John Fervoy, an avid cyclist and Evanston resident, would occasionally cycle from Evanston to downtown Chicago to get to work. But dangerous bike routes and poorly marked roads kept making his commute a “problem.”
“Cul-de-sacs and our artificial infrastructure — the canal and embankment that runs through the city — block easy transit for bikes, making (bike options) mostly the busier streets,” Fervoy said. “It’s a challenge to avoid them.”
Fervoy is a member of the local bicycle and structure representation organization Evanston Transit Alliance. He said members of the Alliance have dubbed Evanston “the place where the trails end” because of their difficulty navigating local bike routes.
ETA joins a handful of Chicago-area organizations working to break down barriers to bike transportation. These groups work to ensure that the city improves roads and infrastructure to support usable bicycle networks that would allow cyclists to travel safely through Evanston, Chicago and beyond.
With rapidly changing public transit mask requirements and climate plans in Evanston and Chicago requiring infrastructure changes, organizers say now is the perfect time for bike network upgrades.
“The whole point of this future mission is to get people to reduce the number of car journeys and let them walk, bike or use public transport – really ensure that the number of (car) dependent people in the city is going down,” said Alex Perez, the advocacy manager for the Active Transportation Alliance.
Active Transportation Alliance, an organization dedicated to promoting this type of infrastructure in the Chicago area, has worked closely with transit activist groups across the region, including ETA, to persuade local governments to fund better bicycle infrastructure .
According to Perez and Fervoy, ETA is currently pursuing a plan to extend the North Shore Channel Trail 1.5 miles northeast of its current terminus at Green Bay Road. The proposed route would connect the trail to the Port of Wilmette and the start of the Green Bay Trail.
The plan would create a bike path that runs along the canal embankment, allowing cyclists to traverse the section of canal banks without crossing the Canal Shores Golf Course or nearby roads. Fervoy said Evanston and Wilmette city officials are considering the plan.
Fervoy said the North Shore Channel and Metra line, which run through the city, both cut off bike lanes in Evanston. This reflects other urban structures in Evanston, such as Redlining, which have disproportionately cut off low-income and marginalized communities from accessible transportation routes.
Connecting the community of Wilmette along the Green Bay Trail and the community of Evanston along the North Shore Channel Trail is also essential, he stressed.
“Right now, the trails that we have are sort of separate recreation facilities for different communities,” Fervoy said. “If you can connect them, they become a thoroughfare for everyone.”
Skokie Bike Network, a Skokie-based transit alliance, is also working on similar infrastructure projects. Charlie Saxe, a founding member of the Skokie Bike Network, said the group’s biggest ventures are rebuilding part of Crawford Avenue between Golf Road and Oakton Street and adding bike lanes to Church Street.
Saxe, himself a bike commuter, said the group is committed to creating safer and more accessible bike routes along busy roads.
“People who are experienced and confident cyclists can handle that (traffic),” he said. “But if you have people with young children, for example, or if you have people who aren’t as confident or a little bit more intimidated by traffic, that becomes quite a barrier.”
Optimizing public infrastructure to encourage cycling also has major environmental benefits, organizers said. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Transportation accounted for 27% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport come primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes, the report said.
On Monday, Evanston City Council explained declared a climate emergency and committed to putting its climate change mitigation and resilience plan high on its agenda. The plan, approved in 2018, includes a priority area of transport and mobility, which aims to reduce CO2 emissions and enable greater use of public transport and cycle paths.
However, Perez and Fervoy both said Evanston and Chicago failed to prioritize green transit as part of their respective climate action plans. As infrastructure continues to expand, Perez says it’s critical to prioritize sustainability.
“What’s really important now is advocating concrete plans, like a network of protected bike lanes, a network of bus lanes, in the timeframe of these climate benchmarks,” Perez said.
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