I spent a half hour early Wednesday afternoon walking around downtown Evanston watching bicyclists.

If I didn’t know better — based on the complaints at Tuesday night’s 1st Ward meeting, I would have expected to see bands of marauding cyclists bowling over pedestrians on sidewalks like ten pins.

But I did know better, because I frequently walk downtown.

He’s what I observed while walking down Church Street from Ridge to Sherman avenues, pausing for several minutes at Sherman and then retracing my steps.

I saw 14 bikes in motion, and a lot more chained to bike racks.

Of the bikes in motion:

  • Seven riders were riding eastbound in the Church Street bike lane — the direction the lane is signed for use. One of those left the bike lane to make a left-hand turn into a cross street. Looked legal to me.
  • One rider rode westbound in the Church Street bike lane — against the signage, but perhaps understandable given how torn up Davis Street is this summer.
  • Four riders were riding legally with traffic in north-south streets that lack bike lanes.
  • One person was legally walking a bike on the sidewalk along Sherman Avenue.
  • One youngster, perhaps 12 years old, was sitting astride his bike and it pushing with his feet on the ground like you would a scooter as he worked to keep pace with a woman — perhaps his mother — walking beside him on the Church Street sidewalk near Benson Avenue.

Top: Cyclist in bike lane on Church Street near Maple Avenue. (Wonder if those earbuds violate 10-9-4 (K): “No person shall ride a bicycle on a public roadway or sidewalk while using any device which would impede awareness of auditory or visual warning signals.”?) Above: Cyclist crossing Church Street at Benson Avenue.

So I saw no pedestrians actually endangered by bicyclists and only one cyclist who appeared to be in technical violation of the rule barring the riding of bikes on downtown sidewalks.

It’s only a snapshot of life on our downtown streets and sidewalks — but I think it offers support for two thoughts:

  • Protected bike lanes are a good idea. They help shelter bikes from cars and encourage riders to leave the sidewalks to pedestrians.
  • Asking police to spend more time issuing tickets for riding bikes on sidewalks would be a misuse of scarce taxpayer resources.

Of course, then just as I was ending my sojourn I spotted the SUV driver who’d been holding his cellphone to his ear as he approached the intersection of Church Street on Ridge Avenue and distractedly pulled into the pedestrial crosswalk before stopping.

He wasn’t totally distracted, though — and motioned to me with his free hand to walk around in front of him.

Where’s a cop when you need one!

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Agree

    I have not found bicyclists to be any problem.  I have found that the pedestrians are more problematic in Evanston: There are still so many who simply do not know or care how to cross the street safely.

  2. Choose your battles

    Yes, the biking-on-sidewalks issue definitely qualifies under the "choose your battles carefully" philosophy that reasonable people employ for living and dwelling in urban areas.

    And even if the city can't or won't enforce the rule, displaying the "no biking" signs is likely still more helpful than having no sign at all.

  3. A better place to look

    Every day I see bikes racing down the sidewalks on Orrington [both sides] from Clark and on Clark from Orrington to Sherman including past outdoor seating on Clark.  I.e. on north and east sides of Burger King, past the Kellogg housing and EPL and past the hotel.

    Maybe it has improved on east side of Sherman [e.g. past Taco Bell and CVS] but bike riding was so bad I avoid that block as much as I can.

  4. I didn’t think bikes on

    I didn't think bikes on sidewalks were a big issue either.  But then last night, my husband and I were walking our dog on Greenwood near the beach, and coming toward us were 2 women on bikes chatting away.  As they got closer, it was clear they had no intention of getting off the sidewalk, but rather expected me, my husband and dog to move off into the grass so they could pass by.  My husband stood his ground on the sidewalk, startling the women so they had to stop.  My husband asked if they would at least consider riding single file on the sidewalk so the pedestrians could share it.  They looked confused but said okay.  I told them the police were starting to crack down on bikers using the sidewalks and they could get a ticket if they weren't careful. Again the looked confused but said okay.  As soon as we left, I turned around to see they had resumed riding on the sidewalk, side by side………………..Go figure!

    1. No ban there

      Bicyclists are not banned from riding on the sidewalk on "Greenwood near the beach." OTOH, all users of the sidewalk should be courteous to each other.

      Were you and your husband walking side-by-side before you encountered the cyclists? That's fine — until you were faced with traffic from the opposite direction. Similarly, once you and the cyclists had passed each other, there is no good reason for the cyclists not to ride side-by-side or for you to not walk side-by-side — except when either group encounters pedestrians or other cyclists coming in the opposite direction.

      — Bill

    2. It is legal to ride

      It is legal to ride on the sidewalk, except for the designated zone downtown. No need to "stand your ground".

  5. How about some better signage and murals?

    I've suggested for awhile that a nicely painted mural near the El could kindly explain all the downtown biking rules to be seen by residents and visitors every time they ride by.  It could show, very clearly and in color, the correct bike lanes and routes, explain the no sidewalk rule for commerical streets ONLY, give safety tips for kids, and have symbols to designate bike parking.

    If you are new to biking in Evanston, why would you know the "rules" and where would you learn them?  Columbia, Missouri, has a safe biking class at it's civic center every week.  No such thing in Evanston.  It would be great if Wheel and Sprocket could sponsor such of a thing.

    Bike stores or the police on bikes could lead a bike ride through downtown Evanston emphasizing one way streets and the best ways to get around and schedule them on a Sunday morning.  There are a lot of assumptions as to what riders should know and not know  and at different ages.

    I made it a point of principle to ride in the middle of the lanes of the streets, going the correct way, in downtown Evanston to the continuing consternation of cars.  Pedestrians just pretend I'm not there.  And, just like you Bill, yesterday I saw a woman driving a very large car, on the cell phone, parked in the crosswalk, and ignoring people trying to cross Church street around her.  But, this is the week of Northwestern drop-off and we have to watch out for visitors in very, very large vehicles trying to get around downtown Evanston.

    I'm on my bike every day, but those priviledged guys in Spandex who break every rule, we really need to break through their assumptions that "all ways are open to me."

    1. Riding on the street

      Dear Candace,

      Regarding your comment "…I made it a point of principle to ride in the middle of the lanes of the streets, going the correct way, in downtown Evanston to the continuing consternation of cars…"

      I hope you were able to keep up with the traffic flow.  If not, you were violating Illinois traffic law by creating a hazard on a public way and could have been ticketed for obstructing traffic, and reckless driving.  

      When you enter a street on a bike, you are on a vehicle that is treated the same as an automobile under the law.

      1. Traffic flow

        We are talking downtown Evanston here, not Dodge and not Ridge.  It is not difficult to keep up with traffic flow or to ride the downtown speed limit.  I see cars going 10 to 20 miles over the speed limit in front of my house on a quiet suburban street near a school every single day.  They fly over the speed hump and land back on the street with a crash.  Traffic flow is not a problem on most commerical streets, keeping within the proper speed limit in Evanston is.

        I have, however, very emphatically told other cyclists that they should not be riding on Ridge, but some dumb nut always does.

  6. Needed: Classes and seminars

    I hate cyclists who do not stop for lights and make illegal left turns in front of cars.  I also dislike people riding on the sidewalk when there is a bike lane.  Saying that everyone needs to learn the rules of the road for cars and bikes, why can't the local bike shops and schools sponsor such classes/seminars from time to time?


    1. Cyclists

      Illinois Secretary of States office publishes "Rules of Road For Bicycles."

      Perhaps the City sound have some on hand at The Morton Civic Center as well as ask bike shops offer copies to customers. Probably could also have at schools and the library.

  7. Please don’t ride on the sidewalks

    I live on the edge of the commercial area and walk the sidewalks at least  a couple times a week, and my wife walks every day.  I have never witnessed a group of "marauding" cyclists, but what my wfe and I have  witnessed is about half the time, when we are walking, someone is riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.  

    I have been a lifelong avid cyclist.  I have  ridden in all types of traffic and all sorts of roads as I have taken part in many organized rides.  I have learned the value of being respectful of others while riding both in traffic and interacting with foot traffic.  I always am at a loss to understand why people don't practice basic courtesy to others.   Now that I find myself with medical issues that make walking more difficult, I find bikes on the sidewalk and the courtesy shown to pedestrians by cyclists on the sidewalks to be frightening.  While near misses are the expectations of fast moving bicyclists in their teens and early twenties, they cause a real risk to others who have a right to be able to walk in the city of Evanston, particularly those of us who are unfortunate enough to show the effects of aging.  

    While I respect that we need to prioritize our police resources, I would like to believe as a citizen that I have the right to have my safety protected by enforcement of the laws that we have put in place.  Certainly the protected bike lanes help, and they leave no excuse for someone riding on the sidewalk.  But enforcement of the law would put all on notice that this is a community for all to enjoy, not just the selected few who feel they can ignore the law.

  8. I’m more concerned

    I'm more concerned about the recent increase in bicyclists who don't seem to get the idea that they are NOT pedestirians – rather that they are vehicles that must obey all of the traffic laws that apply to cars when they are on a public street.  Recently I have experienced the following:

    A cyclist flew across Sheridan – sidewalk to sidewalk – ignoring his stop sign and forcing traffic in both directions to slam on the brakes.  His response to the honking horns was to give the finger and point at the "State Law … Stop for pedestrians…" sign.  

    While approaching a green light preparing for a right turn (signal on) a cyclist came from behind on the right and passed me to go straight.  This one is wrong in so many ways that I won't enumerate.  

    Basically I'm getting fearful that  these suicidal idiots are going to start finding their way under the wheels of innocent drivers if some effort is not made to start educating them more effectively.

    1. Where to look

      For anyone who claims that bikers don't run in packs, view Orrington or Sherman from Central to at least Emerson any weekend and even weekdays.  They run in packs, don't obey stop signs and force those trying to cross with the light to back-off.  A couple of police cars stopping/ticketing them would spread the word VERY fast.

      They claim they need the exercise. Well there is a track in Northbrook.  Sports car owners like to 'exercise' their cars—some claim they have to get the junk out of their engines—but that does not mean they can ignore the laws.

      BTW I have not had a car for 20+ years and bike/walk everyday.  The 'packs' make no room for responsible bikers.

  9. Watch out for the delivery guys

    I've commuted for years on my bike, raced for 15 years, and still consider myself a friend of cyclists and support environmentally helpful travel.

    That said, I was just eating lunch on Sherman Avenue and looking out the window watching the bicycle traffic. I saw adults with nice bikes and helmets on their heads, riding up and down the sidewalk. Maybe they're afraid of traffic – I've been hit five times while following the rules of the road and common courtesy – maybe they feel safer on the sidewalk.

    What I did see that shocked me, was the delivery guys riding on the side walk, riding into oncoming traffic, running red lights and stops signs for the entire 25 minutes I spent looking out the window!

    If our pedestrians take note of what the dangerous cyclists are wearing, and they happen to be young men in red and black jersies with black packs on their backs, maybe we know where they're coming from. I appreciate that they have a job to do but they're not excused from manners, common sense, or laws.

    1. A non-stop show

      Anon, I think you're absolutely on to something here.  The delivery cyclists you speak of are the most aggressive riders anywhere in Evanston. Granted, their employer insists on delivering sandwiches "So Fast, You'll Freak."  Hence the incentive to ride a track bike like all get out while cradling a BLT.  I have seen those guys do some stunningly dangerous stuff  in the name of expediting customer satiety. It's a non-stop show if you're chilling al fresco on the north end of Sherman. 

  10. Whenever I need to go

    Whenever I need to go downtown, I either walk or bike. The place where I see the most "biking on sidewalks" offenders are at the intersection of Chicago and Clark. All of those sidewalks at that intersection are narrow and I know for sure that there is a no bicycling symbol painted on one of the sidewalks. Most of these people are college aged.

    These kids are really getting on my nerves and that's saying a lot considering I'm 26 years old and am probably considered a kid myself by others. However, unlike them, I never bike on the sidewalk. If I need to get onto the sidewalk to get to a bike rack, I dismount my bike immediately, and walk it to the bike rack, all while being conscious of the pedestrians around me.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.