City staff plan to ask aldermen Monday night what steps they’d like to try next in the effort to reduce traffic accidents on Ridge Avenue.

Collisions at nine mostly-signalized intersections on the stretch of Ridge from Oakton Street north to Church Street reached 154 last year — noticeably above the average of 145 for the preceding five years.

A decade ago the Illinois Department of Transportation told city officials that crashes could be cut by 25 percent if the city chose to install mast-arm traffic signals along Ridge.

But city officials rejected that idea, after some residents complained that the overhead signals would be out of character with the historic district that includes much of the Ridge Avenue frontage.

Post-top traffic signals at Ridge Avenue and Dempster Street. (Google Maps image)

Instead new traditional post-top signals were installed along Ridge in a coordinated project that also included new mast-arm signals at some nearby intersections — including Asbury Avenue at Dempster Street (shown in the photo at the top of this story), which is also located in the historic district.

In a memo to aldermen Public Works Agency Director Dave Stoneback reviews a variety of other possible strategies that might reduce the accident count.

Those could include reducing the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour, installing speed cameras for enforcement and trimming trees up to 200 feet away from traffic signals to improve visibility.

Split-phase traffic signals at Ridge and Lake and Ridge and Greenleaf — which would give separate green cycles for northbound and southbound traffic could make left turns easier.

But the memo says most accidents at those intersections appear to be due to driver behavior issues that the signal change wouldn’t address. And it would also back up traffic during rush hours and possibly cause some drivers to switch to using other north-south streets, like Asbury.

The memo also offers the option of hiring an engineering consultant in 2019 at a cost of $75,000 to $100,000 to develop more comprehensive solutions that could be implemented in 2020 or later. Those solutions might include revisiting the idea of mast arm traffic signals.

Related stories

The most dangerous intersection in town (12/20/17)

22 wrecks this year at Ridge and Lake (12/19/17)

Ridge targeted for safety improvements (10/26/17)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. My thoughts….

    Mast arms at all intersections (no damage to trees, only to NIMBYS)

    Split phase signals (N/S alternate with arrows for left turn) at Lake (and maybe Greenleaf.

    Continue heavy enforement by Police.

    All this is doesn’t damage trees – which really need trimming all up and down Ridge on approaches to traffic signals. Trees seem to more important then people and property damage. And with bigger cars (read SUVs) everywhere and the best selling segment of the market, the narrow lanes don’t help.

    Just think: when Ridge was repaved there was a plan to widen the lanes slightly with minimal damage to trees. A minority yelled loudly and that plan was scrapped.

    DON’T hire a consultant; use the money for improvements. If the council can find a sensible, logical soluntion as suggested in the article without help, they shouldn’t be serving.

  2. Signals

    Pertaining to signal lights, are most wrecks caused by some driver not seeing a signal light?

    1. Partly

      Trees block the vision of the lights until you are almost at the corner; however stupidity of drivers is a major concern. I have seen people speed up when they see a yellow and go through the intersection on the red. At the same time someone is completing their turn from going in the opposite direction (first break in the trafric when light starts to turn) and gets wacked. 

  3. Ridge: A Proposal.

    Currently Ridge in Evanston between Howard and Church is four 9 foot lanes with a 30 mile per hour speed limit. (A CTA bus including mirrors is 9 feet wide with zero tolerance to allow one bus to pass another. In Chicago, from Devon to Howard, Ridge has two 12 foot lanes, left turn lanes at signaled intersections and a 25 mile per hour speed limit. Evanston does not need twice as many driving lanes on Ridge as Chicago that are 3 feet more narrow.  Evanston would be better served if Ridge has three 12 foot lanes with the center lane being for left turns. True Ridge would have congestion at e peak of the peak in rush hours but many drivers can adjust their travel times to avid this situation. Plus Evanston Police would benefit from the reduced expenses of time and paper work creating crash reports.

    1. One lane each way would be disastrous
      While I can appreciate where you’re coming from as the Ridge lanes are too narrow and the street absolutely SHOULD have been widened when they replaced it years ago, making it a one lane each way road would be disastrous. Just ask Wilmette and what happens now on Greenbay during rush hour, which used to be fine when it was two lanes each way. Ridge cannot accommodate the amount of traffic it handles with just one lane each way. It would be even more of a crawl than it is currently during rush hour and as somebody who drives on Ridge during that time frequently, I would certainly be against that proposal. I think it’d increase accidents as people drive more aggressively when they’re angry that they’re stuck in traffic.

      Installing mast arm lights is a very logical solution. I live near an intersection that recently had lights like they currently do on Ridge and they changed them to mast arms (in a historic district too) and it’s not a big deal. People need to get over themselves and the look.

      I’d also be in favor of more turn signals in intersections that have had issues and possibly even reducing the speed limit to 25 in parts although I have my qualms about that.

      But please, unless you want a complete cluster, one lane each way on Ridge is not enough and that stretch will become unbearable. There are other solutions to improve safety that don’t have a severely negative impact on traffic congestion.

    2. Too many cars going too fast = crashes

      When there are too many cars going too fast down a narrow street, you get crashes. There is no engineering solution. Evanston has four options: 1. Make cars go slower by reducing speed limits and aggressively enforcing bad behavior. 2. Reduce the number of lanes to give drivers more maneuverability to avoid crashes. 3. Widen the road and prioritize cars over other stakeholder with the public purse. 4. Accept the status quo of crashes as a “cost of doing business”. The IDOT signal arm paper/proposal is dubious in its methodology, out of date, costly, and only claims to solve 25% of the problem. If Evanston is serious about making our streets safer, we have to accept that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We need less cars, going slower, to save lives and property. Until we make painful decisions, nothing will get better. 

      1. Widening the lanes is not the answer

        Widening the lanes would only make speeding more common. Look at Skokie with it’s wide streets. Speeds of 40mph are very common. Crossing the streets at an intersection without a signal is suicide. And as I understand it, the problem is not cars veering out of a lane, so wider lanes wouldn’t improve safety. A 2 lane road would reduce speeding, because a speeding car couldn’t simply pass a car going the speed limit. Enforcement should be automated. Place red light cameras at intersections with the most crashes.

    3. Another idea

      Western Avenue in Chicago is 4 lanes which becomes 2 lanes on Asbury in Evanston. Eliminate rush hour parking on Asbury from Howard to Main Street may divert some rush hour traffic from Ridge.

  4. Ridge accidents
    I drive Ridge almost every day. There are times that lights are impossible to see because of trees, most drivers know this and are aware but new drivers are not. Additionally, I almost always see cars encroaching on adjacent lanes. Cars heading north and turning left (west) on Lake leave a very small space for cars to pass on the right. Cars heading north and moving fast, have to slow down dramatically to avoid accidents. Cars are still illegally crossing Ridge or turning left off of Ridge where it is not legal. I would recommend widening the street near intersections where turning is legal, to give a wider berth to cars passing on the right. Either tree trimming is needed or new lights that can be seen. I have no opinion about which way they are made more visible, but not being able to see a traffic signal is patently unsafe. Evanston needs to address this fast.

  5. Ridge Traffic Issues
    I agree with one of the commeters, don’t hire consultants. Use the money for improvements. I think Evanston spends too much money on consultants. Especially since we have a world class university nearby that could help take on some of our issues. Could benefit our community. Lower cost consulting fees, and real world problem solving for some students.

    Also cameras could help. Yeah they’re a pain, but, traffic does slow down. In Chicago if the limit is 30, good drivers seem to be at a little under 30…poor drivers probably a little over 27.

    1. Statistics, etc
      If doing extra paper work for EPD is a problem, has there been a study of increased revenue for writing tickets in comparison to number of tickets given for SPEEDING. A reduction in the speed would only increase the speed, in other words, if there is no driver consideration of the existing (30 mph) what makes one think that reducing would suffice. To appease the historic valued residents; consistantly PLANT traffic officers at peak times on the east/west streets from Greenbay to Howard, (north/south streets from McCormick/Church to Chicago Ave)., increase the tickets to $75.00 + to absorb the cost – increase speed monitors to start the process. Another excuse to hire consultant(s) due to lack of resources, an alternative would be to WELCOME Northwestern University’s Transportation Center for an analysis with recommendations.

      1. Statistics, etc
        The City employs several competent traffic engineers, I don’t know why people think NWU is the end all be all for traffic problems, plus the school doesn’t do traffic studies for free by the way. Citywide there are traffic related issues where residents demand enforcement action, such as school zones, stop signs, speeding, pedestrian cross walks, etc. Last I heard there are usually two traffic officers working the street daily so what’s your plan for PLANTING officers on Ridge? One last thing, where did you get the $75.00 fine for speeding tickets, and how much do you think the City receives in fines? The fee is more than double that, and the County takes most of that in court costs so I’m waiting for your revenue plan.

        1. Ridge
          The lanes are simply too narrow. It doesn’t take an engineer to determine this: either widen the lanes by narrowing the parkway (two feet each side would give 1 foot for each lane) or bite the bullet and one lane each way. It’s really NOT complicated and some will be outraged with either solution. Or wait until a serious accident occurs with multiple fatalities (children?) and observe the comments then. Does it take that kind of tragedy to take appropriate action? Now THAT is tragic.

  6. Ridge

    Part of the source of accidents on Ridge is due to Ridge not flowing well.  This causes inattentive driving due to being stuck in traffic or aggressive driving by people trying to get through the yellow light.

    Maybe the answer is better rush hour light sequencing to Central Street so that cars are flowing.  Keep the speed limit, but keep the cars moving.

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