Bicycling enthusiasts in River Forest who are anticipating the implementation of the village’s first-ever bicycle plan will have to wait a little longer, following discussion at the Oct. 26 virtual village board meeting.
At the meeting, elected officials sent village staff members back to the drawing board on a proposal to implement the bike plan. The proposal called for bidding the project in November and starting construction in spring 2021.
Staff members had proposed installing 342 signs to guide bicyclists along the designated routes on village-controlled streets, create motorist awareness, and improve safety at intersections. Signs would be placed on existing posts where possible. Also proposed was the installation of bike lane symbols, arrows and shared lane markings. The estimated $194,000 cost of the installation would be offset slightly by a grant of $30,735 from Cook County.
However, elected officials expressed concerns over the number of signs and the wisdom of expending such funds while the village is facing decreased revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff members were instructed to reduce the scale of the project by reducing the number of signs leading to a reduction in cost.
“There are way too many signs,” said Trustee Tom Cargie, an opinion echoed by trustees Patty Henek and Bob O’Connell.
Henek and Trustee Erika Bachner questioned the need for way-finding signs, which would direct bicyclists to specific destinations.
“There is some value to some of the way-finding signs,” Henek said. “Can we go back and whittle down the number of signs?”
She also asked if the signs could be smaller.
Trustee Katie Brennan noted the purpose of some signs are safety-related while the purpose of others are related to way-finding.
“If the purpose of a sign is safety, we should just go with those signs,” she added.
Trustee Respicio Vazquez agreed, noting, “We’re a small community.”
Bachner and Henek questioned spending $194,000 while the village is facing decreased revenues related to the COVID-19 pandemic while Henek and O’Connell wanted to know grant details.
John Anderson, public works director, explained that village staff members were unsuccessful in obtaining additional grant funding through the RTA Access to Transit program and Invest in Cook, a Cook County program. However, Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri (9th), whose district includes River Forest, was instrumental is obtaining the $30,000 Cook County grant.
In response to questions from Henek and O’Connell, he said he did not know if the grant carried any restrictions.
Village Administrator Eric Palm explained that staff members do not have all the specifics about the grant because they are “still waiting for paperwork,” but noted similar grants the village has received from Cook County have required a “small match” in funding.
Brennan commented on an increase in bicycling in the village, attributing the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More people are exercising and more people are riding bicycles to work because it’s safer than public transit,” she said.
Village President Cathy Adduci agreed, noting that village officials need to promote bicycling.
Trustees accepted the recommendation from the village’s Sustainability Commission in approving the bicycle plan in July 2019.
The $194,000 project would have been the first phase of implementation. A second phase would cover implementation on Thatcher Avenue, Lake Street, Madison Street, Harlem Avenue and North Avenue, streets under control of the Illinois Department of Transportation.
The plan recommends installing bike lanes along Central Avenue, from Jewel-Osco to William Avenue; on Division Street, between Thatcher and Park avenues; on Lake Street, from Jackson Avenue to William Street; on Madison Street, between Forest and Park avenues; and on Thatcher Avenue, between Keystone and Chicago avenues.
Bike lanes are also recommended on the north side of Lake Street, between Bonnie Brae Place and Harlem Avenue, and on the south side of Madison Street, between Thatcher and Forest avenues.
The plan also recommends including marked shared lanes, which would promote shared use of the road by cars and bicyclists, recommended for portions of Central Avenue, Chicago Avenue, Lathrop and Thatcher avenues, as well as portions of Division, Lake and Madison streets, and Washington Boulevard.