Cycling stories of the year: Bike/pedestrian plans, safety education and mountain bike racing

Mountain bike racing, new bike/pedestrian plans and a safety education surge for Illinois students highlighted biking in 2023. Unfortunately, fatalities continued to rise.

Six biking/pedestrian plans were completed/approved, including Cook County’s first-ever bike plan announced in May. Batavia approved its plan in March, followed by Libertyville (May), Kane County (July), St. Charles (October) and Glenview (November).

With Bartlett/Streamwood, McHenry County, Niles and Northbrook completing plans in 2022, 10 new/updated plans came online in two years.

Likely in 2024 are plans for DuPage County and Aurora. Jen Maddux, senior planner at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, reports bike/pedestrian plans are under way in Glendale Heights and Round Lake Beach. Kicking off soon are plans in Alsip, Richmond, and in West Cook County, encompassing five municipalities: Bellwood, Berkeley, Broadview, Hillside, and Westchester.

Mountain bikers on adaptive bikes hit the trail at the Paul Douglas Pursuit races Aug. 20 sponsored by the Chicago Area Mountain Bikers. Courtesy of Lauri Novak

Three-race series

Chicago Area Mountain Bikers expanded its annual summer race series, adding Kane County’s Raceway Woods in Carpentersville mid-July, and Cook County’s Paul Douglas Forest Preserve in Hoffman Estates mid-August to the original Palos Trail races in Willow Springs.

With over 1,500 entries, the series included nearly 700 at the Palos Meltdown, and over 400 at both the Raceway Rally and Paul Douglas Pursuit. CAMBr has hosted the Palos Meltdown since 2008 per Mike Godfrey, CAMBr trail director for Paul Douglas.

CAMBr volunteers, collaborating with forest preserve staff, developed the mountain biking trail systems at all three preserves, completing the final segment of Paul Douglas’s 18 miles late last spring.

Young cyclists demonstrate their bike safety skills after a bike safety rodeo in Palatine several years ago. Courtesy of Ride Illinois

Safety training surge

Over 66,000 Illinois students — elementary, high school and Drivers Ed — are now more bike safety-conscious than a year ago, having completed a Bike Safety Quiz last school year. Moreover, their 239 schools earned over $132,000, most ever in the BSQ Mini-Grant program’s six years.

Administered by Ride Illinois, statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization, federal safety program funds are funneled through the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). Schools earn $2 for every student completing an age-level quiz, either child bicyclist, adult bicyclist or motorist.

Biking safety advocates greatly welcomed the 66,248 total, 27% more than 2021-22 student participation and twice the expected 13% increase from FY22’s nearly 52,000 students. That surge, however, exceeded dollars, “the first time we’ve surpassed available funds,” per Executive Director Dave Simmons. Ride Illinois is addressing the shortfall via ongoing fundraising campaign, fund-shifting within the grant program and reserve funds.

“We apply for next year’s grant in February,” Simmons said, noting the timing challenge in the application process. “We didn’t anticipate such a sharp increase 10 months ago. Funds for this school year will allow reimbursement for up to 55,000 students.” He expects budget adjustments and individual donations to be likely options if participation remains high.

Skokie's Sculpture Park along the Chicago River's north channel offers visually exciting artwork to bikers and others on its multi-use path. Courtesy of Chicago's North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau

Illinois is 15th in bicycle friendliness

Based on 2022’s League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly State assessment, Illinois ranks 15th, boasting 12 Bicycle Friendly Universities, 26 Bicycle Friendly Businesses and 18 Bicycle Friendly Communities. Among communities, Urbana renewed at the gold level in 2023 while Grayslake achieved honorable mention.

Skokie also earned honorable mention on its first attempt. Patrick Deignan, Communications and Community Engagement director, noted Skokie plans to use LAB’s feedback “to complement work already being done to improve biking.”

This includes expanding existing bicycle/pedestrian safety and skills training to youth, increasing high-quality bicycle parking, and encouraging more businesses/organizations to promote bicycling among employees and customers. He also mentioned developing/adopting a more robust dedicated bicycle master plan.

A "ghost bike" marks the site of a bicycle fatality in the northwest suburbs. Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

Fatalities up 50%

Despite positive cycling news, 2023 was the worst year for Illinois biking fatalities. As of Dec. 18, IDOT ( reported 39 cyclists have died in crashes, a 50% increase over the 10-year average of 26.2 deaths (2013-2022).

Since the 2020 shutdown, fatalities rose steadily with 29 that year, 35 (2021) and 33 (2022). Since 2004, only 2013 claimed as many as 30 biking fatalities per IDOT crash data.

“Illinois is clearly heading in the wrong direction when it comes to crashes and fatalities involving bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Simmons of Ride Illinois. “A concerted effort must be made to decrease vehicle speeds, educate motorists on new laws, and integrate the Safe Systems Approach when planning future Illinois infrastructure projects.”

Amy Rynell, Active Transportation Alliance executive director, echoed Simmons. “We urgently need to make our cities and towns safer for people to walk and bike. Since excessive speed is the most common factor in serious and fatal crashes, the fastest path to saving lives is getting drivers to slow down.”

“We also need more infrastructure that protects people walking and biking. Safety enhancements — protected bike lanes and raised crosswalks — can effectively protect the most vulnerable people on the road.”

Public Information Officer Maria Castaneda noted IDOT is “committed to continue working with local, state and national partners to respond to a growing national concern. We ask the public to be mindful of the conditions and environment where they are traveling, especially in areas popular for biking and walking.”

“Additionally, as part of its 2023 Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Safety Assessment, IDOT is looking at data analysis to help us determine crash trends and contributory causes,” she continued. “We are working on developing tools for stakeholders to identify locations with potential for safety improvements and identification of countermeasures pertinent to their needs.”

Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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