Evanston aldermen approved reducing speed limits on three major streets Monday, but the idea of a city-wide speed reduction drew fresh opposition.

The City Council received a memo from Mark de la Vergne from city consultant Sam Schwartz Engineering saying that lower speed limits “have limited effectiveness on the actual speeds of drivers.”

He cited a report from a group called America Walks, which says “people generally drive as fast as they think is reasonable, based on the roadway environment, rather than obeying the posted speed limit.”

De la Vergne says Burlington, Vt., recently implemented a 25 mph speed limit, with a 20 mph limit downtown and exemptions for three main roads that kept their original 30 mph limit. But he said there’s no data available on the impact of the change on actual driving speeds.

And he says a Federal Highway Administration study from 20 years ago shows the average change in actual speeds when speed limits were increased or decreased was less than 1.5 mph.

During citizen comment, Jeff Smith, of 2724 Harrison St., said the average travel speed in Evanston now is only 10 to 15 miles an hour.

He said that the city already has too many traffic restrictions — too many stop signs and other controls.

He said the slow travel speeds are unhealthy for the economy, the environment and safety.

“Main streets should have higher speed limits and fewer stops than side streets,” Smith said, and the city should should start over and reduce the number of traffic controls, so Evanstonians can not only park, but also drive.

Aldermen had suggested last month that they wanted to consider a broader speed limit reduction in September.

The reductions to a 25 mile per hour limit were approved for:

  • Chicago Avenue from Dempster Street to South Boulevard.
  • Central Street from McDaniel to Central Park avenues.
  • Oakton Street for its full length.

In addition aldermen voted to make Forest Avenue one way at Lincoln School during school arrival and departure hours and approved a new four-way stop sign at Michigan Avenue and Lee Street.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Jeff’s got it right

    I agree with Jeff Smith, it's not good for the environment, safety, and economics of the city..  It Sounds like he should run for Evanston City government.  There are so many limits to getting around Evanston, that I get out of Evanston as much as possible.  I drive out of my way to shp elesewhere so that if my meter expires I dont'; get a ticket one minute after the fact. Actually, I am probably going to move out of Evanston.  I am exhausted with the taxes, restrictions, and other choke holds the city has imposed.  It's sad since I am life long resident.

  2. While I also agree with Jeff …

    I have to ask: If your meter expires, when exactly is it acceptable to get a ticket?

    I certainly understand the frustration of getting a ticket as soon as your meter expired, but that is the time you are supposed to be vacating the spot. Your meter is expired. Why is the duration relevant?

    Let me put it this way, if Evanston parking meters had a built-in grace period of 10 minutes (After regular time hits 0:00, they start counting -0:01 through -0:09 and then start flashing 0:00 after the 10 minutes), would it make a whit of difference, or would everyone take the grace time and scream bloody murder when they're 11 minutes late to their meter – because they're "only a minute late!"

  3. Traffic Lights, Queues, Slowing Down

    "De la Vergne says Burlington, Vt., recently implemented a 25 mph speed limit, with a 20 mph limit downtown and exemptions for three main roads that kept their original 30 mph limit. But he said there's no data available on the impact of the change on actual driving speeds."  

    If there is no data available on the impact of the change on driving speeds, then we don't really know if lowering the limit works.  What we do know is when people are doing 38 MPH in a 25, the courts are more likely to let the ticket stick instead of throwing it out.

    Several months ago, over 50 residents on Oakton Street signed a petition asking to have our speed limit lowered because drivers were REGULARLY going 38 MPH or more.  Tickets were getting thrown out in court so law enforcement was having little effect.  What we on our "artery street" also found, is that even people on the 'near' sidestreets that were trying to pull out onto Oakton were having a lot of difficulty in safely gaining access to the street, thus many of them were in agreement and joined us in sigining our petition.  The response of people who opened their door was overwhelmingly negative concerning the speeding taking place on our street and people leapt at the chance to sign the petition.  We had ONE person decline to sign.  Yes – one out of more than 50 residents declined to sign.

    Oakton is scheduled for resurfacing and several engineered modifications to our street to help curb the speeding.  In the meantime, Oakton residents finally have a tool that will help us fight speeding that takes place on our street.

    Regarding Jeff Smith's comments… Jeff is a big-time bicyclist as well as a green activist.  I can well understand his desire for fewer traffic stopping/slowing measures.  Especially when I read comments on here directed at bicyclists who don't stop at red lights and STOP signs.  Since it is much more difficult to get inertia when pulling out from a complete stop with a bicycle, it seems obvious why a bicyclists doesn't stop at every STOP sign.  Also, bicyclists are able to hear approaching automobiles in a way that someone enclosed in a car cannot.  I'm not arguing that bicyclists are right to not stop, but I do understand the behavior.    As for Jeff's comment that idling automobiles are worse for the environment than a vehicle continually moving, the issue here seems more to be the need for driver education than fewer speed modification measures.  The majority of Evanston traffic lights are set to change with drivers traveling a specific speed.  On Oakton, if you travel 23 MPH between Home Depot before Asbury and Ridge, you will not need to stop your car because you will have a string of green lights (the street is one long school zone).  Unfortunately, drivers travel 35-38 MPH (or faster) and end up slamming on their brakes to wait at each light.  This same thing holds true on Ridge – if you travel from Howard to Greenbay at a steady 32 MPH, you will only get caught at one red light.

    Driving a steady speed is a correct argument, unfortunately, the steady speed most folks want to travel at is well above the posted limit and thus they end up waiting in queues at red lights.  Stop burning up your gas and wearing out your brakes.  Travel the posted limit and you will have a lot less wear and tear on the old auto and your wallet.

  4. the speed limit thing

    Jeff Smith's ideas are always well expressed and worth reading but I have to differ with him on some of his points.

    Jeff is right that there is a huge collection of traffic control signs in town. I marvel when I look down a residential street and see stop signs at every intersection into the distance.

    But this isn't mindless bureaucracy at work, it is a desperate attempt to get people to slow down, exactly the same motivation for speed humps and traffic circles (far more effective than stop signs).

    Signs are not self-enforcing, put up too many and people stop seeing the signs instead of stopping. They get used to gliding through instead of stopping.

    Cautious, slow driving is required on residential streets but drivers have shown they will not do this, so the city, frequently at the request of residents, has done what it can to slow drivers down, the humps and circles making it impossible for them to speed.

    The comment (not Jeff's) about people driving at what they think is a reasonable speed is exactly right. The only trouble is that speed is too high. People drive on the expressway at 10 over the limit and with no interval between cars. Clearly they think that is reasonable. It isn't. Leaving speeds to the reasoning of drivers doesn't work and doesn't accord with the reasoning of those who might be injured by them and call for all the signs and humps.

    Average (moving average) traffic speed in Evanston is 22 to 23 MPH, no different that the surrounding towns of Wilmette, Skokie, Lincolnwood. Anyone can test this for him/herself with GPS. I've done it several times. If you take McCormick you might add 1 MPH to your average. Jeff's figure of 10 to 15 MPH may refer to overall average which includes time stopped at lights and signs.

    The bottom line? More signs without strict enforcement everywhere (impossible) won't do a thing. Roadway design (humps, circles, lane narrowing, etc.) and traffic cams will. That's expensive, so only a limited number of locations can be modified. I don't think declarations about city speeds or changing posted speeds will, in themselves, change the actual speed driven.

  5. Enforce the existing laws before adding more

    Jeff is right and there's plenty of empirical data to support him. But my question is: Why don't we start by enforcing the laws we already have on the books?

    I live on an alley which is marked “no through traffic," yet dozens of cars per day drive through to avoid traffic lights and traffic. Pleas for enforcement by the Evanston Police are answered with "we don't have the resources."

    Similarly pleas for enforcement of the car stereo ordinance receive the same answer (or worse- the two officers in a police car stopped at a traffic light in front of my house behind a booming car stereo told me that clearly the car was violating the law, but writing a ticket would be futile because the offenders likely wouldn’t pay it).

    So, let's enforce the existing speed limits, stop signs, cell phone and other traffic and quality of life laws before we add more to the books.

  6. Its already 25!!!!


    Central Street is already posted 25mph  between Central Park to Green bay Rd (which is inclusive of McDaniel to Central Park as cited in the report).  Between Crawford Ave and Central Park, its 30 mph.  Is the article a misprint or is the city wasting our time again?

    1. It depends on direction

      I drive on Central St. frequently.  There is one speed limit sign beetween Lincolnwood and McDaniel on each side of the street.  On one side of the street the speed limit sign is 30 mph, on the other side it is 25 mph.

      Does that mean the speed limit on that section of Central depends on the direction you are traveling? 

  7. Jeff is not a pedestrian

    Jeff must never have tried to cross Church, in a marked crosswalk, at 6 PM.

    Cars are moving too fast.

  8. I live in the Oakton/Dodge

    I live in the Oakton/Dodge neighborhood.  I am completely against reducing Oakton's speed limit to 25 mph for the entire length.  If Evanston cops are stopping out of towners when they try to drive to Home Depot/PetSmart/Aldi on Oakton – they simply will stop going into Evanston – it is not worth it!.  Same thing with the mini-mall on Chgo Ave near S Blvd.  One business after another is closing in this town or the mayor closes them or prevents them from coming here.  Our town is headed toward bankruptcy.  This reduction in speed in front of these areas of business on Chgo & Oakton is a very bad idea.

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