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Protected bike lanes for Dodge win split vote

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Evanston aldermen on a 6-3 vote Monday night approved plans to replace the current Dodge Avenue bike lanes with protected bike lanes, similar to the ones recently installed in downtown Evanston.

The council majority rejected an alternative option for buffered bike lanes proposed by city staff that would have reduced the the number of parking spaces to be removed for the project.

A drawing of a buffered bike lane from the city staff presentation.

The protected bike lane on Church Street downtown.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she believed the protected lane approach would be safer for riders.

"I'm not sure how much people respect that pavement striping," Wynne said, adding that it's "really critical" that students be able to ride safely to and from Evanston Township High School.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she'd seen studies from other communities that indicate protected bike lanes — which shield bikers from moving traffic with a line of parked cars — are safer than buffered ones.

Both pose a risk of a cyclist being hit by an opening car door, she noted, but with most cars occupied by just a driver, more door-opening incidents happen on the drivers side.

And if a cyclist in a protected lane has to dodge an opening door, he may end up on the parkway, while the same maneuver on a buffered bike lane could leave the cyclist sprawled in the traffic lane.

But two aldermen who have constituents living along Dodge Avenue strongly favored the buffered plan.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite said the buffered lane would require elimination of 61 fewer parking spaces than the protected lane would greatly inconvenience residents.

"I know this [buffered] plan is not ideal to bike enthusiasts out there, but on behalf of the neighbors I think that it's a good solution," Braithwaite said.

"I'm not aware of any major accidents on Dodge now," he added, "and I feel just as safe riding down Dodge as Church."

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she doesn't see motorists speeding on Dodge — that traffic is so heavy lines of cars are backed up and traffic is congested and slow.

She called the buffered lanes approach a much better solution — especially near James Park where parking is very tight.

But Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said Evanston is not really very bike friendly. The avid cyclist said "Evanston is the most hostile environment to ride in from here to Wisconsin, and Dodge Avenue and Central Street are probably the two most hostile streets in town."

Wilson said the city should look at providing more parking at James Park, but not give up on the protected bike lanes plan. "Adding some paint to the existing lanes isn't going to change anything," he added.

The staff report says there are now 532 parking spaces on the affected stretch of Dodge between Howard and Church streets. That, the report said, would have been reduced by 32 using buffered bike lanes and now will be cut by 93 using the protected lanes approach.

Alderman had unanimously approved the protected bike lane approach last year and staff had won approval for it from the regional planning agency and state transportation department. Those approvals would have had to have been renegotiated to switch to the buffered design.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, joined Braithwaite and Rainey in voting against the protected bike lane option.

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