'It's time to get going': Libertyville dedicates funds for bicycle-related improvements
Every May, National Bike Month is an opportunity to showcase the benefits of bicycling. This year, enthusiasts in Libertyville have a little extra to celebrate.
For the first time, the village has dedicated funds specifically for a bike path improvement program -- $50,000 in the 2022-23 capital budget.
That's good news for the village's bicycle advisory commission, which assesses and reviews the bike path system, fosters safety and education, and advocates for programs like a bike-to-school event and a community bike ride.
But without a funding source, pursuing bigger picture ideas has been challenging.
"We haven't had funds in the budget, so anytime we had any initiative or things we wanted to do, it was difficult," said Trustee Pete Garrity, the village board's liaison to the commission.
"We've been talking about this stuff for years. It's time to get going," he said.
Rather than a stream of projects being unleashed, the first order of business will be to hire a consultant to create a bicycle plan for the village and get some projects ready to go.
"Our bike plan will lay out what we want to do for 'x' number of years going forward and where to spend the money we do have," Garrity said.
"We want to get several projects shovel-ready so when the grants become available we can jump on it."
Getting to this point represents an evolution for the commission, which has been working for years to raise awareness about bicycling opportunities in town and generate public interest.
"The parts we could do without a lot of funding we've been working on," said Elliott Hillback, commission chair. "We're getting ready to formalize things a little bit more."
The commission has identified difficult or dangerous crossing areas, for example, and has advocated for more visible signage.
One potential future project involves rerouting a village bike path that crosses Winchester Road west of Milwaukee Avenue close to railroad tracks.
Hillback said Libertyville is at the crossroads of the heavily used Des Plaines River Trail and the eight-mile North Shore bike path from Mundelein to Lake Bluff.
"It's kind of unfortunate we're not taking advantage of the boom in bicycles the past couple of years," he said. "We could be driving more business to restaurants and coffee shops."
The village has been working with the Lake County Department of Transportation on wayfinding test signage installed on the North Shore path.
Public comments forwarded to LCDOT encouraged the signs to guide cyclists to use safe routes to access the downtown. Adding signs at other locations to guide cyclists to the downtown and adding village parks to destinations also were suggested.
The commission's core work of bike safety and education continues in other ways. A bike-to-school event will be held Friday for sixth-graders at Highland Middle School and on May 20 for seventh- and eighth-graders. Participants will get a raffle ticket for prizes donated by local businesses. They'll get two tickets if they wear a helmet.
Bicycle Commissioner Michelle Thompson was the force behind the event, which began in 2019. She said the group's work is paying off.
"The bicycle commission is taking a bigger role and becoming more visible," she said. "It's a pleasure to see some forward movement."