Suddenly, Miles and Miles of Bicycle Paths Are in the Works

By Jerry Crimmins
(Tribune Staff Writer)
From Chicago to Crystal Lake, and from Gurnee to Park Forest, environmentally friendly bicycle paths are being laid down this year at a rate never before seen. It's what one observer calls a golden age for bicycling. Miles of bikeways and more than 1100 bike racks and lockers are coming this summer to Chicago and 90 suburbs, paid for largely with federal funds intended to fight traffic jams and reduce air pollution.

"It's like a surprise waiting to happen," said Randy Neufeld, ex-executive director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. "When this stuff goes in the ground, people will be just dazzled by the number of bicycle programs under way."

"I suspect it could be a golden age for bicycling, simply because there are funds there to allow construction of more facilities," said Craig Williams, bicycle and pedestrian program manager for the Ill. Dept. of Transportation. In the city, the latest push for pedal power started two years ago, when a University of Chicago graduate student wrote a paper titled, "A 300-mile Bikeway Network Plan for the City of Chicago."

This year, 25 miles of bike lanes based on David Urbanczyk's paper will be laid out from downtown to the city's Northwest, South, and West sides. The cost of creating these bike lanes, mostly on Elston Ave., King Dr. and Roosevelt Rd., will be $650,000.

In Elk Grove Village, a bicycle and pedestrian bridge is nearly completed across Higgins Road west of Arlington Heights Rd. at a cost of $1 million-- half from the state, and a quarter each from Elk Grove Village and the Cook County Forest Preserve District.

In Will County this year, the first 12 miles of the Old Plank Road bicycle trail will be constructed from Western Ave. in Park Forest to Wolf Rd in Frakfort Township at a cost of $2.1 million.

In Lake county, a $2.6 million project will begin this year to extend the north section of the Des Plaines River bicycle trail 1.25 miles at its north end in Gurnee and 3 miles at its south end in Libertyville. DuPage county will spend $1.3 million in county funds this year to build a bridge for cyclists over the North-South Tollway (Interstate 355) as part of the Great Western bicycle trail, which runs 12 miles from Villa Park to West Chicago.

In McHenry county, an 8.5-mile extension of the Prairie Trail from Crystal Lake to RIngwood will be put out for bids this year, with a total project estimated at more than $1 million, according to the County Conservation Dist. These represent only a small sample of the dozens of bicycle lane and bicycle path projects that are under way or iwll begin this year in the Chicago area totalling tens of millions of dollars. In most of the above projects, 80% of project costs will be underwritten by the federal government.

Also, in 90 suburbs this summer, 1,106 bicycle racks or bicycle lockers will be installed at a cost of $840,000. Most of these bike racks-- which will also be 80% financed with federal money-- will be at existing public trans- portation facilities, such as bus stops and train stations.

"In the decade before ISTEA (the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991), the federal government probably spent $20 million in the whole nation on bicycle stuff," said Neufeld, quoting a figure from the Bicycle Federation of America. "In the last three years, over $75 million worth of bicycle facilities have been programmed and approved for funding in northeastern Illinois alone. 35% of that will be under construction by July 1995, and 75% of it by July 1996."

ISTEA was the federal government's comprehensive transportation legislation that, among other things, set aside money for modes of travel other than the private automobile, and emphasized protection of the environment.

How long this largesse will last is questionable, given moves by both the clinton administration and the republican majority in Congress to significantly cut federal aid to transportation.

But for the present, even the state tollways may get into the act.

Along the proposed south extension of I-355, from I-55 in Bolingbrook to I-80 in New Lenox, "the tollway authority has agreed to purchase the right of way for a bikeway and grade it, and turn it over to the Will County Forest Preserve District" which would seek funds to pave it, Neufeld said.

David Loveday, spokesman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, said the creation of the bikeway outside the fence of the tollway would constitute "mitigation." This is a federally required payback to the environment for the wetlands and forest preserve land that the I-355 extension will occupy.

In a report prepared for US Sen. Paul Simon (D-IL), the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation counted 201 proposed bicycle-pedestrian projects totaling 693 miles that have been budgeted with $106 million from ISTEA from 1992 through 1995.

From the list alone, one might guess it will soon be safe to travel anywhere in Illinois or the Chicago area on a bicycle.

Of course, that would be a dangerous delusion.

With the exception of a rare municipality such as Schaumburg, which has 75 miles of bicycle lanes and paths, most of the suburbs outside the Tri-State Tollway constitute "The Ring of Terror," Neufeld said.


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