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About one-third of all work trips in Chicago are comprised of people biking, walking, or riding public transit.

State bike plan signals new direction for IDOT

We were pleased to see the release of the first-ever Illinois Bike Transportation Plan earlier this week/. We like the plan’s objectives and strategies for making Illinois communities better and safer places to bike and walk.

The plan is another sign of an improving commitment toward biking and walking at the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). This is a big step given IDOT’s historically car-centric perspective that has de-prioritized biking and walking.

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. This is good because state roads are often stressful to bike on or across because they

  • Frequently are wide, multi-lane roads with cars traveling at high speeds
  • Lack bike facilities
  • Tend to have intersections that are not designed to safely accommodate people on foot and bikes
  • Often have controlled crosswalks and bikeways that are 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

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.

With the state’s adoption of a 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.

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 important step in the right direction.

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.

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.