Even though temperatures were in the low 30s, an intrepid group of Evanston bicyclists took off from Church Street and Sherman Avenue Friday afternoon for a bike ride around downtown Evanston, in part to thank the community for providing protected bike lanes on Church and Davis streets.

John Jacobs, an avid cyclist, has been instrumental in advocating that communities along the North Shore be mindful of bikers as they institute their traffic plans.

He noted that eastbound bikes on Church have difficulty executing a left turn off the one-way street without crossing the paths of two lanes of vehicular traffic. He said that motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists all need to give up some conveniences if all forms of traffic are to co-exist in harmony with one another.

“In order to make bicycling infrastructure significantly safer in Evanston,” he declared, “we will need to give up some of the space that the automobile currently occupies.”

Jacobs was particularly complimentary towards the city’s decision to place the bike lane at curbside, with the parking lane on the traffic side. 

“The motorist is not the problem for bikes,” he said, “It is the parked cars.” He noted that doors that open suddenly in front of a cyclist are a real danger to the riders. By placing the bike lane at curbside, he said, it minimizes the chances that a cyclist will run into a car door.

Nevertheless, significant safety problems exist at the intersections, he said, particularly with cars making right turns in front of bicyclists.

The bike-and-shop event, he said, emphasizes the benefits a viable bike plan provides for merchants in the community.

“People on bikes typically don’t buy as much as they would when in their cars,” he said, “but studies have shown that they make more shopping trips, particularly to merchants located near their homes.”

Above: Bike repairman Curtis Evans talks to a cyclist before the downtown biking event begins Friday. At top, cyclists John Jacobs, Natalie Watson (with baby Maya) Jessica Jacobs, and Joerg Metzner gather for their ride through downtown Evanston.

When the cyclists assembled at Church and Sherman Friday afternoon, they were met by mobile bike repairman Curtis Evans, whose shop on wheels bears a large sign reading “We fix bikes.”

Evans, who worked in a traditional bike shop before he launched out on his own, is a familiar figure in biking circles in Evanston, particularly on the Northwestern University campus, where bikes are a popular means of getting around.

Evans said he originally thought business would be best in the affluent areas of north Evanston, but found that people who live in central Evanston rely more on their bikes as a substitute for the automobile.

Jacobs said he hopes to repeat the “bike and shop” event each Saturday until Christmas, weather permitting, starting in downtown Evanston on Saturdays at 2 p.m., and to resume the events next spring.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. Shop malls

    Decided shopping Downtown Evanston is too much of a problem with bikers and trying to park, so will shop malls in other suburbs.

    1. Bikes mean business!

      My family and I love to shop Evanston by bike. It is fun to visit multiple stores in one trip, get what we need, and be on our way in seconds. Safe bike infrastructure, convenient bike parking, and a culture of mutual respect in the street help enormously. We wish that other cities would follow Evanston's lead! We also make a point to support small, local businesses whenever possible, rather than the big box stores that cater exclusively to cars.

      1. Bike lane business

        Downtown Evanston needs thousands, tens of thousands, of customers every day to support the # of retail stores and restaurants based here.  To obtain that volume of traffic downtown must attract draw from well outside our borders, Northbrook, Glenview, etc.

        Bike lane infrastructure is a disincentive to attracting those numbers from outside the city limits. The lanes definitely cause congestion and obstacles and over time people will choose not to come into that environment.  And it's an absurd fantasy to think they will now be riding bikes in from Glenview or even Skokie.

        Bike lanes mean business?  Like the photo shows, around four people made the bike event, pretty concrete evidence right there on how meaningless bike lanes are to business districts that need to entice thousands of people in every day, and a disservice to the thousands of downtown jobs that depend on the district drawing those numbers in every single day.

        1. Think it through…

          There's plenty of spots in the garages, not to mention they're free this time of year. You walk a little no matter where you park, be it an urban area or a shopping mall. Are you saying you expect a space directly in front of the door of a business to just magically appear, if there are "thousands, tens of thousands, of customers every day" supporting the businesses in downtown Evanston?  Bike infastructure, when designed and implemented correctly and efficiently is no more of a disincentive than having parking meters, pay stations, light poles, and trash cans dotting the street. It should be like the decision to have sidewalks: a no-brainer. The more people that do bike, the easier it will be for people coming from the types of distances you mention to drive and find parking. I think it's an absurb fantasy to assume that everyone should be driving, or that bike infastructure is an impediment.

      2. Bikes mean business!

        Well said Natalie,

        And thank you for advocating for a smart, healthy and safe way to shop Evanston and get around town.  Some of the detractors don't seem to appreciate all the benefits and even the clear advantages.  Last time I was at Old Orchard, I had to park far, far away from the shops I was interested in visiting… I think shopping locally is a better option.

        Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

    2. Ridiculous

      Bikes don't cause me any problems at all. I shop downtown Evanston all the time. I usually drive when its cold and almost always find a meter spot (and if not there are two downtown garages). Also my teenagers prefer shopping downtown more than the mall (Urban Outfitters, etc.). 

  2. Thriving downtown

    Does anyone remember what downtown Evanston was like in the 80's and 90's? It was dead. Where was all the great support from car drivers then? What makes the difference now is residents from the condo towers, pedestrians, and bicyclists-not the driver circling around the block 6 times to find that perfect parking space.

    To maintain a vibrant downtown district, the city should do its best to accommodate all means of transportation: Cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists

  3. bike lanes bad for business

    Ahh, to the so called "think it through" bike people.  What are you talking about?  Never did I say anything about parking, or expecting a parking spot to "magically" appear in front of my destination. Nor do I mind walking to my destination.  

    What I said is that bike lanes cause congestion and place obstacles in the road and that congestion and narrowing of streets creates disincentive and inconvienence to people we absoluetely need coming into town from outside of Evanston.  

    One of the major stated goals of bike lane proponets proclaimed always and everywhere is to reduce traffic and that goal is at complete odds to the goal of attracting more people from a regional radius.  That is a simple fact.  You cannot have it both ways, and the attempt to say that bike lanes are good for business when they actually disincentivize people from driving in is nonsense.  

    What is also truly ridiculous is to lump street lights and trash cans as having similar influence on traffic as a bike lane is seriously stretching things.

    And yes I do remember downtown in the 80's and 90's.  Smart decisions were made to upgrade the parking infrastructure to accomodate more cars in functioning, attractive new parking decks.  One of the biggest positives to happen to the downtown was that accomodation to the auto.  And yes, along with added residential densitiy that is what was good for business. 

    But the bottom line is still this, downtown needs to draw thousands upon thousands of people every day, Evanston residents alone, downtown residents alone, come nowhere even remotely close to providing the counts needed to support retail here.  

    My comments have nothing to do with parking and how you turned them into such a topic is beyond me.  The bike lanes create disincentive to outsiders and therefore are an obstacle to business being successful here.  Simple as that.      


    1. bike lanes bad for barbarians

      Just to correct "anonymous" here- people on bikes do not necessarily want less traffic, we just want slower cars and more attentive drivers. Narrower driving lanes, careful design, and the presence of bikes and pedestrians all help, and the street becomes safer and less stressful for everyone. That's an incentive in my book!

      But that's not the only benefit of more equitable transportation infrastructure. As we move through our business districts at a slower pace, we are able to notice new businesses, as opposed to simply rushing through. (How many people are just using Evanston for a quick commute?) And when we do park our cars or bikes, we feel encouraged to linger. What's more, people who live here can walk or bike to stores, and are not forced to drive for every errand, as in so many suburbs. This is what it means to have a livable, sustainable, healthy city, and this should be our first priority. What "anonymous" seems to be calling for is the typical commercial highway development that America is drowning in- ugly, unloved, unsafe places- the non-places we drive through as quickly as possible on the way to somewhere else. For a hilarious, acerbic takedown of this kind of mindset, watch this:

      I thank "anonymous" for the opportunity to debate these issues and look forward to the next time.

    2. Please provide your evidence

      Anonymous, if honoring the car is the key to a town's success, then why is it that cities, where cars have a place but not an exclusive place, are so much more vibrant and commercially successful than suburbia, which is in a state of relative decline — especially of late? Have you driven west on Golf or Dempster lately? There is pleny of room for cars and acre after acre or surface parking — and the strip malls are vacant and crumbling. This is within just a few miles of downtown Evanston. 

      Cite me any evidence that the bike lanes in Evanston are deterring drivers from coming. Can you substantiate this? 


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