Evanston city officials say they’re considering options ranging from cutting the speed limit to adding new traffic signals as they struggle to reduce accidents along Ridge Avenue.

So far this year there’ve been 22 accidents at the intersection of Ridge and Lake Street and 21 more at Ridge and Greenleaf Street.

The accident count at Greenleaf had already reached 20 by late October, compared to eight in all of last year, when police launched an education and enforcement effort focused on that intersection.

Police Cmdr. Joseph Dugan says that campaign seems to be helping, because there’s only been one additional accident at that intersection since.

But despite the addition of new warning signs at Lake and Ridge, collisions have continued unabated there, with at least two more so far this month.    

Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward includes Ridge from Church to Main streets, says he appreciates the efforts by police and the city’s traffic engineers to make the roads more safe.

But he said drivers, cyclists and pedestrians also need to be more thoughtful about how they use the roads.

Dugan says ideas being considered to improve safety along Ridge include reducing the 30 mile per hour speed limit, synchronizing the traffic signals, adding speed cameras, and adding mast arm traffic signals at intersections — to increase the visibility of the signals.

The idea of mast arm signals on Ridge was rejected several years ago after preservationists complained that it would interfere with the appearance of the roadway though the Ridge Historic District.

Last year the city imposed new turn restrictions at Ridge and Grove and added similar ones this year at Ridge and Greenwood in an effort to reduce collisions at those intersections.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. While the turn restrictions

    While the turn restrictions at Grove and Greenwood may have reduced collisions at those intersections, I think it’s those same restrictions that have made Ridge and Lake more unsafe. During rush hour, if you want to go east coming from the north, you only have one choice. Davis comes first and is one way the wrong way. Then there’s no left turn on Grove 7am-7pm. There’s no left turn on Greenwood 7am-7pm. And then there’s no left turn on Dempster ever. So, if you want to turn left, over this stretch of five intersections, you only have one choice. I understand they added the restrictions because not having dedicated turn lanes leads to increased risks (and making Ridge one lane each way would be disastrous), but because of the lack of options, Ridge and Lake gets a HUGE buildup of people wanting to turn there. And when they wait that long to make the turn, people get impatient and do riskier things that they wouldn’t normally do. I think having more options would make the Ridge and Lake intersection more safe as there wouldn’t be such a jam there since people turned elsewhere and the congestion is more spread out. (Admittedly, this introduces some risk at the other intersections). I am not a traffic consultant/expert though, but as somebody who frequents this route, I found that before the restrictions that entire stretch was safer because it wasn’t a complete cluster at Lake. Maybe they should look into adding a left turn signal onto Lake….That might help.

    1. Speeding problem

      I agree with Eric above. But I also think it’s a speed problem, which has been exacerbated by the newly added bottlenecks on both Ridge and Green Bay north of Emerson. The restructuring and lane reduction of Green Bay has created long lines in every direction — even on ancillary side streets like mine (I live on Noyes) — and as with the turning problem Eric was mentioning, long lines lead to impatience, which leads to speeding. Once things on Ridge begin to open up south of Church, people beging speeding and jockeying for position. One thing that might help is not to reduce the speed limit, but enforce it — have a visible police presence there regularly during rush hours. Wilmette did this on a stretch of Lake St. west of Skokie Blvd and it became well known as a place where you should watch your speed so as not to get a ticket. 

      1. Hmm. I was with you most of
        Hmm. I was with you most of the way, Sean. You identified the problem. But then offered a solution that was irrelevant to your diagnosis.

        The thing that will really help is fixing the fustercluck at Green Bay/Ridge so that people didn’t get so frustrated and impatient.

        One option that could work well is to use real functioning Walk buttons. The Green Bay traffic light is timed for non-existent pedestrians. If you allowed traffic to flow when no pedestrians were present, and also allowed pedestrians to trigger a pedestrian-optimized cycle by pushing such a button, you could serve both cars and walkers well,

        1. Ryan — you’re right. Fixing

          Ryan — you’re right. Fixing Green Bay would be the ultimate solution (even though they just finished “fixing” it 1 year ago (and I think part of the goal was to make it more pedestrian friendly?). The timing of the lights from Emerson north just isn’t working right now. People on Green Bay side streets have to wait at lights for an exorbitant amount of time and it still doesn’t seem to ease the back up on Green Bay itself. 

          1. Green Bay and Ridge Problem
            The three dedicated lanes on Ridge when traveling north are a real problem, mainly because there is almost no warning for someone who does not travel the road frequently. An overhead sign stating Emerson Only, Green Bay Rd Only and Sheridan Rd would help. The markings on the road itself are not visible soon enough, and with any snow on the pavement are invisible. My horn gets a lot of use in that intersection!

    2. Poor traffic control on Ridge

      Traffic control on Ridge is awful. Agree with Eric, there is only one left turn arrow between Howard and Greenbay- one at Main. Those of us who live west of Ridge, this need to turn left, have no option but to block traffic waiting to turn or take our chances. Blocking traffic causes cars to recklessly move around us while maneuvering to turn left on yellow is dangerous. For the life of me, don’t understand why a left turn light option could not be placed at Dempster or Lake.

    3. If drivers are getting impatient…

      Protected left turns means that pedestrians have to wait longer to cross. If drivers are getting impatient then they shouldn’t have a driver’s license in the first place.

      1. Oh, please

        Requesting  ONE left turn signal between three intersections of Dempster, Lake and Davis isn’t going to impede pedestrians. I am frequently a pedestrian crossing The Ridge Speedway at these intersections now, and feel decidedly unsafe as traffic patterns are so unpredictable. Would happily wait an extra 60 seconds for safety. 

      2. There generally aren’t any

        There generally aren’t any pedestrians.  You’re addressing a non-existent problem. Let actual pedestrians trigger a friendly light cycle.  The rest of the time, let the bulk of the people using the intersection move.

        1. The problem is that the bulk

          The problem is that the bulk of people using the intersection are driving. It’s so close to downtown, why aren’t more people walking?

          Also, all the different phases at Oakton/Dodge contribute to traffic being backed up around the intersection.

  2. Crashes on Ridge

    Ridge in Chicago between Devon and Howard has one 12 foot driving lane in each direction with a 25mph speed limit.  Ridge in Evanston has two 9 foot driving lanes in each direction with a 30mph speed limit. A CTA bus width counting mirrors is 9 feet.

    1. Driving on Ridge.

      To many people.  With all of the high rises added to Evanston in the 40 years I have lived here there are a lot more people out there driving and the space to fit all these cars has not increased.  There is actually a rush hour for Evanston which when I came here did not exist.  I’m old now and trying to remember if I have ever had a car accident, I don’t think I have, but then I try not to drive to much in Evanston anymore and avoid Ridge as much as possible.  You would think with Northwestern having a traffic school that these kinds of things would have been figured out a long time ago.  How about a sign that just says LOOKOUT!!!.

    2. Ridge Lanes are Too Narrow

      Bingo.  Spot on comment.  I always wondered why the lanes on ridge were so dangerously narrow with no shoulder.  Buses, trucks, and large SUV’s create real traffic hazards and lane violations.  I simply avoid Ridge at all costs.  The only way to really fix Ridge is to widen the street.  Or return Ridge to one lane in each direction with dedicated left turn lanes.  One way to enforce the speed limit is to increase traffic congestion.  LOL.

      1. Scary experience

        I was in the right lane going north…a bus was next to me in the left lane.  His right side tires were totally over the yellow dividing lines, and I could not pass him, as I wanted to not be near him.  This went on for blocks.   The Ridge lanes are definitely too narrow…I avoid that street at all times.

      2. Reducing crashes on Ridge

        Evanston must decide if the time and money devoted to accident investigations are worth the illusionary savings for inattentive speeding motorist.

        1. Ridge: way too narrow.
          Ridge: way too narrow. Everyone knows this. Turn it into one lane 25 mph OR widen the street 4 feet. It truly isn’t rocket science. Or avoid Ridge.

    3. The truly odd thing

      The truly odd thing is that south of Howard it’s a recomended bike route, and north of Howard there are “no bikes” signs.

  3. Zebra crosswalks?

    Sometimes the easiest and least expensive options are overlooked.  Zebra crosswalks are a proven traffic calming device, even if pedestrians are not present.  There are numerous Evanston intersections that would benefit from zebra crosswalks, for the benefit of pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and motorists alike. Evanston artists who specialize in street art may have some ideas about pavement markings that act as visual speed bumps without being serious distractions. 

  4. Parking spaces
    People don’t follow the speed limits now. What makes people think lower speed limits will make a difference? Street needs traffic calming. The outer lanes should become parking spaces. Speed cameras also aren’t a bad idea.

  5. There are 5 schools west of Ridge on Lake Street

    Parents (and teens) traveling from South Evanston and going to Cherry Preschool, Dewey, ETHS, King Lab or JEH center have few alternatives to Lake and traffic is very heavy in the before school hours.  They need a stoplight with a left turn lane or signal because its an impossible turn.  Oakton which has only three schools (Oakton, Chute and Dawes) has left turn signal and lane. 

  6. Mast Arm Lighting on Ridge

    The conversation of mast arm lighting on Ridge has resurfaced several times over my many years of living in Evanston.  The first meeting I attended was in 2002 or thereabouts.  At that time Ridge was owned by the State of Illinois and needed to be repaved.  By that year, Illinois rules had been updated to require mast arm lighting on four lane streets which necessitated the removal of post top signals and implementation of mast arm signals when repaving.  Citizens came out in droves to fight this move because, not only were post top lights being removed, but as many as 50 trees were possibly going to be removed as well.  Ultimately, to address citizen concerns, Evanston took back ownership of Ridge and managed the repaving of the street using local taxpayer funds versus state level funds.  Many residents voiced the idea that Ridge should be converted to a two-lane street with a turn lane in center.  This would have allowed for widening of the lanes and more safety from drivers with limited attention spans who consistently veer into lanes other than their own.  Since Ridge is a two-lane 25 MPH street in Chicago and since it is a two-lane street north of Emerson, changing it to two-lanes for the mile or two in between does make sense.  It would require new line painting and could be done on a trial basis to see if a two-lane street might possibly negate the high amount of accidents that occur on that street.

    With regard to mast arm lighting, I live on Oakton Street and the only thing that creates safety is the delay of a few seconds the city has implemented where one green light ends, everyone has a red light for several seconds, and then the light turns green for the traffic on the opposite street.  Before those few seconds of “red light for everyone” were added, there were constant accidents at Oakton and Dodge near our home.  What mast arm lighting does create on our street is a great view for drivers to know a light is green and to go as fast as possible… sometimes as fast as 50MPH… to make it before the light turns red.  I’m not a fan of mast arm lights on “residential artery streets.”  We who live on these streets deserve some level of protection from speeding too.  Side street residents have options in speed control humps and traffic circles.  Do we have to make it easier for people to have a visual of a green light two blocks away so they can speed?  Also, if speed cameras are an option for Ridge, we should consider them for some of our other artery streets.  Especially in school zones.

  7. Staggered greenlights

    For North / South traffic, the lights should be set up like they are at Oakton and Main. First one direction with green and arrow; then the other direction with green and arrow. I agree that there are a lot of left turns made off Ridge (and onto Ridge) including a bus – #206 – in the mornings. 

    People are running the yellows at speed while people are trying to turn….

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