BLOOMINGTON — It’s a big year for bicycling in the Twin Cities, and not just because of Constitution Trail's 25th anniversary.
Both Bloomington and Normal will paint their first on-street, dedicated bike lanes, as the city finishes its first citywide bicycle master plan and the town progresses on implementation of its 2009 bike plan.
“Constitution Trail is this amazing backbone and spine that goes through our community,” said Caryn Davis, a Bike BloNo advocacy group board member and co-owner of Bloomington Cycle and Fitness. “For us to connect that to some major thing — to State Farm, downtown, the universities — with some paint on the streets, and the right type of planning, it would be just a large boon for our community.”
Aside from her own business, Davis said municipalities need to look at alternative transportation to succeed in the modern economy.
It’s a sentiment echoed by city leaders and reinforced in part by a U.S. Census report released last month that showed a 60 percent increase across the nation in the number of people who are biking to work in the last decade, from 488,000 in 786,000.
“Having a bike-friendly town is becoming an essential quality of life component in the 21st century. We’re seeing young professionals, entrepreneurs, people wanting to locate their businesses in places where you have transportation options,” said Ed Barsotti, executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists. “If you simply ignore the situation and see it as recreation only, you’re going to be missing the boat.”
Barsotti’s organization is leading Bloomington’s effort to develop a bicycling master plan, expected to be completed in September.
“It’s really important to be planning the bicycle master plan now, so that as we improve roads we do that in a proactive way,” said Bloomington Public Works Director Jim Karch. “There is a balance with the need for where money is spent, of course. That’s why it’s important to make sure the money that’s spent on the bicycle routes is strategic.”
The League of Illinois Bicyclists conducted a public brainstorming workshop and studied survey results to learn where people wanted bicycling infrastructure, Barsotti said.
He said Lincoln and Washington streets were at the top of the wish list, but that won’t necessarily result in bike lanes there. The League analyzes existing traffic patterns and road conditions to see where bicycling infrastructure makes sense.
“What we’re trying to achieve is a network of routes, kind of a grid network, with a half-mile to one-mile spacing,” Barsotti said.
By the time the bicycle plan is finished, the city may have its first on-street bicycle path complete — a short segment of dedicated bike lane on Front Street, where it’s also painting “sharrows” that are shared-lane markings that feature chevrons and a bicycle outline. Sharrows encourage bicyclists to use specific streets and warn drivers.
After Front Street is resurfaced this summer, the sharrows or bike lane will run from near Robinson and Front streets along Front until it reaches Constitution Trail. The city also has painted sharrows down Prairie Street, from Front to Walnut, along Walnut until it hits Park Street and north on Park to Emerson Street — connecting downtown to Illinois Wesleyan University.
The Normal City Council adopted its Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan in 2009 and has put sharrows on several streets. This summer, it will complete its first on-street, dedicated bike lanes — one on Bryan Street; another on Jersey Avenue.
Town Engineer Gene Brown said the bike lanes will be done after Bryan and Jersey are resurfaced this summer. The City Council is expected to award a contract for all resurfacing work on Monday night. While he wasn't sure when crews would get to Bryan and Jersey, he expects the projects to be completed by Oct. 1.
The bike lanes are part of a planned east-west bikeway across southern Normal and one of the top six projects of the bicycle and pedestrian plan, said Town Planner Mercy Davison.
The Bryan Street “Bike Boulevard” will run from Parkside Road to Adelaide Street and includes reconfigured curbs to narrow the opening of the street and slow down traffic.
The Jersey Avenue dedicated bike lane will run from Belt Street to Brookwood Drive. Brown said there will be bike lanes on both sides of the street.
At Belt, bicyclists will find either sharrows or a marked route that will take them to Virginia Avenue, then to Linden Street and to Constitution Trail. There also will be markings taking riders north on Brookwood to the trail along Vernon Avenue, he said.
The town also is planning to let bids this month for a dedicated bike lane on Raab Road, from Healing Stone Court to Northpointe Drive, Brown said. In addition, Constitution Trail will expand with two summer projects: extending the north-south leg from Kerrick to Zeibarth roads; and building a leg on the north side of Northtown Road from Towanda Avenue to that same north-south leg.
“I feel we're doing really good; there’s a lot of good momentum at this time,” said Davison of the bike plan.
Davison said the town has accomplished several other parts of the plan, including: sponsoring three bike rodeos and a Light the Night event; implementing snowplowing on Constitution Trail; founding and hosting an annual bike summit; and designing a new Constitution Trail logo.
One of the top six things on the bike plan’s to-do list remains untouched, but is out of the town’s hands. That was the idea of improving pedestrian crossings on Veterans Parkway. The busy roadway falls under the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Another plan to upgrade the Constitution Trail/Vernon Avenue crossing also has not been done, although Davison said the town did make a major improvement on Vernon by replacing the bridge near the trail.