Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Subscribe to the newsletter!
It did not take very long for Paul Klitzkie, the general manager of Nature’s Perspective Landscaping, to see that the City’s pilot shared-street program for the entire length of Greenleaf Street was not a good fit with the narrow strip of the street where his and other businesses are located.
City officials launched the project July 19 to allow pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers to safely share the entire length of Greenleaf Street from McDaniel Avenue to Lake Shore Boulevard, announcing in their original release, “This shared-streets pilot project discourages cut-through traffic on Greenleaf Street, providing opportunities for all modes of transportation to share access to and from commercial and residential areas in Evanston.”
Klitzkie, a representative for the West End Business District, which is composed of a number of businesses clustered along the 2000 block of Greenleaf Street, said he is all for the City providing opportunities for greater recreation, as highlighted in the release.
However, “sharing [the street] with semis [semi-trailer trucks] and other large industrial deliveries, I don’t think it was the greatest thought in the end,” he said.
He said the 72-foot semi-trailers make deliveries daily to his business as well as to C.E. Niehoff, IRMCO, Pneufast and Lake Line Deliveries, among other firms located on or just off the busy street.
City officials made some changes in response to concerns raised by the business owners, who called for a meeting to discuss their concerns. The changes included reducing the barricades to barrel-size and moving them to the parkway, said Jessica Hyink, the City’s Transportation & Mobility Coordinator.
Hyink went out herself to change a message on a sign that Klitzkie reported initially was confusing, causing one truck driver to wonder whether he could make deliveries in the street. With the changes, “from the City’s perspective, it’s the most minimal treatment of the entire corridor,” she said.
Hyink spoke in support of the City’s pilot program including the west end of Greenleaf Street. From past experience, officials knew that that section of street was used by residents going to and back from Valli Produce, for instance, or by students, making a cut through returning home from school, she said.
In addition, Greenleaf Street stands out as one of the few City streets that have a complete east-to-west connection from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District land to the lake, she said. The route also passes by Nichols School as well as through the Main-Dempster Mile District.
With traffic signals at major intersections, “it makes it easier for people to bike and walk and use the street,” she said.
Truck Deliveries Especially Problematic
Klitzkie said trucks making deliveries normally travel down Dempster Street, which is a truck route. “And usually what they have historically done is turn down Dodge, and then turn onto Greenleaf Street. And that’s usually the truck route, because that’s the easiest way for them to get through.”
That route was disrupted the first day of the program, he said, “when they were bombarded with a sign that said “Road closed; thru traffic only.” That first day, “we had a driver that was confused and he’s like, ‘Can I even get through here?’” Klitzkie said. He said the businesses then approached the City for help.
At the July 21 meeting, Klitzkie said, one of the West End representatives asked whether the City could have created a cut around the industrial district – using Lee Street or even Main Street. “And they weren’t receptive to that option,” he said.
He said the group also raised concern at the meeting about receiving advance notice. “We wish the City would have approached our business district ahead of time and said, ‘Hey, we’re considering doing a pilot program that’s going to go right through your neighborhood.’”
Esthetics have also come into play. From neighbors living on Greenleaf Street, Klitzkie said he has heard “Hey, this looks like a construction site. Couldn’t there be something more inviting or esthetic?”
Some members of the group also said they wonder what the City will do after the pilot program, which is scheduled to end on Aug. 16.
Klitzkie said the owner of C.E. Niehoff, for instance, said her company had recently purchased a big lot in the district to construct a new building. “And the idea is that they had that parking lot specifically for all their employees so that they could easily exit the neighborhood and get out without creating congestion,” he said. “So by doing this, who knows?”
Jafar Sangtrash, whose J&B Transmissions and Auto Repair shop is located at 1905 Greenleaf St. at the Dodge Avenue intersection, said the signs stating “Slow Down-Local Access Only” have caused drivers to hesitate entering the narrow street.
“People don’t know why it exists,” he said. “They stop, they think, ‘Oh, what should I do – should I go, should I wait?’ backing up traffic.”
In such cases, Klitzkie said, “you get like a UPS truck or even a semi, which you’ll see come out here, usually in the mornings. Depending on which direction they’re going to go – if they’re going to go back north on Dodge, they need to be able to make that wide turn. So they actually come slightly over to the left to be able to swing it hard.”
Hyink emphasized that the current program is a pilot, using easily removable signage and done at low cost, and so the same rigorous standards were not in play as might be for a permanent program.
Nevertheless, officials presented details of the program at a City Council Planning & Development meeting and at ward meetings, and distributed flyers to residents and businesses in affected neighborhoods.
She said that once the pilot program ends, officials plan to evaluate the data collected and determine what effect the shared-street project had on cut-through traffic, she said.
The data collected in this one-month pilot likely will lead officials to consider programs different from the one on Greenleaf Street, based in the feedback received thus far, she said.
One possibility, she added, could be establishing bike lanes for summer only in an effort to create more opportunities for people to get around.