Joint Evanston, Northwestern effort tackles Sheridan safety

Ani Ajith and Ani Ajith

The recently approved traffic signal at Garrett parking lot is the latest joint effort by the City of Evanston and Northwestern to improve traffic efficiency and safety over the last few years.

Ronald Nayler, associate vice president for Facilities Management, identified two additional recent projects as initiatives that have improved pedestrian safety and congestion: the left-turn lane at Lincoln Street and Sheridan Road, and the new pedestrian signs and crosswalks installed late last year at the intersections of Foster Street and Ridge Avenue, and Sheridan Road and Hinman Avenue.

While millions in state and federal funds have financed other recent city traffic projects, the University is footing the bill for the new Garrett lot stoplight, as it is the main stakeholder and beneficiary of the project. Nayler said the University does not have a traffic projects budget. Instead, Facilities Management generates cost estimates for such projects and seeks funding as needed.

The location of the upcoming stoplight was identified by the University as an area warranting further examination as part of the Phase 1 Study for the major Sheridan Road improvements.

The stoplight for Garrett lot joins several other new traffic lights along Sheridan Road at various locations between the Chicago Avenue and Central Street intersections. However, these signals will be funded by a $700,000 grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

The new linked stoplights aim to reduce carbon monoxide emissions by coordinating the signals and by replacing older, independently operating stoplights, said Paul Schneider, the city engineer and director of transportation and engineering. The “smoother travel experience” would be more efficient and thus easier on the environment, he said.

The intersection of Garrett Place and Sheridan Road itself does not warrant a stoplight, Schneider said. However, the traffic flowing in and out of the parking just to the south of the intersection – especially at peak hours, a crucial metric, met the minimum criteria for consideration.

“We looked at different solutions to mitigate the concerns of pedestrian safety,” Schneider said, referring to red flags raised over the high volume of students crossing the road without a crosswalk. “A stoplight seemed to be the best option.”

In addition to funding the city’s construction of the stoplight, NU also has to pay for the associated construction in the parking lot. The lot currently has separate entrance and exit drives. The city engineer said the separate drives must be consolidated into one side street in order for a traffic light to be installed.

The University is also looking to add other traffic lights along Sheridan Road, specifically at the entrance to South Campus. However, city officials downplayed the possibility of a new signal light opposite 1835 Hinman.

“It was identified as a potential location during the Phase 1 study,” Schneider said. “But there is no plan right now to install a stoplight there.”

The city’s major traffic projects currently focus on Sheridan Road, with improvements on several sections of the road since 2008.

The city has since installed new sewers and a new water main, replaced certain sidewalks and driveway aprons, repaired and replaced layers of the road from South Boulevard to Main Street and completed similar work from Emerson to Clark streets along Sheridan Road as part of the Emerson Street to Burnham Place phase of overhaul.

Work from Clark Street to Burnham Place will be completed in 2011 after the winter construction shutdown ends this April, said Sat Nagar, senior engineer for the Sheridan Road Project.

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