Geographically, Evanston stands at a crossroads of several major trails for walking, hiking and biking around Lake Michigan, including the famed Lakefront Trail and the Green Bay Trail that runs from Wilmette to Highland Park.
But instead of providing a boon to local cyclists and outdoor lovers, most of those trails cannot pass through Evanston because of the city’s built-in infrastructure and private, inaccessible land on the lakefront.
As a result, residents looking for a long weekend ride have to drive to the nearest trail head or bike several miles through city streets to find the closest connection to a trail, Evanston Transit Alliance (ETA) member John Fervoy said at a Ninth Ward meeting Wednesday night.
Nearly two years ago, Fervoy and his fellow ETA members penned a four-part series in the RoundTable about their ideas for developing trails in Evanston that would connect to the rest of the region’s bike thoroughfares.
Now, the group is looking to commission a feasibility study in partnership with Wilmette to pursue options for extending the North Shore Channel Trail from Green Bay Road to the lakefront, connecting the channel trail to the Sheridan Road bike lanes on the east side and Green Bay Road on the west side. About 60% of the channel trail extension would be in Evanston, with the remaining new trail located in Wilmette, as shown in the map below.
Fervoy described the proposal as “the ultimate trail connection for our area.”
Most of the problems blocking the development of local bike paths connecting the wider network of trails, though, go back to the city’s existing infrastructure, which blocks access to large swaths of the lakefront and makes passing certain roads or areas of the city impossible on a bike, Fervoy said.
“When you enter Evanston, this is what greets you: a cemetery on the left, a pile of rocks and inaccessible lake on the right.
“Many of you probably are familiar with the narrow sidewalk, which makes it very difficult for bikers and pedestrians together,” Fervoy said. “It almost seems designed to discourage people from entering Evanston.”
Additionally, Union Pacific owns a vacant rail line running through Evanston that ETA has suggested converting into a bike trail. The line runs seven miles from the lakefront area of Chicago, through Evanston and to the Green Bay Trail. Using that line would prevent bikers and pedestrians from passing any intersections with cars, and the line also passes over 20 different bridges, according to Fervoy.
Plus, Evanston’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan specifically states a goal to “expand safe, convenient and complete networks in Evanston for pedestrians,
bicycles and transit; facilitate the expansion of strong bicycle and transit
connections between Evanston and neighboring communities.”
In addition to the bike trails project, ETA also wants to increase the number of safe and accessible bike lanes connecting major destinations throughout Evanston like community centers, schools, restaurants and the downtown area.
One resident, Robert Keding, commented at Wednesday’s meeting that he and many others in his neighborhood ride their bikes on the sidewalk because they do not feel safe enough biking in the street.
“Evanston is currently where the bike trails end,” Fervoy said. “But one could imagine Evanston being where the bike trails connect.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Evanston Transit Alliance was working with Wilmette to commission a feasibility study on converting a vacant Metra line to a bike trail. That study would actually look into extending the North Shore Channel Trail to link Green Bay Road and the lakefront. The RoundTable regrets the error.