Cook County's first bike plan aims to make riding safe and accessible for all

Cook County's first bike plan aims to make riding safe and accessible for all

Cook County spotlighted major biking issues in announcing its first bike plan May 25. Recognizing implementation is key, Cook County has already scheduled specific infrastructure projects. More are planned.

Initiated in early 2021, this plan, spearheaded by Cook County's Department of Transportation and Highways (DOTH), acknowledges several concerns, some specific to Cook County, others to the public's sense of biking safely.

County board President Toni Preckwinkle views the plan as "an essential component to re-imagining the county's role in transportation. There are plenty of residents who enjoy biking or walking with their families, but do not have access to safe and comfortable facilities."

In addressing county transportation inequities, plan priorities include creating a core low-stress network to ensure riders feel comfortable, increasing everyday cycling by connecting existing infrastructure to major destinations and increasing access to bike lanes/paths through equitable investments.

Low-stress networks focus on "interested but concerned" riders, more than half of all bikers, per researchers.

Strategic Planning and Policy Director Jesse Elam notes, "Overall goal: Make it safe and comfortable for everyone. Some folks will ride anywhere, but there's a large chunk in the middle who'll ride only when comfortable."

New biking miles

Expansion opportunities for bike share programs, like the Divvy network in Chicago and Evanston, will be explored in 2023, according to Cook County's new bike plan. Courtesy of Ralph Banasiak

Recommendations include 470 miles of new facilities: paved trails (90), side paths (150), and on-street bike routes throughout Cook (230-plus). After full plan implementation, 96% of residents will live less than one mile from bike paths or lanes suitable for riding at any ability level.

Gaps in facilities, at municipal borders, for example, often discourage biking. Elam envisions DOTH "taking the lead to build bridges between communities," solving connectivity issues where identifying a lead agency may be difficult.

The plan recognizes "route deserts" (my term), large geographies with few or no bike facilities. Per Elam, Cook County is currently working with Chicago Department of Transportation on a Calumet area study, expected completion - nine-12 months. O'Hare area is another future network study.

Near-term projects include a 104th Avenue side path from 163rd Place to 159th Street; an ongoing effort led by Orland Park, to which Cook County is contributing; and a multiuse path in Elmhurst and Northlake.

This latter path, along Northwest Avenue (east side) and North Avenue (north side), is part of a larger reconfiguration of the I-294/I-290 interchange complex at Lake Street and North Avenue.

Scheduled for 2024 is side path construction included in the 1.8 mile roadway rebuild of Franklin Avenue/Green Street in Bensenville and Franklin Park. In Hoffman Estates, a Shoe Factory Road reconstruction project (Essex Drive to Beverly Road) will include a side path.

A new Skokie side path along Old Orchard Road (south side) will commence in 2024, with improvements involving I-94 southbound ramps, Old Orchard Road intersection and bridge. This multiuse path will fill a gap, connecting Harms Woods and the path east of Skokie Boulevard across I-94.

Plan project manager Benet Haller, transit manager of Cook County's DOTH, echoes Elam's sentiments.

"While the bike plan lays out a road map for improving cycling countywide, its success relies on close coordination with municipalities, townships, forest preserves and other community partners to achieve the vision of a low-stress bike network," said Haller.

With 134 municipalities, 80 park districts and 20 townships, planners have their work cut out.

Low stress biking

Cycling advocates find the plan promising. Active Transportation Alliance Advocacy Manager Alex Perez is excited about enhancing access to low stress biking.

"We especially like its goal of making intersections safer for people biking," said Perez. "Creating a network of paths and bike lanes for all ages/abilities will allow people to ride more comfortably while expanding access to key community destinations."

Ride Illinois Executive Director Dave Simmons commends Cook County for its efforts.

"Focus on connectivity is of critical importance so those that live in, work in, and visit Cook County can safely travel by bicycle for everyday trips," Simmons said.

"An equitable approach to prioritization and implementation is of utmost importance so those living in communities that lack adequate infrastructure can, before long, experience the benefits of a sustainable, practical, people-powered mode of transportation."

Schaumburg Bike Month

Two cyclists in 2022 enjoy the annual Fahrrad Tour von Schaumburg. This year's June 4 ride rolled from the Robert O. Atcher Municipal Center. Courtesy of the Village of Schaumburg

New this June in Schaumburg's Bike Month celebration is the "Student Bike Classic" competition among students in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211. Top individual students cycling the most mileage in June at elementary, middle, and high school levels vie for prizes and village recognition.

The Business Bike Classic, with corporate four-person teams, returns for its fifth year. Novice, intermediate and advanced tiers compete for most June mileage, with teams and individuals earning tier-level prizes.

Each team member must sign up for the 2023 Schaumburg Business Bike Classic Strava Club. The team logging the most miles overall earns the Business Bike Classic traveling trophy, plus bragging rights, at Schaumburg's July 11 board meeting.

Bike to Work Day returns June 21 for all Schaumburg residents, regardless of commuting destination, plus anyone working in village businesses and organizations or whose main office is in Schaumburg. Participants posting a photo to Schaumburg's social media channels (#schaumburgbiketoworkday) are eligible for prize drawings.

E-bikes update

Cyclists ride the Fox River trail in the Fabyan Forest Preserve, across from a 160-plus-year-old windmill. Courtesy of Forest Preserve District of Kane County

All five metro forest preserve districts now welcome e-bikes. Just three years ago they prohibited all motorized vehicles, e-bikes included. Adapting to their popularity, trail authorities have adjusted.

By spring 2021, Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry County districts had made revisions. In December 2021, Forest Preserve District of Kane County permitted classes 1 and 2 e-bikes, excluding class 3 with its 28 mph maximum speed.

• Join the ride. Contact Ralph Banasiak at

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