Residents seek better Ridge Ave lights

Evan Hessel

Members of the Evanston Preservation Commission will recommend that Evanston City Council investigate alternatives to the current Ridge Avenue traffic light replacement project.

The preservation commission held a special meeting Thursday so concerned citizens could discuss the project with City Manager Roger Crum and city staff members.

After hearing the testimony of several residents, the commission voted unanimously to recommend that City Council look into other traffic light options, specifically restoring existing single-pole traffic lights.

Citizens believe the project to replace single-pole traffic signals with lights suspended from beams would damage the historic character of the Ridge Historic District, Evanston resident Vera Chatz said.

Work on the current project began April 17 but was halted after the commission and citizens filed complaints with the city. Only underground cables were installed during the first phase of the project.

Keith Fujihara, Evanston’s deputy director of Public Works, opened the hearing by saying that he understood that several citizens are upset about the project, and that his staff was not taking an adversarial position at Thursday’s meeting.

Fujihara explained the purpose of the project was to replace the Ridge traffic lights, many of which are over 30 years old and structurally deteriorating.

“The reality is that the current lights won’t last,” Crum said. “If you look at them now they are a disgrace. They lean and many of them are rusted through.”

The project calls for the light posts to be replaced and coordinated with a central control system to improve traffic flow.

Fujihara also explained that the traffic engineering division recently developed alternative plans for the project.

These plans would shorten the distance traffic signals hang over the street. Further, it also suggests using decorative bases for the light posts.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, which has to approve any changes to the current project, was supportive of the proposed changes at a May 10 meeting with Crum and staff.

But any changes to the current plan could be financially costly and delay the project for as much as a year, Crum said.

The majority of citizen criticism of the street replacement project centered around the possible impact on the aesthetics of Ridge and the lack of citizen participation in the decision-making process.

“If we lose the trees, we lose the historic character of the street,” said Kirk Irwin, an Evanston resident.

Resident Vito Brugliera said that city staff’s meetings with the department of transportation should have occurred after discussions with citizens and the preservation commission, not after the project had already started.

“This project shows a general insensitivity to citizens,” Brugliera said.

The preservation commission also voted to recommend the city adopt policy to present all traffic system projects in historic districts before approving them.

The commission will make the two recommendations to the council at the May 20 meeting, following another public hearing at 5:30 p.m.