River Forest approves first bike plan

Recommendations include installing bicycle facilities on 22 streets

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By Nona Tepper

River Forest trustees voted unanimously, at a meeting on July 22, to approve the village's first-ever bicycle plan. 

Andy Basney, a member of the River Forest Sustainability Commission, said the group collaborated with a village bike task force, a traffic consultant, and surveyed more than 300 residents over the past two years in an effort to make the plan as inclusive as possible. Its creation was funded by a grant from the Cook County Board of Commissioners. 

"The plan considers the needs of children, bike commuters and people of all abilities in the village," Basney said, adding that he would help the village apply for grants and look into funding opportunities for implementing the plan, with the ultimate goal being for River Forest to be named a "Diamond" Bicycling Friendly Community in five years by the League of American Bicyclists. 

"We're going to work like the dickens to get some grant money to start implementation quicker, faster and to get to that Diamond goal. There's no reason why we can't get there," Village President Cathy Adduci said.  

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 include 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. 

Trustee Tom Cargie said he believed the village's streets were too small to be shared with bikes.  

"I'm troubled by the whole bike lane. I just don't see how that's going to work," Cargie said. "Our streets are too small. We have much narrower streets than Oak Park even."  

Eric Russell, a principal at the KLOA traffic consultant firm who authored the report, said the goal of the plan was to preserve street parking "wherever possible" and that, in some cases, the streets were already wide enough to accommodate bikes or that sidewalks could be widened to install bike lanes. He said 22 streets in the village have "bicycle facilities" recommended for them.

"Some communities strip a lot of parking on the street in order to find space for dedicated bicycle facilities," Russell said. "I think in this community it was important to maintain street parking for the commercial businesses, and so on those streets we did not elect to recommend removing any parking on the street." 

He said the plan also tried to emphasize connectivity to bicycle facilities in the region, including the Grand Illinois Trail, Prairie Path, and Forest Preserves paths. Trustee Bob O'Connell said the village should avoid installing an "overabundance" of signs like he said they have in Forest Park. 

"It becomes a visual overdose," O'Connell said. "I would ask we give some consideration to where bicyclists are going and how we can direct them to get there instead of just throwing up signs willy-nilly." 

In addition to increased signage, the plan recommends installing new bike racks at 28 locations throughout River Forest, including every local school and university, River Forest Village Hall, Madison Street and more. 

Trustee Respicio Vazquez said the bike plan fell in line with the River Forest's age-friendly agenda. 

"I love when things have a parallel benefit. As part of our pursuit of an age-friendly community, one of the criteria if you recall is transportation. … It's a benefit for age-friendly seniors," he said. 

Trustee Kathleen Brennan said that, in addition to promoting River Forest's senior initiatives, the plan could also appeal to first-time home buyers. 

"I'm really excited about going for this Bicycle Friendly Community badge because we know that's what homebuyers are looking at when they're looking to the community they're going to move into," Brennan said. "It keeps people here, it helps realtors sell homes, and it increases our property values." 

Trustee Patty Henek added that she viewed the plan as a "living document," open to discussion. 

"Just like the comprehensive plan, we may determine things in there that work [or] we may determine they don't work," Henek said. "It's a great framework in terms of moving us toward being more bike-friendly."

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