Courtney Cobbs had both personal and professional reasons to join others at a public meeting in the showroom of Volkswagen Evanston on November 11, showcasing the city’s ambitious multimodal plan for the Chicago Avenue traffic corridor.
As a writer for Streetsblog Chicago, “I came here for work purposes,” she explained.
“But I also get around by bike most of the time,” she said. “I live in Rogers Park, and so I come to Evanston pretty often, use Chicago Avenue for part of my trip. And, yeah, I’m pretty excited about the potential to make it safer and more comfortable for people who are biking.”
The aspect of the plan that she – and a number of other Chicago Avenue users – are most excited about is the two-way protected bike lane officials have penciled in on an early design for the street.
Historically, local cyclists have avoided biking on Chicago Avenue, one of the city’s main north-south arteries, with 14,000 to 16,000 vehicles a day and no bike lanes.
A protected two-way bike lane, similar to the one on Chicago Avenue north of Davis Street, ranked as the plan’s “most popular” feature at the July 29 public meeting, said Sat Nagar, Senior Project Manager for the city.
Nagar, as well as a representative from A. Epstein & Sons, a Chicago-based design and construction firm, were at the meeting to answer any questions visitors might have about the project.
Evanston City Council members in September approved a $467,000 contract with the firm to provide engineering services for Phase 1 of the project, which calls for transforming the street into a multimodal corridor, running from Howard Street to Davis Street.
At the meeting last week, officials sought to show “what we heard in the first public information meeting, what people wanted,” Nagar said.
To a main question – “Why now, and why Chicago Avenue?” – officials pointed to the 2014 Evanston Bike Plan as one source of inspiration. The plan identified Chicago Avenue as a high priority corridor for bicycle improvements.
Another factor driving the project is the need to create a “comfortable corridor – one of high quality, low stress and designed for all roadway users.”
The project would allow the city to develop a logical connection with bike lanes north of Davis Street.
- At the July 29 public meeting participants ranked as most popular a two-way bike lane protected by curbs, bollards or parking. It received 24 votes, as was reported at the November 11 meeting.
- A two-way bike lane adjacent to the sidewalk curb and marked by a painted buffer received the next-highest preference, with 10 votes.
- Cyclists were strong in general in their comments with what they hope to see:
- “Bike lanes need to run the full length of the study area – no gaps!”
- “Bi-directional bike lane with a concrete buffer to separate it from traffic.”
- “A network that improves safety for cyclists of all abilities.”
- “A road diet to slow car traffic.”
Areas around CTA stations also eyed
The plan is also looking at curb extensions, wider sidewalks and new crosswalks, sidewalk cafes and flexible parking, as well as public activation opportunities at the South Boulevard and Main Street CTA stations where plaza space could be created with the addition of seating, canopies, lighting, bike racks, plantings and public art.
The project also anticipates a South Gateway as visitors enter Evanston from the south; it would include vertical sculpture and lighting, public art and vertical planting treatments on concrete walls, freestanding Evanston gateway signage – all of these with the caveat “as funding permits.”
No longer a ‘sleeping corridor’
To be eligible for federal funding, officials said the multimodal project must follow the three project development processes laid out by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The project is currently in Phase 1. Officials are hoping to complete Phase 2, which will involve working with groups such as the Evanston Preservation Commission and the Evanston Arts Council in 2022. Construction, in Phase 3, would then follow.
In recent years, Chicago Avenue has become a very urban setting, with many developments going up on both sides, and with more on the way, Nagar noted.
“This is going to be not a sleeping corridor,” he said. “This is going to be changing for the next 15 to 20 years. So whatever we do now has to accommodate the future.”
Cobbs appeared to be looking forward to the street’s future too. In her current trips from Rogers Park into Evanston, she said, “I’ll take Hinman, for example, or another side street, and that works pretty well, but I feel like I’m missing out on some of the businesses – like, I don’t know all the businesses along Chicago Avenue.”
“If I were to continue north on Chicago Avenue,” she wrote in an earlier blog entry, “it would be an uncomfortable ride for me, with no bike lanes, parked vehicles to my right, and speeding vehicles to my left.”
She says she is already familiar with the curb-and-parking-protected two-way bike lane on Chicago Avenue north of Davis Street that continues onto Sheridan Road.
“I love it,” she said. “I honestly noticed the difference in terms of my stress level when I’m on the Sheridan bike lane compared to anything else. I feel like it’s the gold standard of what bike lanes should be.”
“I think businesses may not know how many people they’re losing out,” she said about the absence of such features, “because so often they hear from people who [complain] about any sort of potential to eliminate parking [to create the lanes]. But from my side I’m like, ‘I don’t even know your business exists because I can’t access it.’”
To learn more about the Chicago Multimodal Corridor Improvements Project click here.