State bike plan signals new direction for IDOT

 Released: April 15, 2014

Contact: Ted Villaire
Active Transportation Alliance
Communications Director
312.427.3325 x288
312.563—1118 mobile
ted@activetrans.org

 

State bike plan signals new direction for IDOT
Plan calls for major improvements in roadway design and
additional funding to improve safety and encourage cycling

Chicago, IL — In response to the release of the Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, the Active Transportation Alliance today praised the plan’s objectives and strategies for making Illinois communities better and safer places to bike and walk. According to Active Trans, the plan is another sign of an improving attitude and commitment toward biking and walking at the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). The group noted that implementation of the plan is the first step in its success, and that this is not an easy task given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking.

“With the adoption of its Complete Streets policy in 2007, its plans to pilot-test protected bike lanes on state routes, and now the state bike plan, I think it’s fair to say IDOT is turning the corner, so to speak, toward a multi-modal approach that provides a range of transportation options for Illinois residents,” says Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “It’s a work in progress and we want to see these objectives put into action, but Governor Quinn and IDOT deserve credit for taking another big step in the right direction.”

The plan primarily addresses how IDOT designs and manages state-administered roads as well as the federal and state funding that IDOT distributes to local governments. According to Active Trans, state roads are often stressful to bike on or across because they are frequently wide, multi-lane roads with cars traveling at high speeds; they lack bike facilities; intersections are not designed to safely accommodate people on foot and bikes; and controlled crosswalks and bikeways are often spaced far apart. These same features can also make walking alongside or across state roads difficult, and the plan’s recommendations should also improve the pedestrian environment

According to Active Trans, nowhere is the need for change more evident than metropolitan Chicago where state routes are often the least-friendly roads for biking and walking. About 9 percent or 2,775 miles of roads in the 6 county region (Cook, Lake, DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kane) are state routes. Many state routes are crucial segments for biking and walking, serving as either the only through-road to get from point A to point B, like Randall Road in Elgin, or as a local street through Chicago or a suburb that connects neighborhoods, transit, schools and jobs like North Avenue, Golf Road and 159th Street.

Active Trans noted that in recent years, IDOT has added more bike facilities to state routes and other improvements that make streets safer for everyone, including people on bikes and on foot, under its Complete Streets policy. For example, IDOT did stripe bike lanes through the town of Homewood on the Dixie Highway. However, missed opportunities do continue. In nearby Blue Island, IDOT did not incorporate any bicycle-related improvements in a routine resurfacing project on Vermont Street – despite the city’s requests and evident local support. The project area is a crucial on-street trail connection for the regionally significant Calumet Sag Trail project. Active Trans is hopeful that the agency will not pass up low-cost opportunities like this in the future.

“In metro Chicago, biking has roughly doubled in the past five years, and IDOT’s survey of Illinois residents shows that even more people would bike but for the fear of car traffic,” said Burke. “Bicycling will never achieve its full potential as an inexpensive, healthy, and fun way to get around unless it is comfortable and convenient to bike where people want to go. That means safer intersection designs, calmer streets and separation from cars on busy streets.”

Active Trans said key objectives and strategies in the bike plan include:

• Dedicate state funding for Complete Streets facilities like bike lanes and sidewalks and prioritizing such projects. Active Trans also encourages IDOT to not require local governments to provide matching money for Complete Streets features as this often results in delays or the features not being built.
• Track the number and quality of Complete Streets projects.
• Develop biking and walking safety standards and assigning adequate “Highway Safety” funds to achieve the standards. This could result in significantly more funding for biking and walking safety initiatives.
• Update IDOT design manuals, and the Bikeway Selection Tables, to reflect modern standards for how best to accommodate biking and walking. This should lead to more and better bike facilities whenever existing state roadways are improved or new ones built.
• Hire a full-time Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator. Active Trans recommends the person have bike and pedestrian expertise and be familiar with modern urban and suburban designs.

“In metro Chicago where roadways are and will remain congested, we need to help more people get around by transit, bike and on foot,” said Burke. “Cars will always be a part of the state’s transportation system, but Chicagoland chokes if they’re the only game in town.”

The Active Transportation Alliance is a non-profit, member-based advocacy organization that works to make bicycling, walking and public transit so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel. The organization builds a movement around active transportation, encourages physical activity, increases safety and builds a world-class transportation network. Formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, the Active Transportation Alliance is supported by more than 7,000 members, 1,000 volunteers and 35 full-time staff. For more information about the Active Transportation Alliance, visit www.activetrans.org or call 312.427.3325.