Aldermen express concern about Sheridan bike lane project, show support for lower speed limit


Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern

ASG President Christina Cilento addresses the mayor, aldermen and city staff at City Council on Monday. Cilento advocated for the city to make Sheridan Road safer with the installation of bike lanes and the lowering of the speed limit.

Erica Snow, Assistant City Editor

Aldermen discussed the details of two-way bike lanes and unanimously approved a motion to consider reducing the Sheridan Road speed limit to 25 mph at a City Council meeting Monday.

Conversation surrounding the bike lanes was renewed last month after the death of Northwestern first-year student Chuyuan “Chu” Qiu, who was killed after being struck with a cement truck while turning onto Sheridan Road. Bike lanes are set to be constructed next summer after being delayed in 2014.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) said the four lanes of traffic for a few blocks on Sheridan Road create a dangerous situation for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists on the busiest section of the road. Fiske said she had hoped to see a plan for three lanes of traffic on Sheridan instead with pedestrian medians at crosswalks.

“I don’t feel entirely comfortable that this is a very pedestrian-friendly response in those four blocks,” Fiske said, referring to the blocks with four lanes of traffic. “I don’t see that this is making anything better.”

Lara Biggs, chief of the city’s Engineering and Capital Planning Bureau, outlined the restructuring of many intersections on Sheridan Road. She said the traffic would likely still exist if Sheridan only allowed for three lanes of traffic.

With the current plan, Sheridan would be resurfaced and widened in areas that have bike lanes and four lanes of motor traffic. Traffic signals would also be upgraded to have bike-specific signals.

At the Foster Street bus and shuttle stop, a raised bus platform will match the height of the raised bike lanes. Along most of Sheridan Road, a 3-foot-wide concrete median will protect the bike lanes. The plan is projected to cost $12.2 million.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said the Sheridan Road project would be a “disaster waiting to happen.” She pointed to the bike lane project on Dodge Avenue, which she said was a failure that ultimately made the street more dangerous for bikers. However, Rainey said she still supported the plan to make Sheridan safer, but it required more thought to not inadvertently cause too much traffic.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) countered Rainey’s point: He said Sheridan Road faces different problems than Dodge Avenue and the plan as it currently is addresses many safety concerns.

Wilson added a “culture change” is necessary to slow traffic on Sheridan Road. He said drivers need to slow down and people need to stop being “jerks” on the road.

“We have to … work toward changing that culture and focusing on safety over convenience,” Wilson said. “The idea that bikes do this, cars do that. It’s not bikes, cars and pedestrians. It’s people. It’s human beings.”

By reducing the speed limit and the lanes available to motor traffic, Associated Student Government President Christina Cilento said Sheridan Road could incentivize people to ride bikes or walk instead of drive. In a citizen comment, Cilento mentioned the resolution passed Oct. 12 in ASG Senate in support of the bike lanes.

“Infrastructure can precede culture and can also shape culture,” Cilento told The Daily. “We should be building aspirationally toward decades from now.”

After discussion of the bike lanes plan, alderman voted unanimously to approve a motion to reduce the speed limit on Sheridan Road from 30 to 25 mph. Emily Blim, a Communication senior, made a petition in September calling on the city to reduce the speed limit.

The city will draft a speed limit ordinance, which aldermen will then vote on in the coming weeks. If passed, the lower speed limit would officially be implemented.

This headline has been updated for clarity.

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