WILMETTE – The Wilmette Municipal Services Committee on May 3 voted 3-2 in favor of keeping Central Avenue’s traffic patterns the same, rejecting the idea of a shared bike lane that would eliminate parking on some portions of the street. Trustee Julie Wolf voted in favor of shared lanes for cyclists and drivers.
The issue was part of the committee’s broader discussion of the Central Avenue Reconstruction Project. The village has received a $3.5 million federal grant and is nearing the close of Phase I of the project that will include resurfacing Central Avenue.
The Village Board will make the final decision regarding Central Avenue’s roadway configuration. The next Village Board is scheduled for May 9.
Brian Fairwood, a consultant with the engineering firm TranSystems, said at the May 3 meeting that the village was considering three potential options for roadway configuration on Central Avenue from 11th Street to Sheridan Road. Another option that included dedicated bike lanes was off the table.
The first option would leave the street as is, which includes parking on both sides of the street and no marked bike lanes. The other two options create shared lanes for cyclists and drivers, with marking on the pavement for bikers, and either parking on the south side of the street only in one option, or staggered parking on the north and south sides of the streets in another option.
“These options will allow for a shared bike lane as well as some parking,” Fairwood said.
Fairwood said that in determining how to stagger the parking on the north and south sides of the street, they took into consideration home driveways. The consultants also conducted 18 parking counts, finding that that the Central Avenue corridor operates at about 30% capacity. Most parking was concentrated by Central Elementary School.
Many residents of Central Avenue attended the meeting and spoke out against changing the roadway configuration, citing concerns over safety, loss of parking and speeding.
“I am very concerned with the safety of all of these things on one road,” Kelly Gruner told the committee. “Why is this viewed as a safe option to have buses, bikes and cars in the area?”
Residents questioned the parking study, noting that parking demand increases in the summer, when more people head to the beach and when events are held at the local churches, schools and downtown.
“I think the best option for the people who live on Central Avenue is to maintain the parking on both sides of the street,” resident Gary Thompson said. Thompson also asked whether the village was trying to solve an existing problem with bikes on Central Avenue.
Brigitte Berger-Raish, director of engineering and public works, said the considerations were in compliance with the village’s “complete street ordinance.” This ordinance requires that the village be inclusive of all modes of transportation, including bikes, pedestrians and cars.
But a number of residents who are avid cyclists spoke in support of shared bike lanes. Barry Berk said Central Avenue is a popular route for cyclists.
“You are going to have bikes on Central whether you have shared lanes or not,” he said.
Two Park District commissioners spoke in favor of shared bike lines, noting that it improved east-west transportation within the village.
“I hope you will look at this with a holistic view and consider all of the people in the village,” John Olvany, Park District president, told the committee. Likewise, Commissioner Ryrie Pellaton urged the committee to consider shared bike lanes.
“We want to make sure that people can get to the park,” Pellaton said.
But the committee ultimately voted against shared bike lines, citing Central Avenue residents’ concerns.
“If we go with (shared bike lanes) we are going to change the character of Central Avenue,” Trustee Dan Sullivan said. “I really have a hard time giving up over 100 parking spaces.”
Likewise, Trustee Cameron Krueger also deferred to the Central Avenue residents’ concerns.
“I think it is a good thing to do but not the right thing to do. I really weigh heavily the residents’ opinions,” he said.
But Wolf voted in favor of shared bike lanes that would stagger the parking along the north and south sides of the street.
“I think this is a time we can make some changes,” she said.
Krueger said the village should improve signage for the bike route that runs along Greenleaf Avenue, noting that could create the east-west route for cyclists in the village.