A Lot of Talk

By John Hennelly

It has been a busy month at Go Evanston. We “tabled” at Streets Alive (Sept. 10 on Main) and Bike the Ridge (Oct. 1), and had hundreds of conversations, and hundreds of people joined our movement. Even Mayor Hagerty himself signed up for our emails. 

We (myself and my fellow Go Evanston volunteers) talked to many, many people, and here’s the big takeaway: everyone has something to say about traffic. Try it yourself: walk around downtown and say “traffic” to people. They may think it a bit strange, but will likely offer an opinion. 

At Streets Alive and Bike the Ridge almost everyone I spoke with supported the Go Evanston cause: streets that work for everyone. But after that…opinions varied. One gentlemen argued with passion that installing a left turn signal at Ridge and Lake should be our top priority. Every child trying to cross that tight intersection risked injury from cars turning left. He had just moved here from Brooklyn, and thought Ridge was nuts. When a New Yorker says a road is bad, it must be pretty bad. 

I spoke with a mom who held a child on her hip while another tugged her hand, impatient to go. But she held on. She wanted to tell me something. They live on Oakton, she said, and feel trapped between Ridge and Asbury. She pleaded with me to get the Oakton/Ridge intersection re-engineered to be safe for children to cross. Her child pulled at her, but she managed to hold both children and sign-up for Go Evanston. 

An older couple had just moved to Evanston from the west suburbs, and though they loved their new home, they missed the Prairie Path. They wished there were more bike trails here, with easier access, and they were glad to meet me and know they had an ally.

Numerous people with mobility challenges felt left out by our current network (good news: you can use Google maps for mobility info). Many parents confessed they worry when their child heads out the door. Children need more independence as they grow, but kids don’t always pay attention, and neither do drivers, so parents worry. 

One women, upon hearing about Go Evanston, went on a long rant about the lawlessness of bicyclists. I told her I agree with everything she said but one word: change bikers to drivers. She thought about it, and then agreed that cars were pretty bad too. Everyone should follow the rules, she announced. I agreed with that, and she signed up. 

It was all a lot of talk. Maybe that is a problem. It is an old and hard held article of faith within the American ethos that talk doesn’t mean much. If you want to get anything done, you have to stop talking and start doing. 

But here is something I have learned in the past year: Talk is how streets get built. 

Good streets, that work for everyone and are safe for kids, don’t get built by accident. They get built because people show up at ward meetings and public hearings, they call their alderman, they email the mayor, they weigh in on public comment surveys. They talk and talk and talk. Experts and politicians listen, they add up the comments, they talk amongst themselves, they debate in committees and at Council meetings, and in the end, they vote, and their vote is based on all that talk. 

Those of us who believe that streets should work for everyone have, for too long, not been part of the conversation. I know I wasn’t until the Dodge bike lane turned my head. Now, I am a big talker, and this past month it has been a joy to talk to so many people with so many opinions. 

Among several goals, Go Evanston wants to get more people involved in the discussion about how our streets should work. In the coming months and years our community will make decisions, big and small, about our streets. If we stay quiet, we will get wider lanes, more traffic, and less room for people not in cars. Don’t wait for me or someone else to ask you your opinion: go to your ward meetings (see Events). Bring a neighbor along. Speak up. Tell your story, and push for streets that work for everyone.

So yeah, it may sound like just a lot of talk, but it turns out, that’s how things get done. In fact, talk is the sound of a growing movement.