Evanston’s Transportation and Parking Committee Wednesday night approved a pilot program to see whether signs that remind motorists and cyclists about bicycle hand signals can reduce car-bike collisions in the city.

The project, developed by students in the Design for America program at Northwestern University, would add four to six of the signs to existing signposts near intersections around town and then try to measure whether they increased usage of the hand signals and whether that had any impact on the number of accidents.

Charles Tokowitz, one of the students who developed the project said there were 78 accidents involving bicycles last year, and many of them occur at intersections, often because cyclists and drivers weren’t aware of each others intentions.

The proposed design for the bike hand signal signs.

Tokowitz says surveys by the student group indicate that only about 30 percent of cyclists know about the hand signals — but, of those who do know them, two-thirds use them. And, he added, motorists who rarely cycle are even less likely to know what the signals mean.

Alderman Mark Tendam suggested that knowledge of the hand signals may be age-related — because older drivers may remember when motorists were expected to use the same signals if their car didn’t have functioning turn signals. And Parking Director Rickey Voss suggested motorcyclists may be more knowledgeable about the signals than most drivers — because motorcycles still are not legally required to have turn signals.

In approving the project the committee did make one change — saying the label for the “hand down” gesture should be changed from “Slow” to “Stop” — which matches the meaning ascribed to it in the Secretary of State’s Bicycle Rules of the Road booklet.

In other business, the committee:

  • Voted to add four on-street meter parking spaces on the west side of Ewing Avenue south of Central Street to respond to increased demand for parking created by new businesses in the area.
  • Discussed how to develop standards for locating on-street bike corrals around town — in response to a new request for one at Bucephelus Bikes at 1439 Lake St.
  • Approved staff proposals for developing final terms for operating agreements for the Divvy Bike share program.
  • Approved staff recommendations for locations for 10 planned Divvy bike share locations in the city.
  • Approved a new program for deciding where to place bike racks in Evanston.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hand signal signs

    I thought we put together a program on rules of road for cyclists  a few months ago. Wouldn't knowledge of hand signals be more important before  they hit the streets? This sounds like closing  barn door after animals got out.  What became of keeping bikes off the sidewalks? Perhaps pedestrians should be  using bike lanes since bikers aren't. 

    1. Hand signal signs

      Contrary to your belief that nobody uses the bike lanes, people actually do and oddly enough stray pedestrians find their way into the bike lanes as well.

  2. Bikes

    How about enforcing the traffic laws against the large percentage of lawbreaking bicyclists?  That might reduce the number of collisions.

    When I'm on foot downtown, I'm frequently buzzed by cyclists blowing through stop signs.  And I'm particularly concerned about cyclists going the wrong way in the bike lanes down Davis and Church.  Pedestrians and motorists don't expect wrong way traffic.  

    The police could set up an occasional checkpoint and write some tickets.  With publicity, that could help get the word out to cyclists that they, too, must obey the traffic laws.  I hope a serious collision isn't required before cyclist (and police) conduct changes.


    1. Demonizing cyclists is a function of car centric culture

      How about enforcing the traffic laws against the large number of lawbreaking drivers? That might reduce the number of deaths. When I'm walking, or riding my bicycle anywhere in Evanston, I fear drivers who:

      1. drive distractedly and text

      2. exceed the speed limit

      3. fail to pass me with the required 3' passing distance when I'm cycling (and are totally unaware it's the law because police NEVER enforce it)

      4. roll stops signs

      It is a total myth that bicyclists have a corner on breaking the law.  Rather everyone (cyclists, drivers and pedestrians) makes a risk benefit calculation, but it's the most vulnerable users–non-motorists–who make it in the context of public spaces designed overwhelmingly for autos. Non motorists, as minorities, are conveniently demonized when they dare use those spaces according to their needs–"jay"walking, anyone? (look up the history of that word!)

      When street design accommodates cyclists with bicycle-specific signals, as Dearborn street did in Chicago in 2013, compliance increased 160% (go ahead–google the Trib article which quotes Gabe Klein on the topic) If one questioned street design instead of people who use the street,  one wouldn't be so quick to demonize cyclists riding the "wrong way" in Evanston's bike lanes.  Why not ask,  "why are the bike lanes one way just because Church and Davis are one way streets"? or better yet, "Why are Church and Davis one way streets?" (answer: one way streets foster speeding)

      Instead of demonizing cyclists for menacing pedestrians, better to redesign streets and traffic laws to protect cyclists and pedestrians from the vehicle which kills more than 45,000 people every year. It's called Vision Zero.

    2. Use intuitive hand signals instead of reviving archaic ones

      If significant percentages of both bicyclists and motorists don't know these signals because they are archaic (ie.: of the days when cars didn't have turn signals), the solution is not to revive them and create more sign clutter. The solution is to use something intuitive–like pointing–to indicate a turn.

  3. Oh good — more signs when tickets should be considered

    Driving north on Asbury the other day convinced me that some bikers have no concept of the danger that they put themselves in.  Tall young guy dressed all in white who had been biking on the far right side of the street came shooting up behind my car on the left side as we drove through an intersection.  He then went flying in front of me back to the far right side of the street.

    As I approached the next intersection, I turned on my left blinker as I looked in my left rear view mirror.  There he was again, just about to blast past me on the left so I slammed on my brakes.  He actually turned left but who knew that is what he would do based on his actions 20 seconds earlier. 

    I like bikes.  I own one.  I ride it frequently as do all of my family members.  But none of us would take such chances on a bike.  Don't signal if you are turning or stopping? How about a ticket with safety classes required with no fine unless it is the third offense in less than one year.  That could help.

    1. Bike Signs, Yes. Cars Definitely !
      I’d say at least 1/3 of car drivers don’t use their signals even for left turns, even on streets like Sheridan, Ridge, etc.. Esp. if they “think” no one is around but bikes, pedestrians and other cars need warnings but the drivers seem to think they can make-up their mind at the last minute.
      As far as the state law that signals must be used 140 before a turn [e.g. close to a 50 yard line in football] or when changing lanes—forget it. If they signal at all it is after they stop [if they even do] and just before the turn.

  4. common knowledge

    This could be a good idea. It's much easier to get around when the "rules of engagement" are common knowledge. Even if cyclists knew and used hand signals for turns, not all motorists would know what the signals meant, and cyclists would not trust them to know. So the signals are pretty useless

    The car-centric view of some is amusing to me. Why should the same traffic laws apply to cars and bikes? If that is what you want then I'll start riding in the middle of the road. Don't pass me, it's illegal!

  5. Ok… fine

    Ok, fine, post the signs regarding bike signals.

    Frankly, just another example of the nanny state City of Evanston getting into everyone's business.  Are there not OTHER important issues at hand?  I guess not, opportunities to regulate and rule take priority.  Classic.

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