Bike to the future

Springfield gets serious about cycling

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click to enlarge A cyclist enjoys the Lost Bridge Trail connecting Springfield and Rochester. - PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
A cyclist enjoys the Lost Bridge Trail connecting Springfield and Rochester.

It’s a good time to be in the bike business, says Rich Moscardelli, manager of Ace Bike Shop on MacArthur Boulevard in Springfield. Among the hip trends this season are saving money, getting in shape and green living – all factors that push people to ride bikes.

“It’s getting to be more popular, and especially fitness and performance bikes are becoming more popular than they used to be,” Moscardelli says. “If you’ve got a good quality bike, it doesn’t take much effort to keep it moving. It doesn’t take anything but what you eat, and the only emissions are what you flush.”

But cycling in Springfield has long suffered from flaws in infrastructure that discourage large numbers of potential bike riders from taking to the streets.

“We’re basically in the Stone Age,” Moscardelli observes, noting the irony that the bicycle shop he manages has operated there for five or six years, yet there are no sidewalks or bike lanes on much of busy MacArthur Boulevard, and thus no easy bike access.

The city does have eight bike trails that account for about 21 miles of bikeway, while the city’s five streets with bike lanes and two with wide shoulders together cover about 14 miles. Thirty-five miles of bikeway may seem adequate, until you consider that Springfield and Sangamon County together contain more than 2,400 miles of roads. Additionally, most of Springfield’s trails are disconnected from one another and only serve the southern part of the city. Some of the busiest streets have no bike accommodations at all.

The Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council (SBAC), created by the city to help make Springfield more bike friendly, and the Springfield Bicycle Initiative, part of Leadership Springfield, conducted a survey in 2009 to gauge bike usage and perceptions of cycling in Springfield. Out of 490 survey respondents, 75 percent said they were discouraged from cycling more because of a lack of bikeways, while 59 percent cited safety concerns – no doubt connected to the lack of bikeways. In much of the city, and in Sangamon County as well, there are simply not enough bike lanes, paths and trails to make cycling safe and convenient. But don’t go packing up your spandex shorts just yet; Springfield is on the path to becoming a whole lot friendlier for bikes.

In May, the Springfield Area Transportation Study (SATS) released its 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan, and it holds a lot of promise for cyclists, including new and improved bike trails, bikeways on newly-constructed roads and more. SATS was started by the city and county in 1964 as a way to plan for future transportation needs, but until now, the focus has mostly been on motorized transport.

“This is the first time that planning for bikes has taken more of a front seat in the long-range plan,” says Linda Wheeland, senior transportation planner for the Springfield-Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, which helps support SATS. “Part of the development of the long-range plan this time was the opportunity for the community to have more input, and I think from all the public input, it was obvious that the citizens were interested in having more attention paid to the modes of biking and walking.”

And pay attention they did. The plan calls for specific improvements to bike infrastructure in Springfield and Sangamon County, and road projects that haven’t even been conceived of yet will likely include considerations for bikes because of the plan.

“There is a strong link between planning and public health,” the SATS report notes. “The design of a community has a direct impact on how much exercise people get, the connection they have with others in the community, and the quality of the environment. Providing safe, accessible, complete, and interconnected options for non-motorized travel and public transportation encourages people to leave their cars at home, leading to greater health of our citizens, our communities and our environment.”


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What’s so great about bikes?
In Wheeland’s office sits her gun-metal grey bike and helmet; she rides her bike to work whenever possible.

“Ever since I was a kid and had the independence a bicycle provided, I’ve always continually rode, both for commuting and recreational purposes,” Wheeland says. “I find that it puts me more in touch with other people. When you’re in your car, you just go down the street and you don’t interact with anybody at all. When you’re on your bicycle, you say hello to people, and sometimes you meet people in your neighborhood that you didn’t know before. All the way from home to work, there’s a possibility of interacting with other human beings.”

Communion with your fellow man is just one biking benefit, says Dick Westfall, manager of greenways and trails for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Alternative transportation – essentially any non-motorized way of getting around – can have a major impact on a city’s economy, environment and health.

“The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico right now is showing that, if we can shift our routine, short trips from cars to bicycles and walking, it won’t solve all of our problems, but it can lessen our dependence on oil significantly and the environmental concerns that come with it,” Westfall says. “In addition, people are starting to understand they need to get more active. Ten or 20 years ago, people said, “I need to join a gym,” but now they’re looking at trails and seeing that it’s very easy to build that type of activity into their everyday lives.”

Promoting bike friendliness also helps develop tourism, says Amy Madigan, DNR greenways and trails coordinator. DNR is collecting economic data regarding bikes with the help of the national Rails to Trails Conservancy, and the data so far seem to show strong economic development in areas with well-planned trail systems.

“It’s made a pretty big impact on small businesses that are located near trails – ice cream shops, bicycle shops and such,” Madigan says. “People are finding businesses and things to do that they wouldn’t have normally seen, all because they’re using bike trails.”

Westfall says Springfield is already a prime spot for tourism because of the Abraham Lincoln historical sites here, and developing a better bikeway system “provides a reason (for tourists) to stay in Springfield an extra day, to shift from a passive museum experience to an active bicycling experience.

“I think trails can become people places,” Westfall says. “Trails can go through business districts, and they draw people. It becomes the place to go, and businesses take advantage of the density of people. It also helps to market our community to prospective businesses and workers by saying we have this set of amenities.”

There are even arguments for bikes as tools to bridge social and economic divides. Dave Sykuta, chairman of the Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council, says bikes may not be a panacea for all of society’s ills, but they are certainly much cheaper to own and operate than cars.

“I think the great common denominator is that you can enjoy bicycling on a lot of different levels,” Sykuta says. “There is an ‘everyman’ component to it. You can go out and get a good used bike for fifty bucks and you’re in business. It’s available to a lot of people who may not be able to afford a car.”

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click to enlarge Two cyclists cross a former railroad bridge-turned-bikepath on the Lost Bridge Trail. - PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
Two cyclists cross a former railroad bridge-turned-bikepath on the Lost Bridge Trail.

Planning for pedaling
In store for Springfield are a plethora of projects that should significantly enhance the city’s bike friendliness. Some are coming fairly soon, but others may take awhile.

With Springfield in the middle of a major environmental study concerning the expansion of rail activity through the city, it’s possible that two of the city’s three rail corridors could be abandoned if rail traffic is consolidated to one corridor. Planners are examining what to do with the potentially abandoned corridors, and one idea involves turning them into new trails that would link neighborhoods throughout the city with the downtown area and the city’s tourist attractions.

The SATS long-range plan calls for moving the Third Street and 19th Street rail corridors to the existing 10th Street corridor, and if that objective is fulfilled, the Third Street and 19th Street corridors could become a looped trail system connecting several of the city’s parks. A map of what this linked-trail system could look like is available at illinoistimes.com.

“It’s not certain,” says Jim Moll, the rail study project manager at Hanson Professional Services in Springfield. “It’s contingent upon there actually being abandoned corridors, and it’s contingent upon arranging the use of those corridors with the railroads. It’s also going to depend on the wishes of the neighborhoods, and funding will certainly be a factor. It’s going to depend on a lot of things, but it also has a lot of potential.”

While the possibility of converting those railways to bike paths is still years away, another railway-to-path conversion is right around the corner. Construction on the first segment of the Sangamon Valley Trail should begin as soon as funds are recieved, according to the Sangamon County Highway Department. The planned 38-mile trail follows an old railroad bed and will eventually slice down the western third of Sangamon County, connecting Girard in the south to Athens in the north. Right-of-way for the trail is already secured because it is owned and managed by DNR. The first 5.5-mile segment, connecting Centennial Park and Stuart Park on Springfield’s west side, will cost about $3.6 million to construct – mostly from federal stimulus funds, and should be completed next summer, the highway department estimates.

Sykuta defends the cost of such projects as investments in the future.

“Some people say that we shouldn’t be building bike trails when we have a $13 billion budget deficit in Illinois,” Sykuta says. “But governments work on more than one thing at a time, and supporting bicycling isn’t taking any money out of the state pension plan. You can do both.”

Another current project is the construction of a comfort station in Rochester along the Lost Bridge Trail, which covers five miles from the Illinois Department of Transportation building on Dirksen Avenue to Rochester. The comfort station is planned to open this month and will feature water fountains, picnic tables, vending machines and a unisex, accessible restroom. That project cost about $12,500, of which $10,000 was federally funded.

At least 40 projects listed in the SATS report will add 111 miles of new bikeways in and around Springfield, more than tripling the current total of 35 miles. The projects include 13.8 miles of new bike lanes, 13 new sections of trails covering 56 miles, and 41.2 miles of wide shoulders along 14 sections of existing and future roads. The projects are separated into three categories, based on the availability of funding for each.

Seven projects are “committed,” meaning funding has already been secured; these projects include the first section of the Sangamon Valley Trail, wide shoulders on sections of Cardinal Hill Road, Old Jacksonville Road and Woodside Road, as well as bike lanes on part of Meadowbrook Road and a trail along part of the Stanford Avenue extension. These projects will begin in 2011.

Twenty-one projects are “planned,” which means they will be started as funding becomes available. Such projects include additional bike lanes along Iles Avenue and Koke Mill Road, finishing the Sangamon Valley Trail, and a 7.2-mile trail from Williamsville to Sherman, among other projects.

“Future” projects, of which there are 12, are included in the plan “to make the vision complete, but are not expected to be implemented within the next 25 years,” according the SATS report. Those projects include wide shoulders along Cantrall Creek Road and Spaulding Orchard Road, as well as more bike lanes along Iles Avenue.

In addition to new bikeways, the SATS report calls for the installation of bike racks on 50 percent of buses operated by the Springfield Mass Transit District by the year 2013.

“By connecting the two modes of transportation, users will be able to extend their journeys, reaching destinations currently too far to walk to/from bus routes,” the SATS report says. “The SMTD may also see a rise in users outside of their district boundaries biking in from areas such as Chatham and Rochester that have trail connections near SMTD service.”

SATS is also preparing to develop a Bike and Pedestrian Way Plan by the end of 2012, which will help set goals and priorities for developing bikeways in the future, and it has set specific goals for bike development. One goal is to include a bikeway or walkway project in each Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) – a four-year plan laying out projects with estimated costs and funding sources – which means Springfield will likely have at least one bike project in progress during each four-year segment until 2035. Another goal of the long-range plan is adopting by 2011 a Complete Streets Policy Statement, a policy guide that would shift development of roads away from a cars-only focus toward making roads safe for all modes of transportation.

Dave Sykuta, SBAC chairman, says Springfield cyclists need to be patient in waiting for improvements to bike infrastructure.

“It’s not going to be an overnight process,” Sykuta says. “It’s going to take some time, but I think we are making progress. I see a lot of potential.”

In the meantime, bike planners and advocates say it’s important that motorists and cyclists learn to share the road.

“There has to be awareness,” Sykuta says. “I know everybody’s got horror stories, but you have to learn to share the road. The bike people are not all pure, either. It’s going to require cooperation and awareness. We kind of see ourselves as missionaries, going out and pushing that message.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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Click here to enlarge this map.

%uFEFF Ma
p #
Project (listed alphabetically) Jurisdiction Accomodation
Length
(Mi)
Status
1
11th St Springfield Bike Lanes
3.1
Existing
2
11th St Extension Springfield Trail
1
Committed
3
Archer Elevator: Greenbriar to Wabash Springfield Bike Lanes
1.4
Planned
4
Bradfordton Rd Extension: Jefferson St
to Moore Rd
County Wide Shoulder
1.2
Future
5
Bradfordton Rd Extension: Moore Rd to
North Cantrall Creek Rd
County Wide Shoulder
4.3
Future
6
Bradfordton Rd: Jefferson to Washington County Wide Shoulder
1.5
Planned
7
Bradfordton Rd: Johanne Ct to Wabash Ave Springfield/PD Trail
0.6
Planned
8
Bradfordton Rd: Polecat Creek to IL 4 County Wide Shoulder
2.4
Future
9
Bradfordton Rd: Spaulding Orchard to
Polecat Creek
County Wide Shoulder
3.5
Future
10
Cantrall Creek Rd and North Cantrall Creek Rd County Wide Shoulder
4.1
Future
11
Cardinal Hill Rd County Wide Shoulder
3.8
Committed
12
Cardinal Hill Rd: Mechanicsburg to I-72 County Wide Shoulder
2.6
Planned
13
Cockrell: Hollis to Mathers Springfield Bike Lanes
0.9
Planned
14
East Lake Shore Drive Path County Trail
0.8
Existing
15
Franklin Middle School Path Franklin Middle School Trail
0.1
Existing
16
Gordon Dr: Plummer to Pulliam Extension Chatham Trail
1.4
Planned
17
Gordon Drive: 0.6 mi. south of Walnut to
Pulliam Ext.
Chatham Trail
1.2
Planned
18
Hollis: Merchantile to east of Cockrell Ln Springfield Bike Lanes
0.4
Planned
19
Iles: Archer Elevator to Lenhart Springfield Bike Lanes
1
Planned
20
Iles: Emerson to Farmindale Rd Springfield Bike Lanes
1.2
Future
21
Iles: Koke Mill to Meadowbrook Springfield Bike Lanes
0.8
Existing
22
Iles: Lenhart to Emerson Springfield Bike Lanes
1.3
Future
23
Iles: Meadowbrook to Archer Elevator Springfield Bike Lanes
0.3
Planned
24
Interurban Trail Springfield/Chatham/PD Trail
8.4
Existing
25
Iron Bridge Rd: Woodside Rd to Walnut St County Wide Shoulder
3
Future
26
Koke Mill Rd Springfield Bike Lanes
2.1
Existing
27
Koke Mill: Jefferson to Old Jacksonville Springfield Bike Lanes
2.3
Planned
28
Leland Grove Path Leland Grove Trail
1
Existing
29
Lenhart: Old Jacksonville to Bunker Hill Springfield Bike Lanes
2.1
Planned
30
LLCC to UIS Trail UIS Trail
1.2
Existing
31
Lost Bridge Trail and connectors Rochester/Springfield/State Trail
7.3
Existing
32
MacArthur: I-72 to Woodside Rd at
Iron Bridge Rd
County Trail
1.5
Planned
33
Meadowbrook Rd Completion Springfield Bike Lanes
0.3
Committed
34
Meadowbrook: Washington to
Old Jacksonville
Springfield Bike Lanes
1
Planned
35
Mechanicsburg Rd: I-72 to Sangamon River County Wide Shoulder
4.6
Planned
36
Mercantile/Bradfordton connector
to south of Mathers Dr
Springfield Bike Lanes
0.8
Future
37
Old Jacksonville Rd County Wide Shoulder
4.6
Existing
38
Old Jacksonville Rd County Wide Shoulder
5.4
Committed
39
Plummer Blvd: Extension west to Bradfordton Chatham Trail
1.4
Planned
40
Plummer Blvd: Ravinia to Ptarmigan Chatham Bike Lanes
0.8
Planned
41
Pulliam Rd Extension: Bradfordton Ext.
to Il 4 & Gordon Dr to I-55
Chatham Trail
3.5
Future
42
Pulliam Rd Extension: IL 4 to Gordon Dr Chatham Trail
1.7
Planned
43
Rochester Rd County Wide Shoulder
1.4
Existing
44
Rochester Trail Rochester/Springfield/State Trail
0.9
Existing
45
Sangamon Valley Trail County Trail
5.7
Committed
46
Sangamon Valley Trail County Trail
27.4
Planned
47
Spaulding Orchard Rd: Curran Rd
to Farmindale Rd
County Wide Shoulder
1.3
Future
48
Spaulding Orchard Rd:
Mercantile/Cockrell to Curran Rd
County Wide Shoulder
2.3
Future
49
Stanford Ave Springfield Bike Lanes
1.1
Existing
50
Stanford Ave Extension Springfield Trail
1.7
Committed
51
Stanford: 6th St to Taylor Ave Springfield Trail
1.7
Planned
52
Toronto Rd Springfield Bike Lanes
0.5
Existing
53
Wabash Trail Springfield/Chatham/PD Trail
2.4
Existing
54
Williamsville to Sherman Trail Williamsville/Sherman Trail
7.2
Planned
55
Woodside Rd County Wide Shoulder
1.2
Committed


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