About five years ago, the Village of Oak Park became intentionally more pro-active in promoting the use of bicycles?#34;just one component in a more comprehensive effort to address area traffic congestion as development increases population density.
And residents seem to be responding, judging by the increased number of bike racks around town and the increasing number of bicycles secured there.
Security, of course, remains one of the cyclist's primary concerns, but as a casual reading of the crime report each week reveals, bikes are no safer at home or in the garage than they are in your average business district.
With elaborate locks and community policing, more commuters are taking the risk and cycling to transit stations, including the Metra, where large contained "lockers" are available for storing bikes during the workday.
Safety is also a concern in this village of wide streets and narrow (to non-existent) bike lanes. Because Oak Park is also a pedestrian-friendly town, the sidewalks can get pretty cozy. Bikers aren't supposed to be riding there, but in densely trafficked areas like downtown, many feel safer on the sidewalks, especially when kids are involved.
So the dream is complicated by challenges. There is no paved trail (yet) through our neck of the Forest Preserves to the west, but some long-range planners still dream of connecting someday to the Prairie Path trail that heads west from First Avenue in Maywood and to paved trail systems that would allow cyclists to ride all the way to the Wisconsin border.
But that dream is a long way off, given the vagaries of Cook County politics and resistance from some environmentalists.
In the meantime, many say that simply peddling around Oak Park and River Forest is pleasure enough with its tree-lined side streets and handsome Victorian and Prairie homes. Business districts and the local tourism industry are beginning to plan events to take advantage of the burgeoning interest.
In recognition of the progress made toward a bike-friendlier community, we offer, beginning on page 12, a package of articles detailing the successes, challenges, and, of course, opinions about the cycling movement as it progresses in our two villages.