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The Evanston Transit Alliance (ETA) has been studying Evanston’s connections with neighboring communities. Bikers have encountered problems safely commuting by bike to Chicago and suburbs and accessing recreational resources in the area. The ETA is working with Active Transportation Alliance and Go Evanston to better understand Evanston’s problems and opportunities.
Here is an informal regional report card on Evanston’s connections, which includes suggestions about improving Evanston’s connections with the region’s trail network and an assessment of how Evanston ranks.
The Evanston lakefront is roughly one-third public, one-third private with public access (Northwestern University) and one-third private with no public access. Architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham once said, “The lakefront by right belongs to the public.”
The mile of lakefront trail has improved in the past decade. Northwestern has removed its “No Trespassing” signs along its emergency vehicle access road (the bike trail), and Evanston has an award-winning mile of protected bike lanes on Sheridan Road in Northwestern’s front yard. Access still needs to be extended to the Wilmette border to connect with Wilmette’s Sheridan Road bike lanes.
The rest of Evanston’s lakefront is owned and accessed by roughly 20 households. A movement in Chicago called The Last Four Miles aspires to extend public access to the remaining four miles of its 30-mile shoreline.
Extending access to the entire lakefront is very unlikely, but the City can actually improve what Evanston does control. Evanston’s southern access is limited to a narrow sidewalk across from Calvary Cemetery. This needs to be expanded to accommodate two-way bike and pedestrian traffic to spare bikes the hazard of traveling on busy Sheridan Road.
A gravel bike path between Kedzie and Main streets makes an awkward sidewalk entry through the gated Edgemere Court. Street connections between the islands of access are poorly marked.
Grade, B-: Inconsistent work ranging from excellent to failures and incompletions. If Evanston is a star student, harder work needs to be done to improve consistent access along the City’s favorite destination.
Chicago’s newly completed greenway ends at Evanston’s southern border at Chicago Avenue and Juneway Terrace. The Green Bay Trail ends at the City’s northern border near Poplar Avenue and Isabella Street.
There is no signage directing cyclists from these trails to downtown. There are no signs directing cyclists to neighboring communities until they make it downtown. It is not hard to imagine Evanston’s own greenway running through the business district and bringing more people to this community’s renowned amenities.
Can the City slip protected lanes down Chicago Avenue or are residents better off biking on Custer Avenue or Hinman Avenue? Can a trail fit between the Metra and CTA tracks? And what about that vacant third-rail bed on all of the Metra viaducts? Could that be an elevated trail, offering car-free transit from Wilmette to Chicago?
Grade, D: Neighboring communities have built trails to Evanston’s borders. When will Evanston let neighboring community’s bikers in (and Evanston bikers out)?
Evanston’s portion of the North Shore Channel Trail runs a half mile from Golf Road to Green Bay Road. Formerly a muddy gravel path, this segment has improved in recent years with smooth asphalt.
However, the trail comes to a dead end at Green Bay Road and requires a circuitous path around Haven Middle School before attempting to connect to Northwestern, Green Bay Trail or Sheridan Road.
Chicago is adding an inspiring 1,000-foot-long bridge and trail over the Chicago River, called 312 RiverRun. An opportunity has presented itself in the form of the Canal Shores Redevelopment Plan. Can Evanston take this rare opportunity to improve connections to the Green Bay Trail and extend the Channel Trail to Wilmette Harbor and Sheridan Road bike lanes? The City should not let this dead end on our only regional trail continue to block transit.
Grade, D: Incomplete course work. If Evanston can close this trail gap, the City will get extra credit.
A former Union Pacific rail line called the Weber Spur runs seven miles from Green Bay Road and Simpson Street southwest to Bryn Mawr Avenue and I-94. It is easy to miss what remains of this piece of transit history, but it pops out on Google Maps in satellite view.
It starts near the Civic Center, Evanston Hospital and Northwestern, runs past Evanston Township High School, Valli Foods, the Lincolnwood Mall and through the Forest Preserve. Lincolnwood has paved its segment and Chicago is working on doing the same. Evanston could turn its two miles of this scar across the face of the community into a functional asset.
Grade: F: Failure to show up for class
East-West Street Lanes
Bike lanes connecting the lakefront to the North Shore Channel and beyond are discontinuous. Lane segments exist on parts of Howard, Lake, Davis, Church and Emerson Streets. However, each of these lanes is less a mile long and end suddenly. Skokie has a nice Main Street bike lane running through town, but it ends at our border. The Dodge Avenue and Church Street lanes have greatly reduced accidents and increased mobile transit. Evanston needs to designate a few east-west streets for biking and create uninterrupted access.
Grade: B-: Assignment has been started but focus needed for completion.
Evanston’s Overall Regional Grade, D
Compared to its neighbors, Evanston has made little progress toward creating regional connections. All of Evanston’s neighboring communities have access to multiple trails and all have built connections that end at our border.
Who owns these poor grades? Everyone has earned these grades. If the City hopes to achieve its Climate Action Plan Goals by decreasing carbon and increasing active transit, this needs to be improved. City officials have gone to battle to improve safe bike access to the streets.
How can residents support their efforts, improve regional connections and raise Evanston’s grades? Choose a favorite gap to mend and get involved. Join the efforts of Go Evanston and Active Transit Alliance’s Trails Coalition. Talk to representatives (thank them for achievements to date – they need more than complaints), neighbors and fellow bikers.
Let’s get to work, Evanston.
Timetable on Improving the City’s Overall “D” Grade
The ETA welcomes new members to help explore these regional problems and opportunities, along with the wealth of resources in the area. The ETA has formed to do just that. Members have fun biking in and around town, experiencing new routes, and enjoying local business offerings.
Evanston Transit Alliance group on Facebook lists upcoming rides including the following:
Cooler Along the Lake: This will be an informative ride from Chicago’s Lakefront Trail’s end through Evanston to Wilmette. Can bike and pedestrian access to this challenging shoreline be improved?
Painting Evanston’s Greenway: How can the Edgewater/Rogers Park greenway be extended through Evanston? This ride includes a stop to enjoy food and beverage highlights along the way.
Mr. Fervoy has been an Evanston resident for 20 years and is a bicycling advocate. He is a member of Go Evanston and Active Transportation Alliance. Recently a new group, the Evanston Transit Alliance, was launched to explore regional connections. The group has been studying our regional connections and barriers for a few years.