Getting To ‘Yes’ In Barrington Hills on ‘Bike Lanes’

Background Reading


Willapa Fleche Paceline

Willapa Fleche Paceline

The cycling-related kerfuffle in Barrington Hills is a bit more complicated than it would seem at first glance. If one were to think about it dispassionately you would see that Transportation Cyclists and the people of Barrington Hills both have a common interest in seeing Bike Lanes brought to the town. Why?

Understanding the Nuances

The Tour de France is a wonderful experience for a spectator. And given the fact that pace line riding (i.e. fast paced in pelotons) can be dangerous it is in everyones interest to sit down and understand what the real problem is in Barrington Hills.

The cycling clubs that ride in Barrington Hills go there for one reason alone. This is a place with lots of ‘rolling terrain‘, ‘low automobile concentrations‘ and fairly ‘long distances between intersections‘. This translates into a good place to do pace line riding. What does it look like? Here is a good video expressly showing how to do this sort of thing ‘safely‘:

Bike Lanes and Pace Lines

Now the fact of the matter is that Bike Lanes are something entirely different than ‘road riding‘. Bike Lanes are essentially what you supply for the use of Transportational Cyclists. The reason you even consider a bike lane is because you want to simultaneously do two things:

  1. You want to provide a place where cyclists can ‘feel safe‘. The current description of this is ‘Bicycle Comfort‘. In essence seniors, young children, families with kids in tow, day tourists, grocery shoppers, hardware store buyers, etc. are the targets of this sort of infrastructure. The most consistent type of vehicle seen in these lanes would probably be either a cargo bike or a city bike.
  2. Your second aim is to bring in more people to use these lanes than are currently riding without them. Good bike lanes bring tourists and shoppers. They make it more pleasant for the population of a small town or an urban neighborhood to get around on a weekend. But during the week they provide a good way to keep drivers and bicyclist in a cooperative mood during Rush Hour.

Now if I were to categorize a typical bike lane experience it would be somewhat sedate. Sure there are many riders in the City of Chicago who are lone wolves who ride as if they were rehearsing for an AlleyCat video production:

But for the most part Transportational Cyclists are moving with purpose from point A to point B in essentially the same ‘head space‘ as weekend shoppers or weekday commuters.

What is highly unlikely is that Transportational Cyclists with a 200 lb. load of soil are going to coexist well with pace lines or alley cats. Both of these modes of travel are fairly high speed. Imagine a pack of cafe racers on either motorcycles or in small coupes traveling at high speeds back and forth between the local high school parking lot and the nearby shopping mall doing 65 mph on streets that are marked for 30 mph! That would be bad enough but then add in some judicious ‘weaving‘ as these cars move from lane to lane looking for the best way to get around slower moving traffic.

Given the fact that most of the bike lanes in the City of Chicago are about ‘two riders wide‘ it means that a good pace line ride would be physically impossible on a crowded weekend.

If you looked at the first of these videos (showing ‘safe‘ pace line riding) you noticed that it requires that the group ride in something other than a ‘single fileformation. The object of a pace line is to extend the range and speed at which a group of riders of similar but not necessarily exact physical strengths could travel. Riders are essentially ‘rotating off the front‘ of these pace lines and floating left back to the rear where they eventually rotate right onto the back of the rightmost line of riders.

If done well it requires a fair degree of riding skill and stamina on the part of the group. And if seen from above (as is the case on the Tour de France) it is actually quite beautiful. But is it consistent with a bike lane experience? Probably not. Let your mind wander back to the last Bike The Drive that you rode.

Keep in mind that the Lake Shore Drive is about four or more car lanes wide. Pace lines move through on the very far left during Bike The Drive. Trying to run one of these through just about any other lane on this fundraising ride would be too dangerous. There are often kids on small single speed bikes (some with training wheels) who are likely to be injured if a very fast moving pace line were to fly past them. And of course as with pedestrians on sidewalks, folks tend to meander. Sometimes they simply stop and hop off their bikes to answer their cell phones giving no verbal warning of their intentions. That would be disastrous if a fast moving pace line were coming up behind that cell phone user.

Alleycat riders and paceline riders are easily in need of room to ride two abreast and at high speeds. In fact Alleycat riders are even more likely to ‘not play well with others‘ in an urban setting because they take rather extreme chances when moving through traffic. You frankly cannot run a good Alleycat race in a protected bike lane. You need the flexibility to ride against traffic while weaving between stalled cars waiting for lights to change.

Bike Lanes Are Exactly What A Small Town Wants

If you set up bike lanes in Barrington Hills you effectively creating the transportation equivalent of a side street for bicycles. And if you think about it these sorts of lanes (should they attract slower riders on cargo bikes or moms with kids on long bikes) would be highly unattractive to pace line riders. If you keep these lanes to a fairly narrow width it means that a pace line is unable to ride ‘safely‘ at high speeds. And of course if you just happen to route them through routes with abundant traffic lights and stop signs you effectively change them into the very kinds of riding environments that do not seem attractive to the Lycra-clad roadies.

You will however attract bicycle club-level riders who are often between 30 and 60 years of age who would enjoy the chance to be out on their bicycles and have the financial resources to stop at a good restaurant or coffee shop for a mid-ride repast. These are exactly the types of riders you are looking for.

So could and should you ever accommodate the pace line riders? Yes! I think that inviting these groups into town on weekends at specific intervals (e.g. 8 am to Noon) would be great for business too. Just close off traffic for a few hours and allow these riders to ignore stop lights and stop signs in the same manner as do the Tour de France riders. Invite your townspeople and those from nearby villages to come and watch the proceedings. Bring out food vendors to line the streets along the proscribed route and make a morning of it. Why shouldn’t the local coffee shops or restaurants with outdoor seating not want to have fast pace lines riding past them? It could be thrilling for spectators and exhilarating for the riders.