Suburban communities adopt new biking and pedestrian plans
"Plan your work. Work your plan."
Prudent advice no matter what you attempt. Even wiser if you "make no little plans," as urban architect Daniel Burnham remarked. Improving Chicago area bicycling happens to involve "no little plans."
Despite the shutdown, suburban municipalities and counties have taken Burnham's advice to heart, adopting, nearly completing or initiating bike (and pedestrian) plans in the pandemic's 21 months.
Maggie Czerwinski, Suburban Advocacy manager for Active Transportation Alliance, affirms that an active transportation plan is important for multiple reasons. It sets a goal, engages the community, helps prioritize improvements, and creates new community biking/pedestrian leaders.
"A bike plan should make the work of municipal staff and advocates easier to source funding, prioritize projects and push for implementation. A plan can help secure funding for specific projects. Many grants require, or strongly recommend, that projects be based on a local or regional community-informed plan."
Seven plans launching
Lisle adopted a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan in October 2020. Wilmette followed with its Master Bike and Active Transportation Plan this past March. In July, the city of Elmhurst Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan was approved, replacing the 2011 plan.
In McHenry County, transportation planner Jon Paul Diipla said, "The McHenry County Connection Plan narrative, still under development, is expected to be completed within the next month or so.
Cook County is forging ahead with its first bike plan, which began in early 2021.
"We are planning another round of public engagement early in 2022 and intend to finish the document in summer/fall 2022," said Transit Manager Benet Haller.
Batavia, designated a Bike Friendly Community (bronze level) by the League of American Bicyclists, is revising its 2007 bike plan with a draft expected next fall.
City administrator Laura Newman said, "Revising the plan is part of Batavia's 2021-2023 Strategic Action Plan. The working group consists of members of city staff and council, Batavia Bicycle Commission and Batavia Park District."
Bartlett and Streamwood's joint project began in spring 2020 with community engagement efforts, data collection and analysis. It's currently in the visioning stage, identifying locations for improvements to increase connectivity, safety, and comfort for both bikers and pedestrians. Expected completion is summer 2022.
Staff from both villages are combining forces, with technical assistance from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), according to CMAP Communications Principal Dawn Raftery.
"The bicycle and pedestrian plan will incorporate the regional ON TO 2050 plan principles of resilience, inclusive growth, and prioritized investment," Raftery said. "CMAP is working with the Sam Schwartz consultancy on this project."
Shutdown -- help or hindrance?
Despite the shutdown's negative effects on other initiatives, I'm impressed at how many plans are in process. Did the shutdown help or hinder progress?
McHenry County's Diipla believes the necessity of online meetings and surveys "contributed to higher attendance numbers and survey responses, since these could be completed at the respondent's convenience."
Sam Schwartz consultant Katherine Nickele, said, "During the pandemic, engagement has been limited to online platforms. Given the virtual format, however, the project team has been pleased to see such strong involvement from the Bartlett and Streamwood communities -- including (Elgin Area) District U-46 high schools."
Residents placed 161 "pins" on the online map suggesting locations for improvements; 272 took the original survey. Surveys and maps will remain on the Bartlett-Streamwood project website for community input through 2021.
Lisle's plan documented more than 300 online survey responses and over 500 comments/ideas posted on its online map.
I am also struck by how many original plans, like McHenry County's 1996 plan, are now being revised as combination biking and walking plans.
Back in 2004, I joined what was then named the nonprofit Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, established in 1985 to make cycling safer and easier in the Chicago metro region.
That organization rebranded itself in 2008 as the Active Transportation Alliance, now advocating for walking, bicycling and public transit to create healthy, sustainable, and equitable communities.
Czerwinski surmises that combining biking and walking plans together may reflect "a larger shift within the mobility planning world to consider all vulnerable road users. Pedestrian improvements often benefit bicyclists and people traveling by bus/train as well, and vice versa."
Continued advocacy remains critical
As exciting as new biking/pedestrian plans are, caution is in order.
"Plans can collect dust," Czerwinski said. "Continued advocacy is often an important ingredient to ensure the plan is implemented and local government is held accountable to their plan."
To that end, Wilmette's plan provides for annual staff level reviews and a public comment period at a Transportation Commission meeting.
Elmhurst's plan calls for a city staffer to serve as Pedestrian and Bicycle coordinator, managing plan implementation and launching a citizen advisory group to vet projects and ensure consistency with plan implementation.
Bob Hoel, Active Trans and Ride Illinois board member, said, "The 2011 Elmhurst plan did not have such a person. What implementation was done was done through existing public works staff and the Public Affairs Committee of the council. The result: not much was done.
"The commitment of the mayor and council to implementation will be dependent on the creation of an advisory group and making sure that implementation funds are included in future budgets."
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