Evanston residents discuss Shared Streets initiative, bike safety at meeting

Walk 'n' Roll organizer Natalie Watson discusses the group's upcoming Shared Streets event, which will block of portions of Dempster Street for a day to promote biking and walking. Evanston residents gathered at the Evanston Public Library Tuesday to discuss Walk 'n' Roll and other initiatives to encourage alternative forms of transportation.

Alexa Santos/The Daily Northwestern

Walk 'n' Roll organizer Natalie Watson discusses the group's upcoming Shared Streets event, which will block of portions of Dempster Street for a day to promote biking and walking. Evanston residents gathered at the Evanston Public Library Tuesday to discuss Walk 'n' Roll and other initiatives to encourage alternative forms of transportation.

Ciara McCarthy, Assistant City Editor

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Dempster Street will be gridlocked this fall — and not because of cars.

Instead, Dempster will only be open to pedestrians and cyclists Sept. 1 during the city’s first Shared Streets event. The gathering will close portions of Dempster between Elmwood and Chicago avenues and host a variety of community activities in the open space.

Shared Streets is organized by the pro-biking and walking group Walk ‘n’ Roll. About 20 people gathered Tuesday evening at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., to learn about Shared Streets and other initiatives planned by the group.

Walk ‘n’ Roll, led by Natalie Watson and Susan Munro, is one of Evanston150’s 10 ideas for the city’s future and seeks to promote alternative forms of transportation.

During the community meeting, Watson discussed the negative impacts of vehicles on the environment and public health, arguing for fewer cars on the streets. Watson said the size and power of vehicles made bikers and walkers feel unsafe and thus less likely to walk or cycle.

“The more space we give to cars for driving and parking, the less safe, convenient and pleasant these places become to people, and so more people chose to drive,” Watson said.

To bring attention to the need for safer areas for bikers and walkers in Evanston, Watson is planning the Shared Streets event to open up a typically car-occupied space to the community.

“We want to open streets to enable people to experience their public realm in this different way,” Watson said.

The event will include a variety of local businesses and organizations to promote alternative modes of transportation, such as bike tours and safety demonstrations from the Evanston Bicycle Club.

Watson discussed other initiatives that Walk ‘n’ Roll will support, including the protected bike lane on Davis Street passed by City Council on April 16.

Ald. Donald Wils0n (4th) and Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) were both present and emphasized the need to make sure education about transportation safety incorporates drivers as well as pedestrians and walkers.

“If we just only bring cyclists to the mix and we don’t engage people who have other forms of transportation, (the effort) wouldn’t be as successful,” Wilson said.

Some Evanston residents present, however, said the community needs to expect drivers to adjust to alternative modes of transportation.

Evanston resident Cecelia Wallin said the “car culture” made walking and biking a dangerous endeavor for her and her children.

“Right now … we have to ask the car culture to be a little bit more understanding of the cyclist,” she said. “There isn’t always a clear right of way for the cyclists.” 

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