State looks for public input on long-range bike plan

Eberhard Veit stretched his left arm straight out, glanced over his shoulder and moved into the left-turn lane.

The Crystal Lake resident was making his commute via bicycle, as he does most weekdays, regardless of heat or cloudy skies.

As a devoted cyclist and president of the McHenry County Bicycle Advocates, Veit has a wish list for changes he’d like to see when it comes to improving bicycling access, such as rumble strips that don’t make shoulders unusable and an improved route connecting Woodstock and Crystal Lake.

But it’s not just enthusiasts who are pushing for more accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.

One of the first steps the county took in putting together its long-range transportation plan was gathering public input.

At 13 “pop-up” meetings held around the county in 2011 – at places such as the McHenry County Fair, the Crystal Lake and Algonquin farmers markets and McHenry County College – people were given three coins they could put toward different types of new projects.

Just under half of the coins were put toward bicycle and pedestrian improvements, according the McHenry County Division of Transportation. It subsequently proposed $64.1 million in bicycle and pedestrian projects.

The state also is collecting input for a bike transportation plan it wants to release by the end of the year, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. The report is part of the state’s overall long-range transportation plan.

The plan’s recommendations will cover planning, policy, safer designs, network possibilities, funding mechanisms and education methods.

The website illinoisbikeplan.com has been set up to survey residents about the type of bicyclists they are, the communities they live in, their priorities and what improvements would need to be made to make them feel safe on different roadways.

Safety education is at the top of Scott Offord’s priority list.

The Woodstock resident commutes pretty much every day to Country Donuts, the business he co-owns in Crystal Lake. It takes him about half an hour if he catches a tailwind.

“I would just like to see more information on bicycle safety for people who do use the roads,” Offord said. “I’m not really for segregating bicycles onto trails because they don’t always go where I want to go.”

He likes to see projects done when they’re cost-effective.

A common misconception, he said, is that people are safer on trails, but because people tend to be less diligent on trails, accidents are more common.

Connecting Woodstock and Crystal Lake is one of the bigger improvements Veit would like to see because government meetings are held in Woodstock; another hope is to connect Woodstock residents to the Prairie Trail, a 26-mile, multiuse trail that follows a former railway line from Algonquin to the Wisconsin border.

The most direct connection between the two cities on the 2013 map put out by Active Transportation Alliance runs from Hillside Road to Country Club Road to McConnell Road, a route that was only included as a default, Veit said.

Much of the route does not have paved shoulders.

“I’m not saying rip up every road,” Veit said. “That makes no sense, but the key is when you’re already redoing a road, then do it right. Do it as a complete street.”

McHenry County Bicycle Advocates has been pushing for the county to adopt a Complete Street policy, which means that changes to roadways should not diminish their usability for any users, and if improvements are made, they should improve the road for all users.

The group has collected more than 700 signatures supporting the policy.

The state already has a Complete Street policy, but because not all local governments do and many road projects require a local match, many projects don’t meet the standard, Veit said.

He’d like to see the state change the way the cost sharing is done for these projects to ensure that the bikeways and sidewalks are added where they are most needed.

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