That Barrington Hills is a beautiful community no one disputes. But its relaxed country environment is leading to a confrontation that emphasizes the challenges communities can face when automobiles and bicycles vie to share the same roadways.
We have been strong supporters of efforts in suburbs such as Batavia, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Naperville and many others that have acted assertively to make bicycling on public streets safer and more accessible. So, it was with some dismay that we followed Barrington Hills village leaders' dismissal of proposals that would add bike lanes on some thoroughfares in town. But the Barrington Hills experience provides some object lessons for all towns -- and all bicyclists -- when looking to blend bicycle, foot and motor vehicle traffic.
Barrington Hills, to be sure, is an unusual case. It's a highly affluent community with 5-acre housing lots set among rolling hills, horse farms, forest preserves and thousands of acres of open space. Its roadways must accommodate not just motor vehicles and bicycles, but horse riders and pedestrians as well. This is a textbook example of the need for various interests to accommodate each other. But, as staff writer Doug T. Graham described in a Daily Herald story on Sunday, the mood in Barrington Hills has been more of confrontation than accommodation, and the result is an atmosphere where adaptations are clearly needed but appear unlikely any time soon.
A key feature of the dispute is the behavior of some bicyclists, whom local residents at times have found to be rude, disrespectful and even downright crude. With a few like that spoiling the reputations of the many, it's not hard to see why town leaders would be hesitant to undertake projects that could encourage even more bicycle traffic. But the response of many village residents -- including an orchestrated anti-bicycling campaign and claims of harassment, interference and even objects thrown at bicyclists -- has not been productive, either.
Ironically, the establishment of enforceable dedicated lanes for bicycle, horse and pedestrian traffic could be one step toward formalizing everyone's rights and reducing bad behaviors on both sides. Unfortunately, too few people on either side of the controversy have shown enough willingness to develop workable solutions, and the result is a kind of uneasy standoff that can only leave the unwelcome status quo in place indefinitely.
Barrington Hills is no recreational park, and its residents shouldn't have to feel as though they live in that kind of atmosphere. At the same time, though, its streets and public areas do belong to the public, and it ought to be able to find ways to peacefully and safely accommodate all manner of appropriate public uses. In that sense, the community is no different from any other, but all other suburbs, and the bicyclists who would seek to travel in them, should look to the town for a cautionary tale on what will happen when differing groups fail to respect the rights and interests of others with whom they would share the roads.