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Thursday, May 16, 2013 02:25 pm

Betting on bikes

City may adopt bike plan as infrastructure improvements begin

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Kevin Greene of Springfield still remembers getting his first bicycle as a child.

“It took me a long time to figure out how to ride a bike, but once I learned, I never looked back,” Greene said. “That bicycle meant freedom.”

Greene, chairman of the Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council, hopes the adoption of a bicycle and pedestrian plan by the Springfield City Council will bring that same freedom in another form: the ability to traverse the city safely, quickly and cheaply – without the need for a car.

The plan calls for bike lanes on major thoroughfares, bicycle parking, widened sidewalks and a network of bikeways connecting Springfield with surrounding communities. The goal, Greene says, is making transportation by bike and by foot more appealing to people who normally wouldn’t consider doing without a car.

“It’s not going to be implemented overnight; we recognize that,” Greene said. “But when it is, you’ll be able to access key destinations like the downtown, medical district, parks and neighborhoods with a safe, efficient, practical travel option.”

The Springfield City Council is due to take up a resolution endorsing the bike plan at its next meeting on May 21.

While Greene acknowledges that implementing a bike and pedestrian plan is a major investment – adding bike lanes can cost between $5,000 and $50,000 per mile – it can save money in the long term by relieving wear on roads and reducing the need for lane expansions.

Linda Wheeland, the senior planner in the transportation section of the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, says it makes sense to add accommodations for bikes when road work is already scheduled, like the city’s ongoing plan for rebuilding transportation infrastructure. If the city is already fixing roads, the cost of adding bicycle accommodations can be reduced.

“A lot of the projects in the plan would rely on road projects first of all,” Wheeland said. “For example, the overlay of roads could include striping for bike lanes, and road construction could include sidewalks.”

Wheeland helped develop the bike and pedestrian plan in her role with SSCRPC. She says creating network of trails connecting major destinations in Springfield and the surrounding communities can help make cycling a more attractive option for daily utilitarian use, instead of just for recreation.

“There’s growing interest by more and more people, particularly young people, who want to be able to travel without a car,” Wheeland said. “And it goes even beyond creating safe ways for people to travel, but also to improve health and livability.”

Wheeland and her staff at SSCRPC are currently working to expand the bike plan outside of Springfield into rural parts of Sangamon County, with the help of a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

A fully implemented bike plan would see the completion of the Route 66 Trail through Springfield and the rest of Sangamon County. The 430-mile route stretches from Chicago to St. Louis, entering Sangamon County at Williamsville and traveling through Sherman, Springfield and Chatham before splitting in two directions: toward Divernon and toward Auburn. Currently, most of the route within Sangamon County lacks bike lanes or other facilities.

 Wheeland says getting people – especially tourists – out of their cars helps drive economic growth.

“Tourists like having options available,” Wheeland said. “We get them here to see Lincoln and keep them here to ride the trails. If they’re moving slower than in a car, they’re more likely to stop and peruse shops along the way.”

For more information on the bike and pedestrian plan, visit the planning commission’s website at http://co.sangamon.il.us/departments/regionalplanning/planning.asp.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

 Click to view Bicycle Network Map



Curb Your Car Week


May 13 through May 18 is Curb Your Car Week, organized by the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission and the Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council. The sixth annual event encourages commuters to leave the car at home and bike, walk, run, or take the bus to work. Workers can form teams at their workplace, and participants can receive incentives and discounts at local businesses. For more information, visit bit.ly/curbcar.


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