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Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009 04:59 am

Advisory council aims to make Springfield bicycle-friendly

One proposal would link existing trails into a network

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David Sykuta and his wife, Marcia, have ridden their bright yellow tandem recumbent bicycle all across the Midwest. They’re not speed riders, he says — they just enjoy riding and exploring the beauty and charm of smaller towns.

After several trips through Alton/Wood River and Edwardsville, two Metro-east Illinois areas that Sykuta says have expansive riding networks, he decided that Springfield needed help becoming more bicycle-friendly. Sykuta and others from the 300-member Springfield Bicycle Club formed a small committee that began meeting with city officials last fall. Their mission: to create a permanent Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council.

“We decided between all of us that we really need a council because that’s what some other cities have to help the government become more bicycle-friendly,” Sykuta says. “There’s a lot of things that the city fights on, and we just thought this was a non-partisan issue. We wanted to come up with a program that everyone could support.

“It was a positive for the Davlin administration that they agreed.”

Club members and city officials crafted an ordinance establishing the council and aldermen unanimously approved it. They’re now accepting applications for the nine-member organization on the city of Springfield’s Web site at www.springfield.il.us through Feb. 27.

Karl Kohlrus, the president of the Springfield Bicycle Club, says the advisory council will give bicyclists a formal venue to discuss their needs and issues. He says that recognition from the city will make it easier than in the past to advance proposals.

“Many years ago, there were signs along Veterans Parkway that said bicyclists were prohibited,” Kohlrus says. “We got those removed, but it took a large effort. They were going to close to Interurban Trail — we fought a long time for that. We had to do that from a grassroots effort, starting from scratch.

“Now we have our foot in the door.”

They hope to accomplish several initiatives with the bicycle advisory council, Sykuta adds. They’d like to make it safer and more appealing for kids to ride to school and adults to ride to work by further developing bike lanes and signing on Springfield’s existing roads. In addition to promoting bicycling for transportation, the council will work to expand recreational opportunities.

One plan calls for creating an urban bike trail that links Springfield’s museums and Abraham Lincoln historic sites with local restaurants and hotels. Another plan in the works could develop a five-to-six-mile stretch of the 37-mile Sangamon Valley Trail winding through Springfield’s west side.

A third proposal, which would also enhance rider safety, would link the Interurban and Wabash trails with the Lost Bridge Trail.

“There is heavy use on these trails,” Sykuta says. “That’s one of the things we’re going to stress — tying the whole thing into a network and having roads that are marked to get to them. Hopefully we’ll come out with a really well-done map.”

Kohlrus says a long-term goal of the advisory council will be to work toward Springfield’s designation as a “bicycle-friendly community” by the League of American Bicyclists. Applicant communities must prove achievement in engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning to receive this award.

Jim Donelan, the mayor’s executive assistant, says there’s already been a tremendous amount of interest in the bicycling advisory council. The city had received 25 applications by early February.

“This goes nicely and well with the Springfield Green efforts and the Cool Cities initiative,” Donelan says. “It will make Springfield a cleaner, greener city.”

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