Evanston hosts first meeting on Chicago-Main transit to gauge community needs

John Szostek writes suggestions for improvement of the Main Street Metra Station on a large map at a workshop hosted by the city Thursday. Szostek leases the land where the station is located, and he said he wants to see more people on the street corner.

Tanner Maxwell/Daily Senior Staffer

John Szostek writes suggestions for improvement of the Main Street Metra Station on a large map at a workshop hosted by the city Thursday. Szostek leases the land where the station is located, and he said he wants to see more people on the street corner.

Tanner Maxwell, Reporter

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More than 40 residents offered suggestions Thursday night to improve the area near Evanston’s Main Street station on the Purple Line in a workshop hosted by the city.

The group met at Lincoln Elementary School to discuss the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) study, a nine-month project seeking solutions for better transportation and public spaces around the intersection of Main Street and Chicago Avenue.

Although Evanston responded to a $100,000 grant offered December 2011 by the Regional Transportation Authority and matched an additional $25,000 in June 2012, the study is in its early stages. The workshop marked the first of three public meetings this year to gauge community needs.

Dennis Marino, the city’s planning and zoning manager, said the city planned the workshop to talk to citizens and businesses on an individual level.

“Main and Chicago is one of the few places where both Metra and CTA have stations,” he said. “We have great rail service, but it can be even better.”

Thomas Coleman, senior supervising planner for the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, began the workshop with a presentation outlining the process of the study. Afterward, the city invited attendees to fill out questionnaires, make notes about specific improvements on a large map and start a discussion about community needs.

Alds. Melissa Wynne (3rd) and Donald Wilson (4th) attended the Thursday meeting. Wynne, whose ward encompasses the Chicago-Main area, said she received many good suggestions for the study.

“So many people live in the 3rd and 4th wards, and we want (the area) to be more attractive to people so they get out of their car and use public transportation,” Wynne said. “When transportation works for us, it’s fantastic.”

The aldermen spoke briefly during the presentation and spoke to workshop attendees including John Szostek, executive director of Piccolo Theatre located in the station. Szostek said the projects will be a great asset to the area, but there are many changes to be made.

Szostek said his concern is the lack of signage guiding people between the Metra and CTA stations. It confuses pedestrians and makes the area difficult to navigate, he said.

“I want to see more people on the street, more attractions on the street,” he said. “People don’t know where to go. It’s a common experience.”

Oakton Street resident Natalie Watson, an avid cyclist, moved to Evanston three years ago. She said the current spaces for cyclists are too close to car traffic and make her nervous.

“I need to get to places,” she said. “It needs to feel safe or else other people won’t bike.”

Watson said she also bikes with her 3-year-old daughter to preschool, restaurants and other places. An ideal solution is to calm traffic on Chicago Avenue to create a safe space for both drivers and cyclists, she said.

“We can’t have the mentality of rushing through,” Watson said.

The city will create plans based on feedback from the workshop and present them during a second public meeting in June. Marino said technical experts will see what is possible and narrow down choices in the coming months.

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