Daily Herald opinion: How quickly can the Chicago area accommodate an increased demand for bicycling?

This editorial is a consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board.

Two urban planning researchers are discovering that metropolitan areas that made accommodations during the pandemic for the increasing numbers of people looking to ride bikes are where that boost in bicycling has held steady.

The case studies led by Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech and John Bucher of Rutgers University track what more than a dozen cities have done in recent decades, and specifically during the pandemic, to improve bicycle commuting and recreation, the Associated Press reported.

"A big paradigm shift in thinking is going on," Buehler told the AP. "In transport planning and policy and engineering, we have promoted driving for nearly 100 years. We have made driving fast, we've made it convenient. Now all of these cities and places are taking some of the space back, and giving it to bikes." Washington, Montreal, Minneapolis, Austin, even New York were among the cities cited for how they've added miles and miles of protected bike lanes.

How well is that shift happening here? It's slow going. But it's not for lack of effort.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning has long had an extensive report, prepared in conjunction with other organizations, showing how to make bicycling safer. The Active Transportation Alliance has promoted the same and worked with municipalities in creating plans. Even IDOT is getting into the act by offering an online map on which bicyclists (and skaters and walkers) can identify safety hazards.

Many suburbs, or organizations within them like bike clubs, have been acting. Schaumburg, long dedicated to bicycling in the community, is weighing a four-year plan that would, among other things, look at improving safety and connecting routes around town. In other suburbs north to south, trail connections have been in the works and even are getting built.

And last week, Cook County released its report on a commitment to more safe bicycling. It's a plan recommending 90 miles of off-street paved paths, 150 miles of new side paths (it cites the one along Wise Road in Schaumburg as an example) and 230 miles of on-street bike routes.

The reports are great. The hard part is making all the plans a reality. Cook County's report emphasizes creating a "low-stress network" of bicycling routes, but the time horizon is long, such as when it says, "Construct at least 15 miles of sidepath on (county) right of way over the next 10 years." Considering that Austin, Texas, added 30 miles of protected bike lanes in the first two years of the pandemic, Cook County's timeline seems long. Which has been the pattern in our area.

The number of governments and agencies involved here certainly complicates matters. But we hope someday the Chicago area can top researchers' lists of metro areas supporting an increased demand for bicycling.

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