People who bike in Chicago's suburbs know that the vast majority of suburban towns don't feel safe or welcoming for people on two wheels.
Super-sized streets with relentless traffic make people feel boxed in and cut off while biking. And this is especially true if you’re someone with minimal cycling experience.
Thankfully, there are exceptions — suburbs that are starting to make progress in building biking infrastructure.
Still, even when bike trails and bike lanes are getting built, they often don’t connect with places people need or want to go. In some cases, a bike lane or trail suddenly ends without taking you anywhere in particular.
This state of limited bicycling options for Chicago's suburban residents is documented in our new report called Suburban Bikeways for All. The report also spells out what needs to happen to get our region back on track.
So, what are the main problems — why are Chicago’s suburbs struggling to make headway on better biking?
- Most suburbs are not designed to be bike friendly.
- Bike crashes remain stubbornly high.
- Large gaps remain in the regional trail network.
- The number of suburban residents who say they bike to work is falling.
- Too few suburbs have the right policies and plans in place.
To counter these trends, Suburban Bikeways for All identifies three key characteristics of successful suburban bike networks: close, comfortable and connected.
This means that frequent destinations like schools, retail districts and Metra stations should be close to residential areas and connected with low-stress biking routes.
Bike networks with varying degrees of the “3 Cs” have been proven to attract new riders.
The Suburban Bikeways for All report urges Chicago suburbs to pursue policies and planning efforts that will help pave the way for better biking. Among the suggestions are
- Pass a local complete streets policy to ensure all road users are considered in future transportation plans and projects
- Adopt and implement an active transportation plan that creates a connected network of low-stress bikeways, like protected bike lanes and off-street trails
- Pursue funding and adopt transportation budgets that include a fair share for walking and biking, tapping into federal, state, and local dollars
- Incorporate a vision zero goal to eliminate traffic fatalities into local plans and policies
To keep the suburbs from falling even further behind, we need to reverse these trends by building livable, vibrant and healthy communities with a strong bike network at the center.
Want to learn more? In addition to the full Suburban Bikeways for All report, you can read an executive summary of the report.
Want to get involved in making your suburb better for biking? Contact Maggie Melin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of pedbikeimages.org/Dan Burden.