It was hard to be hopeful in 2020, with one crisis after another fighting for our attention: COVID-19, climate change, the financial crisis, and systemic racism. Additionally, quarantining may be testing our stress and general health from lack of social contact and exercise. But as the former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” By that reasoning, we see these crises in this era as ripe with immense opportunity.
What does bike transit have to do with any of this? Imagine if we could safely traverse our lakeside communities from the Wisconsin border to Indiana via trails and bike lanes. Workers could get to jobs, students to schools, shoppers to our businesses – without adding to crowded roads and carbon emissions.
Low-cost mobility is a key component of reducing barriers between communities and permitting the flow of commerce, contributions, and equity through our region. Regional active transit is possible now with the exception of our area: Evanston, Rogers Park, and Wilmette. We are a regional road block and this is where the trails in our area end: The Green Bay Trail, The Lakefront Trail, The North Shore Channel Trail, Sheridan Road lanes, and so on. This is why the Evanston Transit Alliance was formed – to bridge the gaps in our area’s trail network.
How did we get here?
It’s no accident that communities have been laid out with barriers to the flow of citizens. Historically, suburbs had been designed as communities separated from the perceived threat of the urban masses. Barriers have been built to resist the easy flow of people rather than encourage it. Consider the southern border of Evanston along the lakefront – a cemetery wall, busy Sheridan Road, a narrow distressed sidewalk, and a row of boulders – as a clear example of a city designed to discourage bike and pedestrian transit.
Daniel Burnham, famous Evanston resident and coauthor of the Chicago Plan, wrote before moving to Evanston in 1886, “I can no longer bear to have my children in the streets of Chicago”. Those were different times and we perhaps have changed our attitudes toward restricting opportunity and mobility today.
If we are now more enlightened and fighting for equity, embracing fitness and active transit, and a cleaner environment, then we can see the problems that our barriers and dead ends cause. Recently we’ve become aware that we want front-line workers to have easy access to work, and we want everyone to access parks for walking, running, biking, and playing.
The good news is that there are trail connection opportunities in plain sight. In this series of articles, the ETA would like to present a trail connection as it relates to each specific crisis.
Bike Planning for a Hopeful Future, Chapter 3: The Channel Trail Extension Addresses the Financial Crisis
The pandemic has decimated citizens, cities, and states. The Federal Government is likely to propose a massive infrastructure plan in response. Shovel-ready projects will be granted funding to put people to work and upgrade communities’ built environment. As Charles Marohn, president and founder of Strong Towns recently wrote on CNN Business,
“Cities across North America are reconfiguring streets for biking and walking, shifting parking spaces to street seating and giving their residents more of a say in how public infrastructure is used. These are all productive ways to add value to underutilized public investments.The infrastructure investments with the highest returns today are small. They look more like planting trees along streets and connecting sidewalks instead of funding another generation of interstate-scale projects like more highway lanes, interchanges and frontage roads. These small investments are the work of local mayors and city councils.”
A can’t-miss local opportunity is to extend the increasingly popular North Shore Channel Trail in Evanston. Currently the off-road trail follows McCormick Blvd north until it dead ends at Green Bay Road. By continuing the trail 1.5 miles northeast to Wilmette Harbor, this channelside trail could connect the new Sheridan Road bike lanes and could even connect to the Green Bay Trail. Running below grade along the embankment, this opportunity wouldn’t conflict with golfers on Canal Shores Course and would provide pedestrians and cyclists a scenic route through the parkland. This short connection would be a regional linchpin, closing a key trail gap between Wisconsin and Indiana. The ETA has heard supportive comments from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, from the cities of Evanston and Wilmette, and from the Canal Shores golf course. This short stretch of trail is ready to move forward with a preliminary engineering study to become a shovel-ready project – on the path to qualify for federal infrastructure funding. What is needed is citizen demand for the trail connection to be made.
This series of articles attempts to draw multiple connections between each of our current crises and a corresponding trail link. Clearly, trails are not cure-alls to our ills, but each link explored here could be a local ingredient in capitalizing our existing assets.
As infrastructure investments materialize, we need to make sure it targets inequity, health and environmental concerns. New bike lanes provide a steady stream of customers, allowing existing businesses to thrive. They also provide elegant solutions to connect neighbors with healthy options and new means to travel throughout our region.
We at Evanston Transit Alliance see these connections as a means to build a better life for everyone. Join us!
Participate in the Movement:
- · Let your Aldermen, Representatives, and Mayor know what you value.
- · Ask candidates for upcoming local elections about their plans to improve our trail network. If they don’t know, share this series of articles with them.
- · Follow the ETA Facebook page to help us move forward, to ride with us next year, and find out more.
- · Join Go Evanston for safer streets.
- · Join one of our partners like Bike Wilmette or Citizens for a Greener Evanston.
- · Join a local equity movement.
- · Read the City of Evanston Climate Action and Resistance Plan.