While branch library backers defend the branches as providing “walkable” access to library services, a new city report indicates that only 38 percent of Evanston residents live within walking distance of any city library.

While branch library backers defend the branches as providing “walkable” access to library services, a new city report indicates that only 38 percent of Evanston residents live within walking distance of any city library.

The data shows that roughly 16 percent of Evanstonians live within walking distance of the main library, 14.8 percent within walking distance of the south branch, and 7.5 percent within walking distance of the north branch.

The city memo defined “walkable,” based on academic studies, as living within a half mile of a destination. City staff then calculated the population within walking distance of each library based on 2000 census block group data.

The data suggests the city might need five or six additional branch libraries to provide walkable access to nearly all residents.

At an approximate operating cost of $250,000 per branch per year, providing walkable library access for nearly everyone in town could add as much as $1.5 million to the city budget, setting aside the initial cost of establishing the additional branches. The city’s spending on all library services this year totals $4.2 million.

The study also shows that, contrary to assertions of branch library backers, the branches do a relatively poor job of serving the portion of the city’s population that lives in poverty.

The data shows that of the 7,392 Evanston residents listed as living in poverty in the 2000 census, 33.4 percent live within walking distance of the main library downtown, 12.4 percent live within walking distance of the south branch library on Chicago Avenue, and only 2 percent live within walking distance of the north branch library on Central Street.

The analysis, included in a budget memo prepared for Monday’s City Council meeting, was requested by Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward.

The alderman didn’t discuss the library budget, including the city manager’s proposal to close the branch libraries, Monday night, but are expected to address the issue when they hold another special budget meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

(Editor’s note: The city study omitted data from two census block groups that were roughly evenly split between the walkable and non-walkable zones. For this story we’ve added those areas back in, dividing their populations evenly between the walkable and nonwalkable categories, so that percentages could be calculated based on the city’s total population.)
 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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14 Comments

  1. “walkable” is 1/2 mile? Ya gotta be kidding!

    Dear Americans – please wake up from the automotive dream to reality.

    POINT 1> I am 60 years old and I easily walk 1.5 miles from my home, two blocks from the useless-to-me north branch, to the main library. It takes me 30 minutes. I carry my books in a backpack.

    POINT 2> If I am feeling lazy, I ride my bike 1.5 miles to the main library in 10 minutes. I carry my books in a milk crate on the back of the bike.

    POINT 3> from Wilmette to Chicago, one can bike through all of Evanston north to south in 20 minutes. There is no place in town that requires more than 20 minutes to reach by bike.

    POINT 4> All around town I see many very heavy folks eating in our many restaurants. There are no bikes parked in front of these restaurants.

    Come on, folks, every human being is born with two legs. A very nice bike can be bought new for $300, less than a typical monthly payment on a new car. Our bodies also come equipped with grey matter inside the skull, which, I understand, is capable of reasoning.

     

    1. I forgot – public transportation to the library

      I forgot a POINT 5 in my list – use public transportation

  2. What has two legs in the morning…

    Cliff, while I applaud your ability to get around town, remember that many library patrons, especially those most in need of free educational resources, have small children.  This makes the kinds of human-powered transportation you’re describing nigh on impossible – especially since for many of my neighbors, a $300 bike is an impossible dream, much less a bike with safe child carriers or a small fleet of bikes of various sizes.

    I agree, we’d need a whole series of branch libraries in order to fairly distribute services, but there are more efficient ways to provide for patrons who have difficulty getting downtown.  I’d like to see the branch money go towards an outreach plan that ensures everyone has equitable access.

  3. Half-mile is ridiculous

    The half-mile definition for "walkable" seems quite ridiculous, and can be easily covered by even the youngest Evanstonian.  I don’t really have a dog in this fight, besides my astronomical property taxes, but if I had to put money on this "data", I’d bet that the "walkable distance" was carefully selected to provide a pre-determined end result.

    Lies, damn lies, and statistics.

    1. Walking distance

      Any definition of "walking distance" is going to be subject to dispute.

      But when Evanston’s downtown plan was being developed, convenient walking distance was frequently referred to by the consultants working on the project as being a quarter mile. So a half mile is certainly one plausible definition of what’s walkable. For many people it would typically be a 10 minute walk.

      The point is that unless we can agree on some definition of what we mean by walkable, there is no way to determine whether different areas of town do or don’t have "walkable" access to library services.

      Then, of course, we need to decide whether we can afford to provide "walkable" service for everyone. And if we can’t afford to do that, then we need to decide whether we should continue to provide it for some, while denying it to others — and what the priorities should be for deciding which areas get it.

      — Bill

       

      1. Walking Distance

        I recall the woman complained about doing away with the North Branch.  She said she walks with her kids to the North Branch several times a week.  She then gave distances from her house to the North Branch and Main Library to show how the extra distance would make so much of a difference.  Using those distances she gave, she would have to live by Ackerman Park to find a spot that matched those distances.

        She obviously likes to walk—and to get kids to walk that distance several times a week [year round?] is remarkable.  I must admit I’d not want to walk that far that often—esp. with kids.   I’d consider walking south to Central and taking the bus to Main—or closer yet to the Wilmette Library.

        So some people consider several miles  "walkable."

  4. Bang for the Buck

    These are really interesting statistics.  They really show the importance of the branch libraries in Evanston.  22.3% (14.8% + 7.5%) of Evanston Residents are within walking distance to a branch libraries at a cost of $500,000/year, while only 16 percent of Evanstonians are within walking distance to the main branch at a cost of $3.7 million/year.  This makes the branch libraries sound like a great deal.  I think it would be really detrimental to the whole EPL system for these branches to be shut down.  Closing the branches would put a library out of reach for many residents.

    1. What did Disraeli say about statistics?

      They really show the importance of the branch libraries in Evanston.  22.3% (14.8% + 7.5%) of Evanston Residents are within walking distance to a branch libraries at a cost of $500,000/year, while only 16 percent of Evanstonians are within walking distance to the main branch at a cost of $3.7 million/year. 

      Your accounting would make sense if you were proposing a network of branch libraries throughout Evanston, so that each neighborhood had a branch within walking distance.  Instead, what he have is a system where those who are most likely to be able  to drive to the Main library or Wilmette library have their branches, while those who would most benefit from a branch library do not.  What would the total cost be of nine or ten branch libraries versus one main library?

      Furthermore, if cost-effectiveness and reaching the most people is your goal,  perhaps kiosks or bookmobiles would be even better than branches.

      And finally, does your $3.7 million figure include the central administration of the libraries – without which the branches could not function?

       

       

    2. Stats support the branches

      First, we could argue whether 38% within 1/2 mile "walking" distance is a glass 38% full or 62% empty, but obviously, if you closed  the branches, walkability would decline dramatically.

      Second, while walkability for many urban planners is 1/2 mile for purposes of realtors it is usually thought of as more. The CEOs for Cities study used a 1-mile figure.  I regularly walk a mile to destinations. If you used a 3/4 figure, even, a majority of Evanstonians can walk to a library.

      Third, the article uses poverty-level stats selectively and generalizes to neighborhoods, which is misleading. The source document cited to shows that 3,279 of 6,749 — 48.6% — persons under the poverty level live within walking distance of a library. By comparison, 25,251 of 66,863 — 37.8% — persons above the poverty level live within walking distance of a library. I.e., a higher percentage of those below the poverty level are within easy walkability of a library than those of Evanston fortunate enough to not fall below that marker. Fewer than 3,500 of Evanston’s residents live below the porverty level and more than 1/2 mile from a library.

      Finally, that many live more than 1/2 mile, or even a mile, is an argument for more, not fewer, branch libraries. Cutting won’t increase anyone’s access. Adding a fourth circle to the map you show in a well-planned location would provide more access for all.

      1. Shame on the City Council – SSA was fair compromise

        Jeff Smith,

        Just curious, how do you feel about the fact that an unelected library board voted itself a taxing body without ever holding a public hearing during this severe economic crisis? 

        And why should folks hard hit in the Fifth Ward and west Evanston shell out more money for a library tax (no cuts were made) when there are no branch libraries in their neighborhood?

        If a special service area (SSA) is not good for the Library Board and Friends of the EPL then what about a voter referendum? 

        The economy is not improving and next year’s budget will see cutbacks. These poor folks in the Fifth Ward where just about every home sale is a foreclosure are now going to see higher property taxes, city and school taxes, gas taxes, a new library tax, water and electric rate hikes and an increase in food prices.

        It seems they and others who don’t have a branch library in their neighborhood are being asked to suck it up some more so that others can have their precious branch libraries. 

        BTW – It was appalling that the SSA did not pass. Folks who don’t have a branch library in their area should be livid at their alderperson who did not vote for an SSA because they will now pay extra for two branch libraries in some other area during these tough economic times.

        And all this and voters didn’t have a say (no referendum, no public hearing and they can’t vote out Library Board members).

        Disclaimer – I live in the Sixth Ward and less than a half mile from the Central Street branch and I have used it.

        Aldermen Mark Tendam’s response to the SSA proposal that people in the Sixth Ward pay enough taxes was classic. Yeah, people in the Sixth Ward would wake up if the Council tried to push an SSA on them and Tendam knew it because we and all Evanstonians pay enough taxes and we will be paying more thanks to Tendam and the rest of the Council.

        I hope everyone including people in the Sixth Ward wake up and notice the new library tax and all the other taxes and rate hikes this year along with the property tax increase.

      2. More density nonsense

        The source document cited to shows that 3,279 of 6,749 — 48.6% — persons under the poverty level live within walking distance of a library. By comparison, 25,251 of 66,863 — 37.8% — persons above the poverty level live within walking distance of a library. I.e., a higher percentage of those below the poverty level are within easy walkability of a library than those of Evanston fortunate enough to not fall below that marker.

         Wealthier people live in bigger homes, on bigger lots, in neighborhoods with low population density.   They then have a longer distance to travel to get to the library, or grocery store, or post office.

        That is their fault…we should not be expected to cater to them by providing them with branch libraries…they can get in their SUV’s and drive to Wilmettte.

        Maybe zoning should be revised to encourage higher population density, so more people will be near libraries.

    3. Have you been IN a branch library?

      Most people walk (ride/drive/take public transportation) right past them to get to the lovely, new main library. 

    4. Good point.

       Nice point, Ben. That brings up another interesting scenario. If the SSA were to really apply here, then the residents who would pay the SSA for their branches ($500k of the budget) shouldn’t then also be paying for the Main library, right?

      So, should the rest of the residents (not in either SSA area for the branches) then be taxed for an SSA for Main and split the cost of the lion’s share of the EPL budget of $3.7million? Should an SSA be developed for Main? Or Robert Crown? Or the Levy Center? Or are these simply services that our City provides to all residents, regardless of walkability, or geography?

      When we begin to estimate the value of the libraries to our community overall, and their clearly demonstrated worth (in terms of education, economics, and social good) then we should all be in favor of them for what they provide for the greater good.

      I don’t use Crown or Levy, but I gladly pay into a system of taxes to support them since I think they are important to Evanston, and to the residents who do utilize them. People may argue that the libraries are a duplication of services, but no more so than Chandler and Fleetwood, and while I rarely use either of those facilities, believe that they are important to provide to the citizens who do use them. Closing branches amounts to cutting off our noses to spite our faces. 

  5. Library Not Walkable For Most

    I live in the 5th ward, wich is one of the poorest wards.  Being an ex-reading teacher, now retired, I am truly disappointed at the lack of use of the library in this part of town.  I belong to several community clubs and a church in this area, and I am still involved with students on a voluntary basis, so I am somewhat aware of reading habits of many families.

    It is like leading a horse to water to get our community as a whole to read.  It is no wonder there isn’t a branch in this area.  It would probably die a slow death from lack of use.  I speak from experience:  I saw this happen with several small branches in Ohio, where the neighborhood changed socially and economically.

    Until we wake up, read, and become aware of what is going on in the world, we will always be taken advantage of in some way…hence unfair library taxes and whatever else they want to throw at us.

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