OP pumps up biking effort, applies for 'friendly' status

Comprehensive bike plan may be part of 2007 budget

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By DREW CARTER

Ellen McKenna and her husband, Bill, ride their bikes from Lombard most days to work at village hall in Oak Park.

She has encouraged fellow village workers to do the same during the annual Bike to Work Week, getting 26 of the village's 240 employees to bike at least one day during that week in May.

Now McKenna and other bike enthusiasts and transportation experts have begun a push to make the village more cycling-friendly.

At the core of the effort are two things: an application to the League of American Bicyclists to become a "Bicycle Friendly Community" and the beginning of a village-wide comprehensive bike plan.

The two feed off one another.

The application, to be submitted this week, will return either the bike-friendly designation or a list of ways to become friendlier to bikes, McKenna said. The village has already taken some strides in improving cycling in Oak Park-such as by promoting bike events and installing bike lockers near train stations-but a plan would better coordinate the effort, she said.

"The process [of applying] is what's valuable, and the recognition [would be] nice," said Sonny Ginsberg, chair of the Transportation Commission. "But the real value is figuring out what we've done and what we need to do."

Just two Illinois communities have been dubbed bicycle-friendly by the League: Chicago, which has a silver designation, and Schaumburg, which has a bronze designation.

The application asks about the community's bike plan, and about existing infrastructure, bike events and education efforts.

As part of the upcoming process to create the 2007 budget, the Public Works Department will recommend including the creation of a comprehensive bike plan to the village board. McKenna estimated an initial outlay of $20-50,000 to fund the hiring of a consultant to help create the plan.

Development of the plan would include public input and could start as early as January if approved, McKenna said.

Paul Aeschleman, a transportation commissioner, said the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, a nonprofit advocacy group, has a consulting arm, and other smaller consulting firms work on bike plans, too.

"There's a number of communities around that have bike plans," Aeschleman said, including Blue Island, Downers Grove and Naperville.

Oak Park bikers have been pushing for a comprehensive plan for a decade, he said. "This [recent effort] is fairly promising."

Just what needs to be done to improve biking in Oak Park and to get more people on their saddles?

"My main thing is, fix the streets," said Aeschleman, who uses his bike for most errands. He also rides to work every day in two legs-he rides to the Metra station in North Riverside, takes the train west to Lisle, where he has another bike waiting to ride to work.

A bike plan would evaluate where bike lanes might be appropriate (although bikers warn that many streets in Oak Park are too narrow and congested for bike lanes), if more bike lockers are needed, and whether the village should require new developments to incorporate biking facilities in them.

"As we increase downtown density, we have to think about how we will move all these people around," Aeschleman said. "Certainly bikes aren't the end-all-be-all, but they should be part of the plan."

"But a bike plan would not just be about bike lanes," McKenna said. It would have three main parts: infrastructure, marketing and education.

"A marketing strategy should be implemented to encourage bicycling to work and school, shopping by bike, and bicycling for recreational purposes," the bike-friendly application reads in part. "Children should be encouraged to ride their bikes to school and taught bike safety lessons as a part of the physical education curriculum. The health, social and financial benefits of bicycling should be touted and encouraged in Oak Park."

And, of course, McKenna and others hope that a plan would get ongoing funding to implement the improvements identified in the plan.

On Monday, the Transportation Committee approved the bike-friendly application and voted to formally urge the village board to support the bike plan when it fashions its budget this fall. Transportation engineer Jill Juliano will draft the recommendation for approval, which she said would be unlikely before September.

Commissioners also congratulated McKenna for her work on the bike-friendly application. "You did more than simply respond to suggestions," Commissioner John Abbott said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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