Every Northwestern student knows what it’s like to walk down Sheridan Road on a weekday. During the stroll you will undoubtedly run into friends, avoid psychos peddling some hopeless cause and nearly get run over by reckless students on bikes. We’ve all been there: You’re walking to class, minding your own business and the next thing you know, there’s a kid with an enormous backpack barreling at you like Lance Armstrong on Stage 8.
Then the unthinkable happens. You make eye contact and it becomes an awkwardly personal situation in which courtesy reigns supreme. You try to avoid each other by allowing the other to make the first move, but it’s no use. Both you and the bike end up going the same way and disaster (nearly) ensues. Animosity (slowly) builds. Maybe they have a class at 555 Clark. Perhaps their feet get tired from walking. Regardless, you just want bikes to leave you alone and get out of your way.
The fact is, cyclist-pedestrian incidents aren’t just caused by clumsy students. They’re common because there simply isn’t enough room on the Sheridan Road sidewalk. The situation has created extra “lanes” of dirt on either side of the walkway where pedestrians or student cyclists avoid mid-sidewalk mayhem. The dirt lanes are not only unsightly and messy – the university seems to think that planting grass seeds every month will somehow end the destruction. However, it doesn’t have to be this way.
The reason so many students ride their bikes on the Sheridan Road side walk is pretty clear: Evanston is no safe haven for cyclists. So far this year, 40 of the city’s 1,555 car accidents have involved bikes. And a Weinberg senior cyclist was severely injured in a brutal hit-and-run in early 2006. Any solution to this troubling issue must somehow keep both pedestrians and cyclists safe.
To be frank, I completely understand why Evanston has not installed bike lanes on Sheridan Road. The project would be time-consuming and undoubtedly costly. Besides, there is already an oversized sidewalk next to the street, and uncomfortable pedestrian traffic at NU is probably not a high priority for City Hall. Yet, something Evanston can do is allow the university to install its own bike lane west of the sidewalk.
Although real estate on the east side of the walkway is blocked by lampposts, a few feet of asphalt on the opposite side would alleviate many of the pedestrian issues. NU certainly has the manpower and the resources to enact such a plan, especially when one considers all of the other things in the university’s budget. And besides, the workers who plant grass may be temporarily unemployed if bike lanes are installed. The least NU could do is rehire them to lay asphalt. What NU does need, however, is the will, and keeping its students safe should be a high priority.
So next time you’re walking down Sheridan on the way to philosophy or bio and you make awkward eye contact with a cyclist, just flash them a smile and hope that someday NU installs an extra lane or two.