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Evanston, IL: COMPLETE STREETS — projects, surveys, feedback

Over the years, the City of Evanston has put a lot of time and effort into implementing Complete Streets on our old street grid and transportation infrastructure. Not every project has worked out, but in the 40+ years I’ve lived in Evanston (all without a car), many improvements have been made. Usually these improvements were achieved through robust public input, by residents and businesses, often with competing interests. 

Although the City has chosen to use the too-technical “multimodal” instead of more plain language terminology — “complete streets”, I applaud the City for continuing to ask for detailed input. This year, 2021, Evanston has asked for feedback on three initiatives:
— Shared Streets pilot project (Greenleaf St.)
— Chicago Avenue Multimodal Corridor Improvements
— Church St. Pedestrian and Bicycle Improvements

Since I live near Greenleaf St. and Chicago Avenue, I provided input on those two. My comments are copied below. I believe that the City is still taking input on all three (as of Sept. 19, 2021). Check the links.

A.  SHARED STREETS — Greenleaf St. pilot project

Feedback sent Aug. 9, 2021
Survey filled Sept. 19, 2021

I am a 70-year old who has never owned a car and has biked all my life as my primary transportation mode. I have lived for 43+ years in the Nichols School neighborhood. I currently live one block from Greenleaf. I have two comments.

1. As a long-time advocate of Complete Streets, I have long thought that more resources should be put into
— driver education re bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchairs, seniors, etc.
— bicyclist education re “taking up space” on streets  (once I stopped hugging the curb or the parked cars, I felt much more comfortable and safer on the streets)

2. I think the time and money spent in setting up the Shared Streets pilot project would have been better spent on
— education (see #1)
— more common sense infrastructure such as zebra crossings and bump-outs

3. One neighbor of mine (also a bicyclist) thinks Evanston should have one speed limit: 25 mph. I’d like to hear a good conversation about that idea. Obviously enforcement will still be an issue, especially if the level of stress continues for people trying to make ends meet and to maximize their hours in a day.

4. Since space for emergency vehicles is often cited in Evanston as a problem in re-designing street infrastructure and traffic patterns, is this another reason to advocate for smaller fire engines?

5. In general I think it’s a mistake to try to micro-manage traffic, block-by-block or street-by-street. ALL of Evanston streets should be shared (except for Ridge for the time being) and drivers and bicycliists need to be trained and educated.

B. CHICAGO AVENUE MULTIMODAL CORRIDOR IMPROVEMENTS

Sent to City — Sept. 9, 2021 via Comment form

I attended the July public input event. But since those kinds of events don’t do much to create public consensus, here’s the larger context of my comments, as well as additional comments on issues that weren’t identified.

I offer my comments as 40+ year resident of Nichols Neighbors, the Nichols Neighbors representative on the original Chicago Avenue Corridor Plan (1999-2001), and a professional gardener (now retired).

[For historical and comparison purposes, transportation activists and others might want to read the 2000 Chicago Avenue Corridor Plan, adopted after a 3-year process of the Neighborhood Planning Committee, Evanston Plan Commission:
— City webpage  
Chicago Avenue Corridor Plan]

1. The Basics
The Chicago Avenue corridor, along with the Main-Dempster Mile commercial districts, has all the basics of a pleasant, active, community-minded Complete Streets model embedded in a nest and network of larger economies — Evanston, Chicago, CMAP, Illinois, etc., etc. What’s needed in 2021-22 is a clear & consistent design of the BASICS — the bones — of a multimodal model. 

2. Questions that didn’t seem to be addressed by the project (but should be included in the final design and implementation):
— On-going landscape maintenance: To put it bluntly, there is none currently.
— Snow removal & management
— Garbage cans
— Building setbacks for new construction (PUDs)
— Public access to Northwestern’s buses
— Dog hitching posts (I saw them in Santa Barbara 20 years ago) 

3. High priorities
— Install and maintain large, uncluttered sidewalks with only the basic street furniture (see below)
— Design should be mindful of multiple sidewalk users: Pedestrians, wheelchairs, shopping carts, walkers, strollers (including double & triple strollers), bicycles, bicycles with carts, bus stops, protests & marches (yes, there are more coming most likely), street vendors (also more and more likely)
— Organize and fine-tune lanes for motorized transportation & public transit
— Educate bicyclists how to take their space on the roads
— Zebra crosswalks at EVERY intersection

Basic street furniture: These are necessary and should be required at multiple locations on every block.
— Bike racks
— Benches/outdoor seating
— Trees + free-standing flower pots

4. Medium priority 
— Sidewalk cafes should be left up to the cafe owners (but size limits should be regularly enforced)
— Parklets: I don’t see how they can fit on Chicago Avenue, but they can fit (and have worked) on Main St., Dempster, possibly other cross streets.
— In-ground landscaping should be only used on bump-outs and VERY wide sidewalks
— Murals and other public art that don’t take up sidewalk space

5. Low priority
Cutesy, trendy, “beautification” streetscape elements

Southeast Evanston will never be North Shore prissy; nor do we want to be (in my opinion). Nor does Chicago Avenue Corridor need “activation” except as identified in #2. Elements that shouldn’t even be considered:
— Gabion benches (rat homes?)
— Decorative LED lighting
— In-ground landscaping (except for trees and possibly at bump-outs)
— Free-standing public art that takes up sidewalk space