‘Top transit’ rating or no, Evanston’s connected by road, rail
Commuters wait to board a Metra train at the Davis Street station Aug. 20 in downtown Evanston. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 1, 2012 6:19AM
EVANSTON — On a sunny weekday afternoon Dorothy Gonzales stood near a Davis Street bus stop peering at a poster displaying a colorful web of bus routes and rail lines.
She went to downtown Evanston that morning to catch a flick at a local cinema and grab a bite to eat. As she patiently waited for Pace bus No. 208 to bring her back home to Des Plaines, she talked about the ease of traveling from one town to another.
“I see and do more than people with two cars,” she said, noting she also takes a public bus west to Schaumburg to shop and socialize. Not having a drivers license hasn’t slowed her down yet, she said.
Navigating Evanston and the northern suburbs via rail and bus is made possible by well-developed transit systems that connect one municipality to the next.
Neighboring Wilmette recently earned the distinction of being the No. 1 “top transit suburb” of 20 in a DePaul University-based study focused on metropolitan development.
“City suburbs” with rapid-transit service to their downtown areas like Evanston were excluded from the study, but locals insist the town’s public-transportation options are top-notch.
All three operations under Chicagoland’s Regional Transportation Authority have routes that wind through Evanston.
Davis Street serves as the hub, as that’s where the Chicago Transit Authority bus and rail system, Metra commuter rail and Pace suburban bus service converge.
“The city is very proud of that,” Intergovernmental Affairs Coordinator Matt Swentkofske said of the location.
Other transit hot spots are Howard Street (where the Purple Line connects with the Red Line from Chicago), Dempster Street and Chicago Avenue, Main Street and Chicago Avenue, and Central Street and Green Bay Road.
According to Community and Economic Development Director Steve Griffin, a good transportation system is good for business.
“That’s one of our biggest selling points in recruiting new prospects,” he said, as businesses near commuter rail lines in Evanston draw both urban and suburban professionals.
For example, at least half of Leapfrog Online’s local workforce commutes daily by train to an office on Greenwood Street off Sherman Avenue, according to Executive Vice President Jason Wadler.
The company employs 120 people in its Evanston office, he said.
The nearby CTA and Metra stations at Dempster Street are selling points for those who live in Chicago or suburbs farther north.
He noted the work of the digital-marketing firm tends to appeal to younger and tech-savvy workers.
Without close proximity to public transit, Wadler said, “I think the ability to recruit the types of folks we’re trying to attract would be more challenging.”
The accessibility and availability of public trains and buses locally isn’t by happenstance.
Swentkofske said Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and members of the City Council make a concerted effort to reach out to the transit companies that cut through their town.
“We are at the heart of transit in the North Shore,” he said. “It is important to have those strong working relationships.”
A decade-long collaboration between government and CTA officials that resulted in the reconstruction of three aging viaducts demonstrates the importance of collaborating to keep the city moving.
Swentkofske put into perspective the need for replacing the Purple Line bridges at Grove, Dempster and Greenleaf streets: “They were built before the Cubs last won a World Series,” he said.
According to the CTA website, additional site work — including the installation of new sidewalks, fencing and landscaping — is expected to be complete by end of this year.