Evanston hosts open house about pedestrian safety

Evanston officials invited residents to the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Avenue, on Tuesday to observe the city’s progress on traffic and pedestrian safety and to make recommendations for improvements.

Throughout the open house were signs that displayed traffic safety statistics.

While one sign showed a decrease in the amount of traffic accidents in Evanston since 1990, another sign displayed reasons for this decline in accidents, citing a cell phone ban, traffic signal upgrades and coordination and enforcement activities by the Evanston Police Department, among others.

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said for the past three years, safety has been one of the main goals in City Council.

“It’s an all-encompassing goal, meaning that it covers crime, pedestrians, traffic and bicycles,” Robinson said.

According to Officer Scott Sophier, EPD has tracked speeding with radars, employed stronger crosswalk enforcements and targeted certain locations in Evanston for seatbelt violations.

Despite the lower rate of accidents, Robinson said pedestrian safety was something the council wanted to address this year.

“It was in light of a pedestrian accident that involved a child along Oakton and Barton, so we wanted to look at ‘Okay, what are the trends in the past?'” she said.

Senior Traffic Engineer Rajeev Dahal agreed with Robinson, saying there is rising concern for pedestrian safety.

“We are looking at what we’ve done and coming up with ways to make improvements,” Dahal said.

Although 19 to 53 year olds fall in the age range with the highest accident rate, Robinson said she was not worried about Northwestern students. She said despite the large number of crossings along Sheridan Road, the street does not have a high concentration of accidents.

However only a few blocks away, Chicago Avenue is one of the areas with the highest concentration of pedestrian accidents, Robinson said. Altogether, there are nine intersections in Evanston that need to be reevaluated for improved safety measures, Robinson added.

Robinson also noted that many of the accidents in these locations have to do with left-turning vehicles, whose drivers did not see pedestrians on the crosswalk.

Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th) was also present at the event. Burrus said she has been very vocal about pedestrian safety since she has been on City Council and is advocating for more crosswalks.

“We want [Evanston] to be a walkable city and to do what we need to have the pedestrians be safe,” she said.

The residents who attended the event had different issues they wanted to see addressed.

Cheryl Muno, an Evanston resident for about 13 years, said she has noticed safety problems on Oakton Street. Because two cars have run over a portion of her property, Muno said she has had issues getting out of her driveway safely. Muno said these issues have pushed her and her husband to urge City Council to lower the speed limit on Oakton Street to 20 miles per hour. Muno said she began fighting for this issue four years ago and has a petition signed by over 50 people. However, Muno said the issue did not get past City Council.

Nonetheless, Muno said she remains invested in safety in Evanston.

“I’m interested in seeing what our city is trying to do to improve safety,” she said. Jeff Smith, an Evanston resident for 27 years, said he was interested in better traffic laws for everybody. However, he said he also believes Evanston is already “over-controlled.”

“Evanston doesn’t have a shortage of traffic control,” he said. “Slower traffic isn’t necessarily safer traffic.”

Other Evanston residents were interested in addressing the ways Evanston deals with bicycle safety.

Natalie Watson has been an Evanston resident for two years and is part of Walk ‘n’ Roll, a group that advocates for the safety of Evanston bicyclists and pedestrians.

In addition to bringing awareness to Walk ‘n’ Roll, Watson said she is also advocating for a crosswalk to be built on Elmwood Avenue and Sherman Avenue and for more attention to be focused on safety in the west end of Evanston.

Regarding bicyclists, Robinson said the event was primarily focused on pedestrian safety. However, she added that Public Works is working to update the bike map and bike plan.

“I think what we have found is that we’ve had more bikers in Evanston as a result of the high fuel and because Evanston is just more environmentally conscious,” Robinson said. “As we make more bike lanes available, I think we’ve also had bikers come…As a result, we’ve actually had a little higher [amount of] incidents with bicycles and cars and vice versa. That’s our next focus of education and safety: how to make bikers safe as well.”

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