Group aims to make suburbs safer for bike riders

There they go. Lycra-clad Lance Armstrongs darting in and out of traffic on their $3,000 Orbea Avant M30 road bikes.

Then there's the rest of us. Maybe the last time you rode a bike it had a banana seat. Now you'd like to ride to the library with your 11-year-old, but you're fearful and he's fearless — a bad combination. Take heart, timid cyclist.

The Active Transportation Alliance wants to help, and it's making suburbs an offer that's hard to refuse: Free advice on how to convert car-friendly communities into safe havens for cyclists where even the most klutzy (me included) can venture.

The new Family Friendly Bikeways campaign is not for the 10 percent of confident cyclists, Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Ron Burke said.

Instead it focuses on the 90 percent who want to bike more but are psyched out by the car culture. “We want to help the suburbs develop next-generation bike facilities that accommodate the average person,” Burke said. “We're looking for towns that embrace our goals.”

"That average person won't bike to the train station or swimming pool because “they're scared — they're afraid of being hit by a car or their kids being hit by a car,” Burke explained.

That trepidation means (irony alert) folks “end up throwing their bikes in the car to get to the bike trail.”

The ATA, a nonprofit cycling, pedestrian and transit advocacy group, will pick a few lucky suburbs and provide professional consulting services, free. Those include everything from engineering solutions to help applying for grants.

There's no shame in feeling nervous, Burke noted; there are a lot more cars on the streets these days. The alliance notes that registered vehicles jumped by 3 million in Illinois between 1982 and 2012. Despite much progress in building bike lanes, the ones you see out there on arterial roads are mostly used by skilled cyclists, Burke said. Bike trails “are great,” but expensive. Yet common-sense and relatively cheap solutions exist to get the 90 percent on two-wheels, not four. Among them are curbs or posts to protect bikers from traffic, or flashing lights at marked crosswalks on busy streets. Although drivers sometimes whiz past pedestrians and bikers at crosswalks, it's hard to miss the flashing beacons, said Noel Basquin, Batavia village engineer.

Batavia is installing the beacons at key streets along routes 31 and 25 with help from a federal grant.

“It will definitely help the novice cyclist and kids going to the library,” Basquin said.

Batavia is so bike-friendly; planners imported a Dutch traffic-calming technique called a “woonerf.” In this case, it's a shared street with brick work along North River Street that slows cars and empowers cyclists.

John Gamble, chairman of Batavia's award-winning bike commission, is a seasoned biker but thinks it's essential to “plan for the lowest common denominator ... to create the safest bike routes possible so anyone feels comfortable.”

Another engineering tactic is bike boulevards. Tucson, Arizona, for example, offers bike boulevards with the following: painted bike lanes that are hard to miss, street-level refuge islands in medians where cyclists can wait, shade trees, traffic circles and yield signs.

Burke acknowledged many communities already have basic bike plans. The Family Friendly Bikeways program “is for towns that want to take the next step,” he said. “We want to create bike routes that work for the 90 percent.”

So what are you waiting for? Interested municipalities in the North or Northwest suburbs can contact the ATA's Nancy Wagner at (312) 505-4251 or Are you petrified of cycling? Got tips for the 90 percent? Share war stories at or follow me on Twitter at @dhintransit.


Speaking of cycling, the alliance's Bike Commuter Challenge Week starts Friday. Sign your company up in a friendly competition by going to Special events in the suburbs include a morning celebration from 6:30 to 9 a.m. June 19 at the U.S. Bank building parking lot, 9575 W. Higgins, Rosemont.

Your voice

Here's a different perspective on airport noise from Carol Pransky of Rolling Meadows. Her home is right under O'Hare's workhorse runway, Runway 32-Left. “When this runway was used for landings, there were times we could not sleep at night, due to the landings every minute,” Pransky wrote. Now that O'Hare has switched to an east/west flow, “we have much less airport noise,” she added. “Trust me, Runway 32-L still gets used. Other areas of Chicagoland suburbia should share in this issue. If you do not want airport noise, I suggest you move to DeKalb.”

Gridlock alert

Stay far away from Route 64 in River Forest this month. The westbound lanes at the Des Plaines River bridge will close mid-June, and the eastbound lanes won't be fun either with just two open.

Flashing beacons at crosswalks on busy streets can make biking safer for less-experienced cyclists. Photo courtesy of village of Batavia
Street-level "refuges" at medians can assist cyclists on busy roads. Photo courtesy of the Active Transportation Alliance
Bike boulevards with posts protecting riders from vehicles can encourage more people to cycle, advocates say. Photo courtesy of the Active Transportation Alliance
  Peggy Fogarty of Darien, far left, bikes Friday along Batavia's "woonerf," a bike-friendly brick street along the Fox River. Brooke Herbert Hayes/

Will TSA agents smile?

Passengers heading through security at O'Hare International Airport's Checkpoint 3 may not get through faster but at least they'll have nice surroundings. The Chicago Department of Aviation last week announced an upgrade with new, modern furniture, art, peaceful music and “calming” lighting, designed by Springhill Suites by Marriott. It's yet to be seen what impact the Zen-like atmosphere will have on Transportation Security Administration officers.

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