Evanston aldermen Monday are scheduled to discuss a proposal from Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, to close Elgin Road from Emerson Street to Orrington Avenue downtown.

A current street map, with the road segments proposed for closure highlighted in red.

The diagonal Elgin Road was added to the city’s street grid over a half century ago, at the time Orrington Avenue was vacated between Clark Street and University Place to permit construction of Northwestern University’s Rebecca Crown Center.

A circa 1960 drawing from Evanston’s Planning Department showing the land swap with the university to create Elgin Road, reproduced in Robert Teska’s Downtown Evanston Revitalized.

Previously a driver heading west on Clark Street likely would have turned north on Sherman and then west onto Emerson to exit the downtown area.

A detail from a 1953 map of Evanston’s street grid, with red lines showing four-lane roads.
of Evanston’s street grid, with red lines showing four-lane roads.

And northbound traffic on Orrington Avenue would have had access to Sheridan Road via University Place.

A staff memo says a pilot closure of Elgin, potentially for four weeks during July and August, would explore “the potential benefits of restoring the original street grid system at the northern edge of the downtown business district.”

In reality, closing Elgin would only partially restore the original grid, because the closures of Orrington and University Place would be unchanged.

The staff memo says closing Elgin now could provide “improved pedestrian safety and walkability” and “make access to downtown from surrounding residential areas more user friendly for pedestrians and bicylists.”

Looking northwest at the traffic islands at the intersection of Clark, Orrington and Elgin. (Google Maps)

Given the presence of landscaped traffic islands at the intersection of Clark Street with Orrington Avenue and Elgin Road, it appears from the staff memo that westbound traffic on Clark would face a dead end at Orrington during the proposed test closure.

Another issue with the proposal is that the Emerson Street viaduct under the CTA tracks lacks sufficient clearance for 13-foot-6-inch tall semi-trailer trucks.

The staff memo says that could be addressed by leaving the Emerson to Benson segment of Elgin Road open for semi-trucks, by creating a temporary truck route on Maple Avenue and Foster Street or by redirecting semi-trailer traffic onto Chicago Avenue.

Update 6/24/19 7:30 a.m.:

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz this morning says tonight’s planned discussion of closing Elgin Road was prompted by a detailed conceptual plan from a former Evanston resident who suggested that, in addition to providing various improvements for pedestrians and bicylists, closing Elgin Road could also free up land that could become the site for a new Civic Center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is a bad idea on all

    This is a bad idea on all counts.  The biggest blunder here is the idea of making the city more pleasant by routing more trucks onto Foster, which had once been a quiet pedestrian and neighborhood street.

    They’ve already pushed more traffic onto Foster by creating a traffic clot at Emerson/Ridge/Green Bay, for the sake of nearly non-existent foot traffic crossing Green Bay.  That issue could have been solved with a functioning crosswalk button, triggering a red-arrow for right-turners in the rare cycle when there is actually a pedestrian.  Instead, many vehicles avoid the whole thing by driving to Foster, putting much more traffic on a neighborhood street that does have pedestrians.  There are often right turn back-ups at Foster/Ridge because of this new neighborhood traffic generated by the engineers.

    I could actually see eliminating Emerson going east from the Elgin intersection.  That’s the street that gets very little traffic, most of it avoidable, and has the low viaduct passage.  But Elgin is heavily used, and it doesn’t solve anything to make all that traffic make extra turns.

    1. Foster

      Hi Ryan,

      The Maple to Foster truck route is only one of the substitute truck route options under consideration.

      Closing off Emerson between Elgin and Sherman, as you suggest, would force residents of The Link apartment tower now under construction and residents of the Sherman Gardens co-op to use Foster Street to access their parking areas.

      If you think there’s too much traffic on Foster already, that’s probably not a change you’d like to see.

      — Bill

    2. Fiske proposal

      I have to agree with Ryan.  I’m against closing this vital route.  The “improvement” of the Emerson/Green Bay junction is a mess.  Pedestrians are not safe there.

    3. Bad Intersection

      Interesting that that originially intended northwest – bound route through that area was for drivers to take a right onto Benson and a quick left onto Emerson. I’ve always done this when heading northwest towards Emerson rather that wait at the super long light at Elgin and Emerson.

    4. Closing Elgin street

      Judy, I so diasgree with the proposal to close the Elgin street. It is an excellent shortcut to Emerson and deters a lot of traffic that would go down Emerson from Sherman Ave. Elgin is a busy street and handles a lot of traffic from Northwestern U and the beach. I use it all the time and that are a lot of other people who do so. Please do not pass this proposal. 

      1. Weekend traffic is already too heavy.

        1. Emerson (AKA Golf Rd) backs up terribly on weekend afternoons, etc., and eliminating Elgin Road will make traffic worse for this major artery feeding business into downtown Evanston.
        2. A new high rise will open soon on Emerson north or Benson, very close to the closure of Elgin, which will add more traffic to Emerson, on top of the lack of relief the Elgin provides to this area.
        3. There are rumors of building another tall building on the corner of Union and Benson, where Las Palmas used to be.  The City Council and the Press should make sure that this proposal is not being promoted by potential investors or developers for their advantage and to the detriment of the local resident.  It would be a detriment to the local residents and nearby businesses.
    5. The Ward 1 Alderman Needs to Represent Her Constituents

      This project was based upon the stated fallacious premise that no ‘meaningful’ interaction with the street takes place anywhere along Elgin Road.  !  The fact that the front door of Optima Horizons, with 246 units and nearly 500 residents, faces Elgin was evidently dismissed as unimportant by the 1st Ward Alderman — since OH residents were given zero notification of the proposal, finding out about it only on the day of the Council discussion by reading an article on Evanston NOW.

      Safety issues on Elgin Road should be improved – OH management has asked for these for years, to no avail. But the road provides a vital route past the north downtown area, and closing it would be a disaster for traffic. This closure would inconvenience and potentially endanger the lives of OH residents.

      The thought that the City was considering the closing of Elgin for a period of several weeks, beginning this July, without notifying OH about those discussions is grossly irresponsible.

      I’m amazed that Judy Fiske took this ill-conceived proposal to the Council. I’m dismayed that she spent taxpayer funds on a traffic study of alternate truck routes and that she wasted the Council’s time on a bogus proposal. I’m horrified that I’m represented by an Alderman who doesn’t bother to send one email or place one phone call of notification about an issue of serious import and concern to several hundred of her constituents.

      1. Thanks

        Hi CJ,

        Glad we could be of help in letting you know about the proposal.

        — Bill

  2. An opportunity for more green space?

    Can the elimination of asphalt give Evanston the opportunity for either more green space or more revenue producing high rise buildings?

    1. Another absurd proposal from Ald. Fiske

      This is ridiculous. Forcing more traffic to travel south on Chicago Avenue before heading east will turn the stretch between Clark and Davis into an even more congested mess. That will push more traffic on to Hinman.

      Traffic engineers need to look more than a block beyond the proposed changes.

      As for a new civic center? Why? When will the city council stop blowing money on halo projects and take care of the basics. The streets are in abysmall shape, including Emerson and Chicago. Repaving 60-foot stretches is poor management.

  3. Fiske proposal for Elgin Rd

    I believe this is payback by Fiske to opponents of the library lot development, many of whom are abutters who use the existing alley to reach Clark St and go west toward Emerson and thus Green Bay Rd. Closing Clark at Orrington thus forces vehicles to exit eastbound from the alley and use Chicago Ave north or south to go west. This makes no sense. It also adversely affects businesses on Benson Ave, which are accessed from eastbound Emerson via Elgin Rd. The foresighted folks who gave us Elgin Rd in exchange for the Rebecca Crown Plaza are to be congratulated, not overridden by an unnecessary and vengeful restriction on access to major roadways and businesses. 

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