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When Engineers Make a Bad Intersection Worse

The intersection at Dodge and Church is riddled with problems that will only get worse now that school is in session.

I have no doubt that managing a city like Evanston requires superhuman coordination and forethought. In the case of the intersection of Church and Dodge, however, I worry that someone accidentally approved the plans after a carb crash after lunch.

, I spend a significant amount of time at that intersection taking my kids to for music lessons and performances.

Over the summer, while the intersection was under construction, I wondered when the metered spaces in front of Boocoo would return. Patience, I told myself. All in good time.

When one of my sons was on crutches and needed help navigating in and out of the car with his bass guitar in the rain, I’d park in front of Boocoo with my hazards on, praying the cars behind me wouldn’t a) rear end us or b) crash head-on into the opposing traffic while avoiding us or c) honk loudly or d) shout profanities. Thankfully, I suppose, we only got c) and d).

When I heard Boocoo’s management discuss what a disappointment it was to learn they’d lost their metered spaces out front, I went straight to the city for answers. Having just written an article about , I found it ironic: Why do some businesses have on-street parking so tight you can’t even squeeze into your car while another business loses its on-street parking altogether?

City officials Rickey Voss (Division Manager, Parking & Revenue) and Marty Lyons (Assistant City Manager / Chief Financial Officer) agreed to meet with me in front of Boocoo to see exactly what I meant. I appreciated them assessing the situation and asked if they’d be willing to respond to this issue – as well as others posed by Patch readers. They readily agreed.

Lyons said that 2nd and 5th Ward residents voiced concern over pedestrian safety at the intersection, and the city responded. Speeding cars, bus traffic and congestion from a high school population of nearly 3,000 students led to an intersection makeover. That sounds absolutely reasonable.

At Lyons’ suggestion, I also contacted 5th Ward Alderman Delores Holmes about the intersection. Though she was out of town when I got in touch, she indicated via email that she’s had several meetings on the issue before the intersection was redesigned as well as a follow-up meeting on Aug. 16 after if was completed. She suggested I speak with Public Works Director Suzette Robinson. I’ve emailed and called Ms. Robinson but have not yet heard back from her.

Alderman Holmes’ email also indicated that the City had met with the Boocoo staff regarding parking and that the south side of Church at Dodge is actually in the 2nd Ward – although “we all work together for the benefit of the residents.” I’ve left a message for 2nd Ward Alderman Braithwaite and hope to hear back from him soon.

 “Crossing the street for some of the students will also be helped with the new alterations,” Holmes said, suggesting that boocoo could arrange for a dropoff area in back

When I shared Ald. Holmes’ comments with Alicia Hempfling, a director at Boocoo, she said that dropping kids off behind the building was not a good option, since the parking lot belongs to a dentist who “(rightfully) gets annoyed at non-authorized vehicles going in and out.”

Additionally, she said that, “in the dark evenings of fall and winter, there is not a clear line of sight from the back door to the alley.  We want to make sure kids are safe being picked up and dropped off."

Hempfling went on to say that she and other Boocoo staff had noticed problems when buses make stops across the street and turn from Dodge onto Church.  “If there is any sort of traffic, the cars get backed up behind the bus,” she said. “Although trucks and large vehicles are able to make the turn off Dodge and on to Church, it is not without difficulty.  Just think of heavy traffic and the end of the school day combined.”

While I look forward to Director Robinson’s response (as well as that of  2nd Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite), a recent email Robinson sent to Boocoo concedes that, following construction, some residents “correctly” alerted the city to the following problems with the new intersection configuration:

  1. Eastbound traffic is challenging for bus loading/unloading
  2. Buses have difficulty turning left onto Church from Dodge

As a result, Robinson wrote, the city has had to eliminate five metered parking spaces in front of Boocoo. Though some parking spaces remain on the north side of Church east of Boocoo, there is now nowhere for cars to stop in front of Boocoo or the adjacent businesses.

So why is this all such a big deal?

In my opinion, the planners didn’t take into account what the businesses or vehicles in that area need.

I’m all for pedestrian safety. I’m all for bike lanes.  I’m even into attractive architectural features. However, when the improvements lead to further congestion — not to mention create an unsafe/frustrating situation for pedestrians and performers loading and unloading on its northeast corner — I think it’s time to reevaluate how the planning process works. 

One city official pointed out the improved appearance of the corner, though I can’t help wondering how attractive it will be when horns are honking, tempers are flaring and patrons decide the businesses on the northeast corner of Church and Dodge are simply too frustrating to access.

Here are the responses I received from Marty Lyons regarding this issue:

Q: Why was the intersection at Dodge and Church modified in the first place?

A: As a part of improving total traffic (vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian) the city continually reviews intersections and streets throughout the city.  This intersection improvement will allow for a bicycle path that is not in the roadway.  In order to allow for this design the parking needed to be removed.  The city has also met with 5th Ward residents to discuss this issue in detail.  The City is also working with Boocoo to improve the parking in the rear of their building. 

Q: Because there is no longer a bus cut out on the southeast corner at Church and Dodge, what happens to the traffic behind the buses?

A: Bus traffic will continue on Church and Dodge. Vehicles behind buses will act in the same way as any other two-lane road without parking.

Q: Will there be a bike lane in this intersection?

A: Yes, this bike lane will be in the right of way on the south side of Church.

Lyons also directed me to a press release from the city of Evanston, which highlights “sidewalk brick replacement, street resurfacing, a protected bike path, bike shelter, sidewalk furniture and pedestrian lighting.”

All of these improvements sound fantastic on paper, but the reality is, the intersection of Church and Dodge is a mess. And it’s only going to get worse with school in session. 

Elizabeth September 10, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Christine, I have two teenagers who attend ETHS. I am concerned about this intersection. Talk about a bottle neck! You mention the fraying tempers of drivers and the hazardous conditions that occur when people pick up and drop off music students at BooCoo. Or when a great number of ETHS students get on and off buses before and after school. I am all for pedestrian safety, bike lanes (my older daughter is an avid bike rider, all over the Chicago area), and attractive architectural features. HOWEVER, this reconfigured street corner is an accident waiting to happen. I repeat my former comment, made at 2:33 pm on Monday, August 13, 2012 Hmm. Let's see. There is a Traffic Institute at Northwestern University. This might be an elementary idea, but why can't the City of Evanston partner with the Traffic Institute at NU and take care of some of these trouble spots around town? I hear about the Town VERSUS Gown problems between Evanston and NU from time to time. Why not some Town/Gown COOPERATION?? This traffic difficulty near ETHS is not the first situation I've heard about. (And I have two children attending ETHS this year, besides, so I am very interested in the eventual outcome.) In this specific case, the case of the Church/Dodge intersection, the safety of a great many of our children is at stake, as well as the smooth operation of traffic at very busy times of the day. So, how about it, City of Evanston? How about it, Northwestern? How about a little cooperation?
roberta holzmueller September 10, 2012 at 05:43 PM
yup it's a mess. and who decided that the second week of school was the time to close a lane on Church, all the way from ETHS to Crawford? Evanston and Skokie, wow.
Tom Brennan September 12, 2012 at 08:21 PM
I hit this newly configured intersection this morning. Sat through 3 red lights as a bus and a truck tried to make left turns onto Dodge from westbound Church. I have other options for avoiding this intersection, but obviously others do not. If it was a mistake, lets fix it.
millie September 12, 2012 at 10:34 PM
Tom This isn't the nly one that needs fixing. Lets make a list: (1) Oakton at Ridge (West bound Oakton and East Bound Oakton should have a turn arrow. Onto Ridge. Needed it for years but always been ignored) (2) Chicago and Main Same problem going East and West on Main
Arlene September 13, 2012 at 12:24 AM
As a parent of child who bikes back and forth to ETHS, I am grateful for the new protected bike lane. The article and comments I have read thus far don't seem to acknowledge this important aspect of the changes. I also believe there are probably some simple fixes to the problems described. For example, the left turn issue could be fixed with a new traffic light that allows the traffic to go one way first, including left turns. Hopefully, other arrangements can be made for the lost parking. As a citizen, I think all the hostility towards the City in the article/comments is misplaced.
Kevin Dujan September 13, 2012 at 04:29 AM
....as Evanston's Public Works Director Suzette Robinson sends her high school sophomore child to school at the expensive PRIVATE North Shore Country Day school in Winnetka, I doubt your concerns will be taken seriously...
Linda September 13, 2012 at 04:12 PM
What happens when a semi tries to get into the lot of a business that is on Church? With the reconfigured street (bike lane markers) the semi will have a difficult time getting into the parking lot of the business. I agree that trying to make a left turn onto Dodge (to head south) is a nightmare.
Christine Wolf September 13, 2012 at 05:17 PM
Arlene, I agree that the bike lanes (still under construction) will be a fantastic addition to our city's numerous assets. However, I can't ignore the multiple challenges presented as a result of the intersection's reconfiguration (due in part to the bike lane addition). I hope you're right and that the fixes are simple, but the left turn from Church onto Dodge will be, in my opinion, the most challenging as there's currently only one lane. I've waited to hear back from Aldermen Braithwaite and Holmes about more details on the decisions made at that intersection, but they must be very busy. What I'm failing to see is blatant hostility in the article/comments. I see frustration and open communication. Kevin's comment about Suzette's child going to a private north shore school doesn't carry any weight for me (perhaps that's the hostile comment you're referring to, in which case, I'd agree it was an unnecessary comment and a low blow. Kevin, correct me if I'm wrong but I take it you don't feel the City of Evanston officials will act on our concerns?). I know for a fact that City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz reads the column and comments every week and shares the info with his staff...
mij September 13, 2012 at 06:10 PM
It appears obvious that the changes wern't fully looked at. Proposel was looked at without asking public opinion/comments. This is price the TAXPAYERS always pay.
BL September 13, 2012 at 10:45 PM
I live on Church Street and agree this was not well thought out. I am all for the safety of a bike lane, if done correctly. The neon green paint I now I have to look at every day is an HUGE eyesore and will only start to look worse after the snow/salt hits it. One would think the posts would be enough to differentiate the bike lane. Or, they could have at least selected a better paint color.
BL September 13, 2012 at 10:46 PM
I live on Church Street and agree this was not well thought out. I am all for the safety of a bike lane, if done correctly. The neon green paint I now I have to look at every day is a HUGE eyesore and will only start to look worse after the snow/salt hits it. One would think the posts would be enough to differentiate the bike lane. Or, they could have at least selected a better paint color.
Christine Wolf September 14, 2012 at 01:49 AM
From Anja (posted here with her approval): Hey, Christine...the issue with the new configuration and bike lane continues east on Church where traffic now bottles where three lanes have converted to two at asbury and at ridge. I can live with that, but I've been honked at repeatedly for staying in the right lane because the lanes shift when you cross Asbury and drivers aren't used to that. Adding guide lines to direct foks to the lane shift could help. Overall, this seems to not have been well thought out at all! Thanks for bringing attention to the problem.
annie September 15, 2012 at 03:04 AM
I understand the congestion issues, why not try using Lake St, and bypassing Church St/Dodge? In 6 years of dropping & picking kids up at ETHS, I rarely drove on Dodge, kids walking, the crosswalk, buses, cars slowing down, etc. I always used the back parking lot and got in and out fast in the morning and afternoon. Plus, the ETHS safety employees direct traffic there at both entrances so its even easier.
mij September 15, 2012 at 07:21 PM
It all comes down to the City Council listened to the proposal. Didn't ask a lot of queations and said WHY NOT. The two ALDERPERSONS involved should of had more input.

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