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General Introduction

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.

Chapter 5: Improved East-West Connections Address Health/lifestyle Crisis

Studies have shown that our country’s overall health currently parallels that of poorer, developing countries.

Alarming highlights from “U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes?” (Commonwealth Fund).

The U.S. spends more on health care as a share of the economy – nearly twice as much as the average developed nations – yet has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 nations. The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden and an obesity rate that is two times higher than average for developed nations.

Compared to peer nations, the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.

We as a country already spend more per person on healthcare than any other country. What else could be done to improve the health in this region? It is generally understood that we should get 20 to 60 minutes of exercise a day (depending on age and other variables) to reduce obesity, diabetes risk, and depression.

During COVID-19, we have seen an increase in existing trail use for running, walking, and biking. The question is how to increase safe access to existing trails and green space throughout Evanston? An equitable and just city provides access for exercise to all its citizens.

Driving a car to find a place to bike or walk is not sustainable. Yes, we have a number of north-south biking and walking corridors like Dodge Avenue’s connection to California Avenue in Chicago. However, we need to designate east-west streets in the region for better, safer bike access for all people. 

Good candidates for continuous east-west bike lanes include Oakton Street. Such a route could create a recreational corridor – connecting South Boulevard Beach, Chute and Dawes Schools, James Park, the Rowing Center, Pooch Park, and even across the channel to Skokie’s Sports Park! Half of Church Street already has painted bike lanes; we support the City of Evanston’s efforts to extend it west.

Our neighbors, like the Village of Skokie, already have painted bike lanes on their portion of Main Street. The Howard Street bike lanes have started an East-West corridor for both bikes and cars, but it needs to be extended west past Ridge Avenue to be a viable corridor. Emerson Street, Lake Street, and Greenleaf Street are other good candidates to maintain these connections for viable commercial and residential connections throughout Evanston.

Conclusion

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 everyoneJoin 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.

 Evanston Transit Alliance members are John Fervoy, Steve Kismohr, Mike Moran, Jeff Balch, Jeff Axelrod, and Reuben Perelman.