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Evanston's Proposed Bike Corral Project Debated at Transportation Committee Meeting

The Transportation and Parking Committee has concerns over the project's price tag.

The City of Evanston is looking into installing bike corrals in downtown Evanston in an effort to promote non-automotive transportation while keeping downtown sidewalks clear; but the project hit a snag Wednesday evening when the Transportation and Parking Committee began to question whether the pilot program’s expenses could be funded by an already-stretched city budget.

Under the proposal, bicycle corrals would be built in converted city parking spots, using one or two spaces depending on the location. The corrals would comprise six to seven racks, making parking room for 12 to 14 bikes.

The idea sprouted up in response to the 2008 Evanston Climate Action Plan and subsequent 2009 Multi-Modal Transportation Plan, both of which examined ways to reduce Evanston’s transportation-related carbon emissions. According to Evanston’s 2005 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, transportation contributes to 14 percent of Evanston’s total emissions (147,546 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent).

Additionally, city-funded studies revealed that downtown Evanston had both a surplus of car parking spaces and a scarcity of bike racks.

The city began brainstorming ways to make the city more bicycle friendly, including ideas such as bicycle sharing programs, introducing new bike routes, painting bicycle lanes a different color to improve safety, creating designated stopping spaces for bicyclists at traffic signals and facilitating “the installation of sheltered, secure bike racks downtown and at transit stations.”

Bike corrals have recently been built in San Francisco, Portland and Salt Lake City, European cities have been utilizing them for decades and Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood will soon be home to one, as well.

Evanston's proposed pilot program corral would be built outside the Evanston Athletic Club, 1723 Benson Ave., an area that is reportedly often cluttered with sidewalk-parked bikes.

City Engineer Paul Schneider, who gave a bike corral project presentation at Wednesday’s meeting, said that if built, the city would monitor the corral and surrounding area over the following year before deciding whether or not to expand the project to other downtown locations.

But several Transportation and Parking Committee members voiced opposition to reducing city revenue by removing downtown parking spaces. Though it would likely cost only $2,000 to build a corral, the city would miss out on an estimated $3,000 in annual city revenue for each parking space used, meaning the pilot program corral could cost Evanston near $6,000 per year.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st Ward) said she thought there were a handful of underused bike racks downtown, including several just west of the intersection of Clark Street and Benson Avenue, under the viaduct, less than a block from EAC.

“I’m really reluctant to take $6,000 away when there is something within half a block that is not being used,” Fiske said. “There are ways to reach out to say, ‘We have issues as a community with our budget. We’re concerned about taking these parking spaces away. There is a place that is fairly close to you. What can you do to help us? And if they can do a little outreach program to their patrons, then we’ll see how that works.”

Ald. Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) said she estimated 90 percent of the bicycles locked to trees, signs and parking meters along the 1700 block of Benson Avenue belonged to EAC patrons, that EAC had contacted the city in the past to ask for more bike racks, and, hence, that EAC should cooperate in a cost-sharing agreement with the city to build the pilot corral.

Schneider responded that his experience researching bike racks suggested that cyclists often tend to ignore inconvenient or distant bike racks in favor of locking up right outside their destination.

“What we’re finding in this experience, in placing these racks, is that people really want to park their bike to the location they’re going,” Schneider said, “and, unfortunately, our sidewalks, particularly in the mid-block, aren’t going to accommodate bike racks and still have enough room for pedestrians.”

Schneider suggested that bike corrals in a few key locations could help clear downtown sidewalks of parked bikes.

City of Evanston Environment Board member Hugh Bartling, who has been collaborating in developing the bike corral project, said that the increased visibility of the corrals as opposed to traditional bike racks, could give people the idea to start biking downtown instead of driving.

“One of the things that other cities have found,” Bartling said, “is that people see, ‘Oh, wow. There’s a bike rack on the street. Maybe next time I want to go downtown to see a movie I’ll have that in the back of my mind and I’ll ride my bike instead of drive.’ So if you can ... increase the number of bike trips downtown by 5 or 6 percent, you would do a lot to reduce congestion and improve the infrastructure.”

Still, other committee members suggested that the best way to force people to use already-built bike racks and to stop them from locking their bikes in the middle of public sidewalks would be to start enforcing a city ordinance that makes it illegal to chain a bike to a parking meter.

Cyclists may have to make that adjustment in the near future, regardless, as the city begins removing meters in favor of the new pay and display parking system.

The Transportation and Parking Committee asked Schneider to return to the group’s Aug. 24 meeting with information on the exact costs associated with installing and maintaining the corrals, confirmation of the amount of city revenue that would be lost by removing a parking space and having spoken to EAC representatives about possible cost-sharing and public outreach options.

If the pilot program were to pass through the Transportation and Parking Committee, it would go to the Administration and Public Works Committee and eventually the City Council.

Use of bike corrals would not be limited to patrons of a specific business and would be open for public use.

Patricia July 30, 2011 at 04:28 PM
Richard: One can tell you despise bikes. Yes, most cyclists wear helmets. And by now all cars have seat belts, air bags, anti lock breaks... ratings on collision safety. Saying that because you wear a helmet the actvity is more dangerous than driving is ridiculous. I do despise cyclists riding riding against traffic and ignoring all traffic rules. The city can make it easier on those who obey by having traffic lights that can be activated by cyclists (e.g., I ride north on Asbury to Isabella, and the traffic light to cross Central Ave does not change to green unless a car arrives at the intersection). I am in favor of traffic rules enforcement on drivers and cyclists.
Patricia July 30, 2011 at 05:02 PM
I agree. The biking infrastructure is poor. It has improved somewhat since I moved to Evanston 10 years ago, but it is far from ideal. My first 5 years in the city, I lived car free, just walking and biking, so it is possible.
Clif Brown July 30, 2011 at 10:15 PM
Biking needs to become a practical habit (not just an exercise routine, though that's a good use for a bike too) and that only happens if people give it a try. The fact that there can never be enough car parking places near the train stations provides the opportunity for people to bike to the train - not a long distance and it breaks the ice. I know that at the Central St METRA station the bike racks are overloaded and people are locking bikes to every available fixed object, even across Green Bay Road by Chase Bank (where they finally replaced their rusted out racks). What's the situation at the Davis Street and Howard El stations? My suggestion would be to experiment with bike parking where it would be immediately used to capacity (not that EAC doesn't fit the bill). If there is talk of replacing a car parking space or two with bike rack capacity for many bikes, it should be tried at one of the train stations where parking for one (car) could be replaced by parking for, what? at least five bikes? When I was in Washington DC I was astounded by the bike parking for the Metro - including lockable stalls where bikes can be placed inside beyond the reach of the weather.
William August 01, 2011 at 11:56 AM
"Additionally, city-funded studies revealed that downtown Evanston had both a surplus of car parking spaces..." Seriously ??!! Where are these secret parking spaces? I'd love to know. (Maybe you mean the 3/4's unused lot on top of Whole Foods, which I've used illegally a NUMBER of times).
Richard Schulte August 01, 2011 at 11:57 AM
William, the unused parking spaces are in the parking garages the City of Evanston mandated be built.

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