Evanston works with Northwestern students to test bike safety signs

Margaret Corn, Reporter

The city is collaborating with Northwestern students to increase communication between bicyclists and drivers through hand signals by developing new signage to be implemented next spring.

The program, approved by the city’s Transportation and Parking Committee last month, includes measuring the effectiveness of four to six signs near intersections in Evanston that show proper hand signals used by bicyclists.

McCormick junior Charles Tokowitz said although there is already an established hand signal code for bicyclists, he and three other NU students found, through a project with the University’s Design for America chapter, that the root of Evanston’s safety problem lies in a lack of a commonly-used way for bikers and drivers to communicate.

“Most people do not know the cycling hand signals,” Tokowitz said. “It’s a way that (bicyclists) communicate at intersections letting (automobile drivers) know if they are turning left or right. … If people know it they are more likely to do it.”

The cost of the pilot would be less than $200 for sheet metal to print the signs.

With help from NU students on that aspect of bicycle safety improvements, the city is making a larger effort to update its 2003 bicycle plan, which was created to make bicycling a more common transportation choice in Evanston.

Ylda Capriccioso, bike programs coordinator, said there was demand for action after the city approved its bike plan update at the end of 2014. In addition to enhancing the safety of bicyclists, the plan aims to improve access to surrounding communities and existing bicycle paths and signage.

“There was a lot of interest in making sure we took the recommendations and implemented them,” Capriccioso said. “This is just actualizing what the bike plan that City Council approved last year and making sure we were implementing those recommendations.”

As part of its plan, the city plans to develop bike safety efforts that are already in place, including an annual giveaway of free bicycle lights at Northwestern’s Arch, Capriccioso said. The city also aims to consolidate information about biking on one website, she said.

“We weren’t doing a good job helping that community get the information they need,” she said. “As people come to our community, they have a place to look for information, for how we want them to utilize the bike lanes in Evanston and respect each other on the road.”

Before 2015, there was not a site for members of the community to seek information on biking, Capriccioso added. Created this year, www.bikeevanston.org includes information about the bike plans, maps and events.

Sustainability manager Catherine Hurley said she hopes bike awareness will lead to a decrease in Evanston’s carbon footprint, as well as encourage an overall healthier lifestyle among the residents. Hurley said she also hopes people will be bicycling as a cost-effective alternative to driving.

“We want everyone to feel safe so more people don’t think they have to ride a car to be safe,” she said. “We can have different modes of transportation and that’s where the healthier lifestyle comes into place, so (people) don’t feel like the only option is to use a car.”

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