Mueller: Evanston bike traffic safety needs improvement

Corey Mueller, Columnist

Although the temperature is dropping, students will not stop riding bikes to and from class. Because of this, bike safety is more important now than ever, as drivers may not expect bikers to be on the road alongside them.

Bike safety requires a little help from the surrounding community — something Northwestern and Evanston are not providing for residents that live off campus. To be fair, once you reach campus, it is fairly easy to navigate on a bike, but getting across Sheridan Road or traveling down it is a test in and of itself.

In the 10 minutes before every hour, Sheridan’s sidewalks are notoriously packed with students walking from class to class. This creates a hazardous environment for bikers and pedestrians alike, as it is too crowded for bikers to navigate. At this point, biking is no more effective than walking on the sidewalk.

Unfortunately, that’s why you ride a bike: to travel more quickly and more effectively. But bikers are unable to do that when there are hordes of people on the sidewalk and constant swarms of traffic on the street. This creates added danger, as cyclists have to avoid running into students on the sidewalk and getting run off into the grass.

So, Sheridan Road has to have one of two things: two-way bike lanes on the street or assigned lanes on the sidewalk. This way, bikers have their own space to freely move up and down Sheridan Road without having to worry about hitting a pedestrian or being hit by a car.

Part of the Sheridan Road/Chicago Avenue Improvement Project will create these bike lanes, but this project has been deferred to 2017. There are innumerable bike racks all over campus, so it seems like NU knows and encourages bike traffic. Because of this, the delay on the project is ill-advised.

And the problem isn’t just limited to Sheridan Road.

Sheridan Road is not a designated bike route, according to the city. The city’s Code of Ordinances makes it unclear as to what that means, only stating that certain streets can be designated as bike routes and/or may prohibit bike traffic. Never does it state whether cyclists can only ride on those routes or if the routes are supposed to have special accommodations for bikers. I have ridden on both these “bike routes” and non-bike routes, but there is no noticeable difference between them.

In November, I even had an accident on one of these said bike routes: Noyes Street. I was riding toward campus and had just passed under the “L” when I looked over my shoulder to check that no one was coming behind me (University Police deem this “a very important skill” on their website for bicycle safety). No cars were approaching, so I looked forward again, and to my dismay I had drifted to the side of the road, straight toward a parked car. I swerved to the middle of the road, narrowly avoiding the back of an SUV. When I swerved back to try to stay on the right side of the road, my bike slipped out from under me.

Face, meet pavement. I didn’t knock myself out, but I hit my chin, chipped off half of my front tooth and opened up a cut on my eyebrow.

Now, had there been a bike lane, would this accident have happened? Probably not, seeing as cars wouldn’t be parked in it.

That’s not to say I’m blaming this accident entirely on the lack of a bike lane. I messed up, too; I made a mistake and lost control of my bike. That was human error.

But, I had to check behind me so I wouldn’t be hit from the rear. The likelihood of having to swerve out of a car’s way because of this would have been drastically reduced had I been riding in a bike lane. I also wouldn’t have had to get a total of seven stitches for my eyebrow and chin wounds, nor would I have had to Uber to a dentist for an emergency filling in my tooth.

I was lucky; I had no serious injury, no concussion. Only a small scar on my chin. But accidents happen, and they can be a lot worse than mine. They can be avoided, though, with the help of bike lanes.

The sad thing is, only two roads in Evanston have protected bike lanes: Church Street and Davis Street. Only portions of 11 streets have bike lanes, which safely separate bikers from other street traffic, and none of them even come close to NU’s campus.

Evanston officials need to change this, especially where NU students live and bike. If they don’t, worse injuries will occur when they really don’t have to, leaving cyclists with more than just unnecessary scars.

Corey Mueller is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected].  If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.