Cyclists face struggles in Chicago Suburbs


In a Tribune article this morning(a few days ago now) from Contact Reporter Mary Wisniewski, the struggles of cyclists in Chicago Area suburbs were detailed. In a report from the Active Transportation Alliance, which promotes biking, apparently Suburban bikers still face many discomforts despite the city of Chicago in contrast being one of the most cyclist friendly cities in the country. One problem is that Suburbs were really constructed for car transportation and it’s tough integrating biking transportation effectively into them. Things like Highway overpasses force bikers to travel far to go around it and sometimes face busy suburban streets that make cyclists nervous. But another is that the suburbs themselves haven’t done a good job implementing bike friendly policies compared to their city counterparts. According to Wisniewski, “The report identified five different problems for suburban cyclists: most suburbs are not designed to be bike-friendly; too few suburbs have bike and pedestrian-friendly policies in place; the number of people biking to work may be falling; bike crashes remain stubbornly high; and large gaps remain in the regional trail network. An average of 10 bicyclists are killed annually in the suburbs, and 1,171 are injured, according to Illinois Department of Transportation statistics, cited in the report.” So while there are inherent design issues that make integrating biking tough, the lack of bike and pedestrian friendly policies has made biking even more uncomfortable and unsafe in certain Suburbs.

These problems are connected obviously and some are advocating adding bike lanes or pedestrian islands to make things safer and easier for both to move around. Bill Chalberg, the president of the Downers Grove Cyclists Club argued, “I think there’s an opportunity to improve things by adding bike lanes,” said Chalberg. “It’s a leap of faith. If you put them in, slowly I think people will use them.” While the city of Chicago has clear plans in place to continue to improve things for cyclists, which is apparently syphoning off corporate opportunities from the suburbs due to the youth friendly nature of the bike plans, suburbs have no urgent plans in place. Even the ones that do have plans apparently have “let them gather dust on a shelf” according to Ride Illinois president Ed Barsotti.

There are a number of suburbs though that appear to be making an effort to be better at least. “Among the towns that have made progress in adding bike and pedestrian infrastructure are Aurora, which has a new protected lane through its downtown corridor; Evanston, which also has protected lanes; and Bensenville, which is planning for specific trail and bike lane improvements, according to the Active Transportation Alliance report. Both Evanston and Oak Park participate in the Divvy bike-share system, while Aurora started bike-sharing this summer with Zagster, Inc. Richton Park is adding a permanent protected bike lane and pedestrian refuge islands; Chicago Heights is looking to extend the Thorn Creek Trail; and Arlington Heights has created a bicycle and pedestrian advisory commission.” However there are also reports of clashes between Motorists and Cyclists in other notable suburbs like Barrington Hills.

Three years ago there, Motorists claimed bikers were being unsafe riders and making things dangerous for everyone, while bikers naturally accused that the motorists were driving them off the road. Some residents also are against some bike friendly measures because they worry what that’ll do to their private property. The village president Edward McLaughlin claimed “The village also decided not to ask for road-widening funds to accommodate bicyclists, because of the effect on private property. “We’d have to tear out a ton of heritage trees,” but also stated that village isn’t opposed to biking in of itself and that non village owned routes could be a good compromise for accommodating cyclists better.

There is also going to be a $40 million dollar grant from the  Illinois Department of Transportation’s next Transportation Enhancement Program this fall which will be very relevant for improving biking conditions for whatever municipality attains it. Winners for the grant are to be announced in the following spring. I have little to no experience with biking so I can’t speak to the clashes between them and motorists but biking is something better than cars for the environment and better for peoples wallets too. So I think improving conditions for more biking is a reasonable goal.


-This article is based on the opinions of Jake Morask, not Laura Law as a whole

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