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 1: The Evanston Greenway Addresses the COVID Crisis

During our current health crisis, it has become clear that people are biking more for recreation and for transit. Bike sales have boomed! But new riders are venturing out on sidewalks, and the bike lanes are busy as seen in Rogers Park, Evanston, and Wilmette. Subsequently, everyone is experiencing a bike infrastructure that is insufficient. 

Cities worldwide are also responding to a new demand for bicycling and expansion of micro-mobility in the COVID-19 era. Auto and mass transit use is down as former commuters work from home and more people walk or bicycle for local trips. New electric-assisted bikes and electric scooters and Divvy bikes are providing more personal mobility options.

Many cities are accommodating these choices by designating “slow streets” that are safer for pedestrians and cyclists, and repurposing curbside space for outdoor dining and queueing. Using tactical urbanism – an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions and policies – cities are improving street treatments to encourage greener, more active transportation modes.

Prior to COVID, the City of Chicago completed the Rogers Park Greenway in 2018. It is a low-stress bicycle route that includes design treatments to create a safe and direct route to the Evanston border. And it’s popular! So much so that bikes and cars are jockeying for space on this narrow roadway - designated with sharrows [shared-street arrows], signage, and tabletop road-calming measures. The City of Evanston has yet to respond to this popular transportation corridor that stops at its doorstep. Cyclists are forced to find their own route to and from the Greenway without signage or safe, well-marked bike lanes.

Evanston Transit Alliance proposes a “tactical urbanism” approach to connect Rogers Park to Evanston via a new “Evanston Greenway.” A continuation of the Rogers Park Greenway using a similar approach of low-stress streets, but with better signage, road markings, and a more normalized roadway width. Bridging this transit gap in transit would help connect the popular Sheridan Road bike lane to Chicago’s Lakefront Trail – that’s a potential Wisconsin to Indiana route – right through Evanston’s business district. That’s active transit for frontline workers, students, commuters and visitors. We have already mapped out potential routes for a “pop-up” type pilot.

Our temporary design does not sacrifice existing parking, no existing infrastructure would be affected, and no construction would be necessary. ETA’s proposal has gained recognition as a potential grant from AARP and we plan on refining it for a second submission. 

Conclusion

Through this series of articles attempt 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.

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

Next: Chapter 2 - The Me Trail Addresses the Equity Crisis