How biking helped us in 2020 -- and a look back at some key trail improvements

  • The interior of a Metra train car for bikes.

    The interior of a Metra train car for bikes. Courtesy of Metra

 
By Ralph Banasiak
Along for the Ride
Updated 1/7/2021 12:27 PM

As 2020 ends with a universal, "Let's never do that again!" a simple recognition emerged -- biking was a physical, if not mental, lifesaver for many.

When organized sports were suspended, when gyms and fitness centers closed and re-closed, biking became the go-to exercise alternative. When Zoom replaced physical classrooms, biking provided a diversion from screen solitude, enabling students and their peers to "just do something."

 

For adults working from home, biking dissipated frustration, stress and worry. For workers still commuting, biking substituted for mass transit, especially in dense urban areas.

For many, biking provided a vigorous way to blow off steam yet a calming reminder that "we will get through this." Relief came to "rookie riders," rediscovering youthful pleasures, and too relentless roadies, pumping endorphins with every crank-turn.

Not flashy, complicated, or connected to Wi-Fi, the bike became 2020's journeyman hero -- a temporary but simple breather from personal pandemic tragedies and its dreadful economic fallout.

For so long, taken for granted, even forgotten, the bike suddenly morphed into the country's hottest commodity. Shops across the U.S. exhausted their inventory last spring and remain unable to satisfy demand. Fortunately, in Illinois and other states, bike shops were declared essential businesses, thanks to the Active Transportation Alliance's statewide organizing efforts in the biking community.

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Looking back: the bike deserves a well-earned rest, not like some brave hero in a dramatic rescue, but as an ordinary helping restore one's soul and navigate our malaise. Looking ahead, biking's future in Illinois looks hopeful with a $105 million combined state and federal capital fund available for biking and walking projects. In 2020, more than 20 suburban county agencies and municipalities submitted grant applications for future infrastructure, many of them supported by ATA.

In addition, regional commuting options are expanding through advocacy by ATA and Ride Illinois. Metra eased bike restrictions across all 11 train lines. It also added a second dedicated bike car on Dec. 10 to its Milwaukee District North Line pilot, lasting through next spring.

Infrastructure upgrades

Looking ahead, forest preserves districts, experiencing double, sometimes triple user volume this past year, continued improving trails and infrastructure for bikers and others. County forest preserve districts reported the following completed key projects:

Cook County

• A long-awaited 0.7-mile trail along Shoe Factory Road opened, connecting Hoffman Estates neighborhoods west of the Canadian National Railroad to the Poplar Creek trail system.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Also in Hoffman Estates, a nearly 700-foot storm sewer was built to relieve chronic trail flooding along the Paul Douglas Preserve Trail, draining northward into forest preserve land.

• Two thousand feet of severely eroded unpaved trail in the Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve, near Willow Springs, was repaired to preclude drainage and erosion issues.

DuPage County

• West Branch DuPage River Trail through Warrenville's Blackwell Forest Preserve reopened after restoration work was completed on Spring Brook Creek, including a bridge replacement and moving the trail out of the floodplain.

• A half-mile limestone trail along Mack Road now connects the St. James Farm Forest Preserve trail system to county trails along Winfield Road and a future Cantigny Park trail.

• A 1.2-mile trail, scenic overlook, picnic area and 25-car parking lot now provide access to 212 acres of restored prairie and wetlands at Dunham Forest Preserve in Wayne.

In 2020, Metra eased bike restrictions across all 11 train lines. It also added a second dedicated bike car on Dec. 10 to its Milwaukee District North Line pilot, lasting through next spring.
In 2020, Metra eased bike restrictions across all 11 train lines. It also added a second dedicated bike car on Dec. 10 to its Milwaukee District North Line pilot, lasting through next spring. - Courtesy of Metra
Lake County

• Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve in Long Grove added 1.7 miles of trails, seven new boardwalks, two scenic overlooks and 30 additional parking spaces.

• A quarter-mile gravel trail now links the village of Gurnee's bike path to the Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve in Grayslake and the Millennium Trail and Greenway.

• Working with the village of Lindenhurst, the forest preserve district constructed a 370-foot trail connecting 1,000 Lindenhurst homes to the four-mile trail system at Hastings Lake Forest Preserve.

Stream erosion control along the Prairie Trail in McHenry County.
Stream erosion control along the Prairie Trail in McHenry County. - Courtesy of McHenry County Conservation District
McHenry County Conservation District

• Three miles of limestone screenings recapped the Hebron Trail, connecting the Prairie Trail through the North Branch Conservation Area.

• Between McHenry and Ringwood, 1.7 miles of asphalt trail was resurfaced on the Prairie Trail.

• Erosion control measures using rip rap stone were implemented along sections of both the Prairie Trail and the Huntley-Union-Marengo Trail.

Forest Preserve District of Kane County officials did not respond to requests for information.

A watercolor painting looking ahead to the new year.
A watercolor painting looking ahead to the new year. - Courtesy of Richard Fisher
Goals and resolutions?

Do you have a special biking goal or resolution for 2021 you'd like to share? I'd like to hear from you.

• Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at alongfortheridemail@gmail.com.

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