Evanston’s (IL) Streets Have Become Safer for Cyclists. What’s the Suburb Doing Right?

  • Date: 01/03/2024

In 2022, the latest year complete data is available, 201 people were killed on Chicago’s roadways. Traffic crashes, injuries and deaths have risen in the past decade, following national trends aligning with the proliferation of smartphones and ever-larger vehicles.

As city leaders strain to reverse the trend, Evanston has set a powerful example. Following a coordinated, yearslong effort to slow down drivers, Evanston has seen traffic-related injuries in the last decade fall by nearly half and the city went five years without a death, state records show.

Evanston’s roadway overhaul dates back to 2009, when the city published a 223-page transportation plan that laid out a strategic foundation for the city’s roadways to balance different modes of transportation.  The plan set no specific goals related to traffic safety, said Lara Biggs, the city’s lead engineer.

“The intent initially was just to create a way for people to safely bike around town,” Biggs said. “But when you put in a bike lane, you almost always have to narrow the traffic lanes, and … people start to naturally slow down.”

The Evanston City Council followed up with multiple ordinances to lower speed limits on major streets, combined with a series of planned “road diets” that narrowed roadways and created barriers that forced drivers to slow down.

Since 2015, Evanston’s Public Works Agency has overseen the construction of barrier-protected bike lanes on Dodge Avenue near Evanston Township High School and on Sheridan Road near the Northwestern University campus, all while budgeting consistent amounts each year for new sidewalk extensions and speed bumps in the most crash-prone spots.

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