Some see red over planned traffic signal

Most speakers at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday night said they oppose plans to install a new traffic signal on Sheridan Road south of Garrett Place at the entrance to a Northwestern University parking lot.

Some claimed to be upset they’d not been told about the plans and given a chance to discuss them previously.

Others said the signal would interfere with the flow of traffic on Sheridan and end up sending more traffic onto other streets.

Although plans for the traffic signal were reported on Jan. 22 by the Daily Northwestern and by Evanston Now, Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said four months later at the May 24 City Council meeting when the proposal came up for a vote that there hadn’t been enough time for neighbors to discuss the issue. She asked that the council postpone a decision on the light until after Tuesday’s ward meeting.

The new signal would be an addition to a larger plan for upgrading traffic lights on Sheridan to provide better traffic management by coordinating signal timing and adding left turn signals at more intersections, said the city’s transportation director, Paul Schneider.

The rest of the upgrade plan was approved by aldermen last week and is to be funded mostly by a federal grant. The university would pay for the additional light.

Fiske said she was concerned the new signal would not improve pedestrian safety and would only guide traffic in and out of the parking lot.

But Ron Nayler, the school’s associate vice president for facilities management, said the school wants to improve safety for both pedestrians and drivers at the intersection.

He said the main issue for pedestrians is providing more protection for people walking north-south along the east side of Sheridan Road — where they now have to dodge cars entering and leaving the parking lot.

He said pedestrian traffic in that direction is very heavy, especially during class change periods.

Speakers at the meeting suggested issuing more tickets to drivers and pedestrians instead, or stationing a police officer at the proposed signal location.

They also focused on the issue of pedestrians walking east-west across Sheridan. Some older residents complained that students cross anywhere along the road without regard to traffic, although a few conceded that they sometimes cross at mid-block themselves.

One man argued for building a pedestrian bridge across the road, but Schneider said that assessibility requirements make such overpasses extremely expensive to build, and Naylor argued that overpasses are rarely used unless fences or other barriers prevent people from crossing at any other point.

Jeanne Lindwall, of 625 Library Place, said she feared the additional signal would slow traffic on Sheridan, leading drivers to use other routes.

But Schneider said that the overall plan to interconnect all the signals would improve conditions, creating "a smooth, steady flow" on Sheridan that should not make drivers want to find alternate routes.

He also argued that under current conditions many drivers who want to turn left out of the parking lot instead are forced by the heavy traffic to turn right, and then wind their way through neighborhood streets to reverse direction and continue their journey south.

The light, he said, would let them safely turn left and stay on Sheridan.

Not all Evanstonians at the meeting opposed the new signal.

Chuck Lewis, of 2735 Sheridan Road in the 7th Ward, praised the professional staff from the city and university for working together to develop a solution to the issue.

He said he was troubled by "the undertone of hostility" toward the university at the meeting and suggested that opponents were imagining adverse impacts that would not actually come to pass.

And Claire Lew, the newly elected president of NU’s student government, said the intersection now is "incredibly dangerous" for students and said that the overwhelming sentiment among students favors the new light.

The new traffic signal project is expected to be on the City Council’s agenda for a vote on June 14.

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