SPRINGFIELD — The agency best known for planning and building interstate highways is poised to embark on a plan that could benefit those who get around on two wheels.

The Illinois Department of Transportation is seeking bids from companies to design a first-ever state bikeway plan, which could pave the way for an upgraded series of bicycling paths crisscrossing the state and local communities.

“If you provide the space, people will use it,” said Doug Oehler of Bloomington, vice president of the League of Illinois Bicyclists.

IDOT says it’s all part of the Quinn administration’s push to create a greener, healthier Illinois.

“It’s the first overall comprehensive bike plan for the state,” said Josh Kauffman, a spokesman for IDOT. “It’s a major milestone in the process to move forward with increased sustainability and environmentally friendly transportation options for Illinoisans.”

Illinois has hundreds of miles of bike trails, but has no formal, long-range plan for linking them together or for improving existing roadways to allow for the safe passage of bikers to get to work, exercise or to go shopping.

As an example, the plan could lay out policies for the state and local governments to follow when building new roads or upgrading existing thoroughfares. Rather than focusing solely on cars and trucks, the new or improved roads could include bike lanes.

“It will help to establish a baseline for the existing bikeway system,” Kauffman said.

Positive step

Bicycle advocates say it’s a positive step for the state to begin finding ways to link state bikeways with those now managed by local governments. They also say the plan could eventually lead to Illinois’ trails being linked with national bike corridors.

Oehler said he envisions the plan potentially allowing someone to ride across the state — north and south, east and west — on a number of bikeways.

He said rising fuel prices have already triggered more people to take up biking as an alternative way of getting to work or to the store.

“Any improvement in infrastructure — like providing shoulders or better access to roads — is good news to us,” said Oehler, who estimates he rides more than 4,000 miles per year.

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