It all started with a proposal to put a Burger King on the corner of Sheridan and Farwell almost 30 years ago. The first Sheridan Road improvement plan was a reaction to the idea of this chain restaurant, and other chains, moving into the neighborhood. Residents wanted to avoid the residential neighborhood becoming a strip of businesses that catered to commuters driving from the north suburbs into the Loop.

For the 2010 Sheridan Road Steering Committee, the challenge remains to create a livable, walk-able community out of a thoroughfare most see as a highway to downtown. In a full classroom at Loyola University Tuesday, the committee presented its ideal vision for the changes to the street over the next 10 years.

Don Gordon, chair of the transportation and safety subcommittee, views the recommendations as the beginning of a process that would transform the road to a pedestrian-friendly mixed-use area with a focus on safety for families and cyclists.,

The addition of bike lanes was the subject of a heated discussion between residents and committee members. There are currently no bike lanes on Sheridan between Devon and Howard. The Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation will have to approve any changes to the lane markings or parking on the street.

“You are taking your life in your hands right now if you ride your bike on Sheridan Road,” said Trudy Gardiner, a retiree who has lived in Rogers Park for 28 years and bikes, runs or walks the road daily. She said she’d rather get a ticket for riding on the sidewalk and stay alive, than risk riding on the road legally.

The committee will have to consult IDOT to see if the road is wide enough to add bike lanes without eliminating a lane of traffic, Gordon said. One possibility is the elimination of parking along one side of Sheridan. He suggested making up for those spaces by changing some of the side streets to diagonal parking, which replaces two parallel parking spaces with three cars.

Local business owners were wary of any plan that eliminates any parking at all, saying the parking already was limited on Sheridan, and the side streets were mostly permit parking only for residents.

Rogers Park Business Alliance Executive Director Kimberly Bares admitted that the job of CDOT and IDOT “to move cars as fast as possible” was at odds with the steering committee’s plan “to create a walk-able and livable community.” She said her group is ready for the fight.

The transportation subcommittee spent the summer collecting data about the road, from traffic counts to pedestrian numbers, spending one Sunday in July surveying Sheridan Road and noting the changes that needed to be made.

As the committee members walked north along Sheridan, the first thing they noticed was that the sidewalks narrowed from 8 feet, to 6 feet, to sections near Howard where people had to walk single file. Gardiner noted the lack of pedestrian lighting. “The streetlights hang over the road,” and the trees block most of the light from reaching the sidewalks, she said.

They also enlisted Loyola student volunteers to observe pedestrian activity at the major intersections along Sheridan. The students recorded how many pedestrians crossed the street and how many had dogs, strollers or kids in tow. One observation was that the walk signals needed to be lengthened to accommodate slower walkers and children crossing at major streets.

Ald. Joseph Moore (49th) attended the meeting to hear the committee’s ideas. He said his own transportation committee was already considering some of the improvements that were being discussed, and many of the projects could be funded with money from the city through Moore’s participatory budgeting process. He suggested the two groups meet to share information before moving forward.

The steering committee hopes to finalize its plan for Sheridan Road by January of 2011. When the plan is complete, the Rogers Park Business Alliance will distribute copies on its website, through its Facebook site, and in a publication it produces three times a year.