A Highline for Evanston?

Evanston, Illinois’ City Council approved a planning grant application (see pg. 271 of the .pdf) last week that will provide funding for a Transit Oriented Development Plan at Main and Chicago Avenues.

It is a logical place for TOD given that the intersection is served both by a CTA EL line and Metra’s regional commuter rail.  The neighborhood is walkable, mixed use, and has a nice variety of small businesses.  One problem that the new plan will likely attempt to alleviate is the poor pedestrian connections between the two stations.  As it stands now, folks making transfers have to go around the block and walk under a dark viaduct.  There are no wayfinding signs at either station,  so those unfamiliar with the area often have trouble navigating transfers.  A more transit-friendly plan could open up the space between the stations for transfers.

More intriguing to me in the memo was a desire to explore a “highline” concept for bikes and pedestrians in the railroads’ right-of-way.  The staff memo cites the very popular Highline project in New York which converted an unused elevated rail line into an elevated park.  Chicago is currently planning its own elevated park with its 3-mile Bloomingdale Trail project that will link Logan Square with Goose Island using an abandoned elevated rail corridor.

Evanston would be a great site for a similar project as there is ample space between the Metra and CTA tracks that is currently underutilized.  The photo on the right shows the current state of the space between the two rail lines which offers a few  long-term parking spaces but otherwise is a “dead zone” of activity.  Furthermore, the two rail lines run parallel on a berm roughly from the city’s southern border  two miles north to the center of downtown.

It would be an easy and relatively inexpensive project to have a Highline the entire stretch of rail corridor.  This would improve bike mobility immensely as a safe and convenient North-South connection could entice cyclists who are uncomfortable with riding on Chicago Avenue.

It is not inconceivable to see this project as the opening section of an eventual “bike superhighway” alongside the Metra berm connecting Evanston with downtown Chicago 12 miles away.