Citywatch: Bike spat shows ASG needs new approach to city

I remember the warnings from freshman year. Feel like skipping? Keep both feet on the ground, buddy. Wanna go bowling? Drive to Skokie.

Biking? Well, according to this week’s rumor mill, you’d better take your BMX right out of Evanston.

Of course the rumor mill has no idea what it is talking about.

The talk on Sunday — from Associated Student Government senators, no less — was chock full of bike rumors. People were sure you couldn’t bike anywhere on Foster Street or that you’d be cited for rolling down Sheridan Road’s sidewalk at 10 miles per hour.

ASG seemed ready to storm Evanston City Council’s chambers to find out about the latest injustice.

The catch? It wasn’t all of Evanston. It wasn’t even all of Foster Street. Biking only was banned on the north sidewalk of Foster.

That means biking still is available on one side of Foster Street, causing students the dreadful inconvenience of — gasp — crossing the street.

LEARNING THE ROPES

To his credit ASG City Council Liaison Jim Lovsin spoke to the council Monday about the new policy in a constructive way.

But it was the wrong forum.

The council had voted April 26 to change one word in the bike ordinance, opening up the opportunity for the city to add bike bans wherever there is a resident and alderman request.

Coming back to council three weeks after a word change is not going to make a damn bit of difference. All it can do is reinforce the opinion among aldermen that student leaders are blowhards who don’t understand the actual city government process.

And here’s the trick: Not everything happens in council meetings. It’s about relationships.

ASG representatives must build relationships with city officials, such as David Jennings, whose public works department made the final decision to install the signs on Foster.

Student representatives must build relationships with Alds. Arthur Newman (1st) and Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th), whose wards include Northwestern’s Evanston Campus.

By talking to aldermen and city staff on a regular basis, students can make sure their opinions are heard on the ground floor — instead of almost a month too late. After all isn’t that what an ASG city liaison is for?

BETTER INFORMATION, PLEASE

Of course, the city didn’t exactly make it easy for students to find out about the new bike rules.

The word “business” was cut out of the existing bike statute at the April 26 Council meeting. Neither The Daily nor ASG caught it.

Then the signs suddenly popped up one day last week, and the rumors began to fly.

If city officials really cared about NU students, they would have at least sent out a press release or called student leaders to warn them — and to make sure they didn’t overreact. Putting up signs one day without warning doesn’t exactly make for good governance.

In the future it is vital that the city inform the community before changing laws that govern it.

But it’s just as important that student representatives stay informed and not jump to conclusions. If students are going to keep building credibility with the council, we truly must understand how it operates.