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Evanston named Bicycle Friendly Community

Rafi Letzter/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston resident Nancy Floy (left) watches a cyclist veer into traffic to avoid hitting Floy’s car, which was parked in a bike lane Sunday. Floy complained that the new lane made it harder for her to park illegally and said she worried that doors of cars parked legally would pose a danger to cyclists.

Rachel Janik, Reporter

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Five months after completing construction on a new protected bike lane on Church Street, Evanston was named a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists.

The city formally received the award at Monday’s council meeting. The league distributes awards in five tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. Evanston received a Silver recognition, and along with Chicago, represents the only two cities of that rank in Illinois. The other Bicycle Friendly Communities in the state — Naperville, Shaumberg and Urbana — all rank at the Bronze level.

This is the first year Evanston has received the award, and the protected bike lane recently installed on Church Street helped bolster the city’s application. Church Street’s bike lane was only one of many infrastructure projects, such bicycle parking, which will make the city more bike-friendly. These improvements are all a part of Evanston’s city-wide Bike Plan Implementation Project, a multi-departmental effort that started in 2007, to help sustain and encourage bike riding in the city. The plan will account for a number of projects, both short- and long-term, according to the city’s transportation department website.

Church Street’s protected bicycle lane stretches from Dodge Avenue to Chicago Avenue and was completed in two parts. The second part, a section stretching from Ridge Avenue to Chicago Avenue, was finished this fall. The lane separates bikers from vehicles using jade-colored pavement markings, upright poles acting as lane separators and new parking configurations. The City Council voted to fund the project even though the city was denied a federal grant.

Neal Ney, board member and former president of the Evanston Bicycle Club, was present when the city received the award at the council meeting. He said he was pleased that improvements in infrastructure were moving along so well.

“Particularly with these protected bike lanes, we’ll really encourage people who may not be so comfortable or may not have been riding for long,” he said. “Maybe they can start biking to work.”

Ney leads bike rides that stretch for miles and span across many different communities. He said of all the places he has gone, Evanston is “definitely near the top.” Other towns, he said, are “starting to get the message” and adding incentives such as new bike lanes. Slowly but surely, the North Shore and Chicagoland are becoming more hospitable to bikers, he said.

Evanston is still the only community on the North Shore to be ranked a Bicycle Friendly Community, but it is part of a growing national list that now contains 242 cities and towns across 47 states.

Ney said the most important thing about being bike-friendly is that the distinction means the community as a whole is dedicated to a safe environment. The award, he said, represents more than just a commitment to active living and greenhouse gas reduction.

“I just think, you know, if a community is comfortable to bike in, it’s probably a pretty good place to live,” he said.

McCormick senior Joe Hooker, president of the Northwestern Cycling Team, said although he generally feels safe biking in Evanston, the city could benefit from lighting improvements and the addition of bike lanes in the downtown area. He said the cycling team usually travels up north to avoid traffic.

“I think the bike lanes are good,” he said. “They’re a big step in the right direction. One thing that would be huge is if there were some kind of easier way to commute downtown on a bike, because I worked downtown this summer and there is no way I was ever gonna bike because during rush hour; it’s too crazy. It’s too dangerous with that many people rushing and trying to get places quickly, and I have yet to find a good route downtown.”

Susan Du contributed reporting.