and Moore, complained of the shuttered Burger King at 1763 Howard St. on the Chicago side. Ald. Moore said the owner of the property had resisted overtures to sell it but seemed to have no interest in developing it further himself.
“We have been trying for years to get this jerk to either develop this property the right way, or sell it,” Ald. Moore said. He added that his ward superintendent regularly picks up trash from the site, and officials had found enough violations to take the owner to court. A hearing is set for Sept. 18.
“We’ve finally got the goods on this guy,” added Ald. Rainey.