Pyke: Snow-covered paths leave cyclists, walkers on thin ice

  • David Simmons of Elk Grove Village rides his bicycle to work in Rolling Meadows, even in winter.

    David Simmons of Elk Grove Village rides his bicycle to work in Rolling Meadows, even in winter. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Layers help keep David Simmons of Elk Grove Village warm as he rides his bicycle to work in Rolling Meadows. He said he doesn't worry about the cold, but snow and ice can make his commute dangerous.

    Layers help keep David Simmons of Elk Grove Village warm as he rides his bicycle to work in Rolling Meadows. He said he doesn't worry about the cold, but snow and ice can make his commute dangerous. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Updated 1/26/2015 8:59 AM

With winter surging back after a brief hiatus, an army of snow plows hit suburban streets Sunday morning with one aim -- clear roads for drivers.

Good news for everyone on four wheels, but what about people who walk or bike to work and school?


"In general, walking and biking are treated as second-class forms of transportation," said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a regional pedestrian/cyclist advocacy group.

To put it in perspective, as drivers, we expect clear pavements as soon as possible. In comparison, winter cyclist David Simmons of Elk Grove Village is grateful just to find a snow-free surface.

After a rough wipeout a few years ago, "I was lying on my back looking up and thinking, 'Maybe I wasn't so smart to ride today,'" Simmons recalled.

But the number of cyclists who commute is growing every year, Burke said, noting a large crowd who gathered Friday to celebrate the Active Transportation Alliance's 14th Winter Bike to Work Day.

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"We've seen the number of people who bike to work has been doubling every five years recently," Burke said. There are about 33,134 bike commuters in Illinois, according to the League of American Bicyclists.

Cyclists -- including winter ones -- aren't eccentrics, Burke said. Instead they're a legitimate constituency who take cars off the road and reduce pollution.

"Any time you replace a car mile with a bike mile -- there's benefit to that," said Simmons, a cycling instructor and president of Friends of Cycling in Elk Grove.

But many suburban cyclists and pedestrians face roadblocks in the winter ranging from unplowed paths to snow piled up in crosswalks.

As an example, a bike path maintained by the Palatine Park District connecting to Harper College was inches deep in snow earlier this month, while nearby streets were pristine.


Park district officials explained there are too many challenges involved in keeping that section of bike path snow-free.

"We're very much the minority," Simmons said of bikers. "I understand the majority of folks still get around by car. I understand why the streets are plowed first. It's a car-centric society."

But Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, noted biking isn't always a choice. A number of winter cyclists, he said, simply don't have cars.

"People don't understand that some people bike because they need to," he said.

Simmons typically rides his trusty 20-year-old Trek bicycle 10 months out of the year, cycling between home and his job in Rolling Meadows. It's 13 miles round-trip.

"In winter, I average about a couple times a week. I've learned my limits after falling," Simmons said. "I have a car. ... If the weather is bad, I will drive. It's not the cold that scares me; it's the ice and snow."

The 42-year-old uses plowed service roads in Busse Woods and neighborhood streets -- anything to avoid major arteries where a winter biker is a rare and occasionally endangered species.

"Part of the trick is to get creative," he said. "When the weather's nice and there's not snow I have the best commute in the world."

For his efforts, Simmons is rewarded with notoriety and good-humored ribbing from bemused co-workers when he arrives at his workplace, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

"When I show up to work with frost on my balaclava ... they laugh at me," he said.

The car culture is changing in some communities, Burke noted.

"Even though there's still real challenges to bike and walk, especially in the suburbs, more and more I see cities embracing the idea of making towns more walkable."

For Simmons, "if I was offered the greatest job in the world but had to drive to work every day, I'd probably think twice about it. It's part of who I am."

Got an opinion about walking, biking or driving in the winter? Drop me an email at I've got one more pair of tickets to the Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 14 to 22, for the first reader who responds.

One more thing

The Regional Transportation Authority is betting a $5 million "Ride On" advertising campaign will get you on Metra, Pace or the CTA. The agency is rolling out a series of commercials now through summer 2017 to encourage a targeted audience -- older adults, tourists, visitors and reverse commuters -- to take transit.

Fare hike alert

Those ads better be good as Metra riders face a major fare hike next week. The agency is raising rates by an average of 10.8 percent effective Feb. 1. For someone traveling between downtown Chicago and Arlington Heights or Lisle, monthly passes will jump from $149.50 to $171, an increase of 14 percent. There's a small reprieve for people buying tickets on trains. Instead of raising penalties by $2 to $5, the agency will hold at the current $3, CEO Don Orseno said Friday. The $5 fee goes into effect when Metra's app allowing people to buy tickets on trains using smartphones goes live later this year.

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