Bicycling Infrastructure Is Not A ‘Me Too’ Thing

Background Reading

Summary

In this file photo, bikers ride in the Danada Equestrian Center of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County on Naperville Road near Warrenville Road. Tring to navigate on downtown Naperville streets is not as tranquil of an experience. (tribune photo by Carl Wagner) (Carl Wagner, Chicago Tribune)

In this file photo, bikers ride in the Danada Equestrian Center of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County on Naperville Road near Warrenville Road. Tring to navigate on downtown Naperville streets is not as tranquil of an experience. (tribune photo by Carl Wagner) (Carl Wagner, Chicago Tribune)


TakeAways

Perhaps the problem here is that many cyclists and evidently this writer are not as comfortable riding on streets as one might hope. Naperville has done a very good job of accommodating bicycles in places where an entire family can enjoy the ride. The trail that lies between Whalon Park and downtown Naperville is delightful.

What is troublesome is that writers are far more interested in ‘keeping up with the Joneses‘ than in doing things that make sense. Indianapolis has a wonderful trail in its downtown area. It tells the history of the area and again can be ridden with an entire family. Most of the bicycle infrastructure in places like Chicago are really not suitable for young kids on their own bicycles.

Naperville is easily rideable and while not suitable for young children is more than navigable by adults. In fact you can take side streets directly into the dining section of the city and park your bike and have a meal. Few cities have a situation that easy to negotiate.

My experience is that much of what is being done is larger cities like Chicago, Oak Park and Evanston is marginal at best and in many cases worse than before the bike lanes were installed. Before we start running amok in suburban areas let’s take the time to investigate ways to make cycling easy enough that a child could do it. That should be the acid test.

The author writes:

That’s actually pretty easy to understand. Naperville has done a wonderful job in recreational biking. The trail system south of town is fantastic, and is exceeded only by the trail system north of town that interconnects with bike paths that go almost everywhere.

The problem, of course, is that to go from the south of town to the north of town you need an SUV, the bigger the better. A swell new bike path west of the river, beginning at Jefferson Avenue, is an enormous help, but only a few dedicated bikers and one of our most athletic councilmen can manage the trip through town.

I have many letters from readers who say that, even though they are avid bikers, they refuse to even try. I can’t tell you exactly what they say about biking downtown because this is a family paper. Several letters refer to the woman who drove home with the bicycle she ran down embedded in the grill of her car, and many call the bike lanes that make you bike between two lanes of traffic diabolical.

I have ridden the streets of downtown Chicago for years. The gem of the city is the Dearborn Street Protected Bike Lane. It connects with PBLs that take you eventually all the way to Wicker Park. The city spent (by their own admission) somewhere close to a half million dollars on the portion of the Dearborn Street PBL that runs from Lake Street to Kinzie. Chicago cycling commuters actually admit to finding it less attractive than adjacent streets for various reasons.

The descriptions of cycling in Naperville are perhaps evidence that not every person is suited to riding a bicycle in areas where automobiles are present. The description of the connection between the Whalon Lake Loop Trail and areas in downtown Naperville are a bit over the top. I can imagine that the Riverwalk Trail itself would be troublesome for some because it crosses busy roads.

The writer sounds like a person who is a bit excitable. Either that or he has very little actual time in the saddle. And that is troublesome. Before you can write about something you really do have to know how to gauge the tolerance levels of your readers as well as your own. Trying to stampede a town into doing things just because other places have made attempts is not wise.

I should also mention that BikeShare is not a success in very many places. Chicago like New York has had to find ‘sugar daddies‘ for their systems. Divvy does not make money. And what is even more embarrassing is that the so-called cycling activists in town are not uniformly eager to use the system. You of course cannot please everyone.

But taking on the expense and liability of putting in a BikeShare system is not something to be undertaken without much thoughtful deliberation.