Cycling in the Suburbs: Incomplete Infrastructure

Cycling in the Suburbs: Incomplete Infrastructure
The path to nowhere... An example of the northwest suburbs' incomplete bicycling infrastructure as seen along Roselle Road just south of I-90.

If you ride in the suburbs like I do, you grow accustomed to certain - let's just call them - idiosyncrasies.

Four-lane roads with posted speed limits of 40 mph or more are an automatic no-go. Two-laners where the paved shoulder can be measured with the junior-size rulers issued to grade-schoolers also top the "ride at your own peril" list. Good luck finding a subdivision you can cut through where the endless winding roads don't all lead you back to exactly where you started from...

To find relatively direct and reasonably safe routes to places of public interest requires a level of creativity and flexibility on the part of the intrepid suburban cyclist.

Take my route to the local Target store, for example. If I drive there, it's a straight, 4.5 mile shot on a single street from my subdivision to the parking lot. If the eastbound side of this busy two-lane road had more than a 3" wide paved shoulder, I could safely ride there directly. Since it doesn't, the first half-mile is a breath-holding, white-knuckle sprint to a less-trafficked road heading south. A short jaunt there, a turn back east along some winding residential streets, a fifty-foot shortcut across a lawn, some additional lightly traveled streets, a short segment on the bike path, another lightly traveled neighborhood street that ends in a cul-de-sac, and a bunny hop off a sidewalk and I'm in the store's parking lot. This "safe" route was only seven and a half miles.

Coming home, the westbound lane of the busy two-lane road has a three-foot wide paved shoulder that I can safely ride on...

As a bicycling advocate, I am fully aware that I can ride on a busy two-lane road with or without a paved shoulder. I can take my place anywhere in the traffic lane to the left of the solid white line. Legally, every motorist must give me three feet of clearance when it is safe to pass me. But in a state where the posted speed limit is interpreted as the suggested minimum road speed, I simply don't trust the drivers speeding up behind me to judge my speed, my position in the lane relative to the width of their vehicles, and the timing of the oncoming traffic they would have to swerve in front of to avoid a collision. I have been buzzed too many times by motorists who are too impatient to slow down and wait until it is safe to pass me.

If this type of riding makes me nervous, how does it make the average suburban family feel?

I'm convinced that the practicality of any type of alternate transportation was roundly rejected and dismissed by suburban planners decades ago. Distances are too vast for buses, why would anyone want to commute anywhere by bike or walk anywhere outside of their neatly contained subdivisions?

How about access to parks and forest preserves?

It is more than ironic that one has to drive to a recreation area. Kids, dogs, strollers, rollerblades, and bikes all have to be loaded, unloaded, and reloaded to experience wide open spaces that are sometimes only blocks from a family's neighborhood. Why can't we safely connect public places with, well, the public?

I realize that part of the problem is jurisdiction over thoroughfares and public spaces. Forest preserve districts buy open land, restore it, and create access to and through it based on each property's unique attributes. Local governments - the progressive ones, anyway - build schools and parks in quiet neighborhoods and link them together with bike paths. County and state controlled roads, on the other hand, seem to be built and maintained based on a uniform standard that may or may not reflect the needs of the local communities they pass through. A perfect example of this is the 3" wide shoulder or the two-foot wide shoulder corrugated with rumble strips every two feet.

Sometimes, the disconnect between different jurisdictions would be humorous, if it weren't such a waste of taxpayer money...

Take Roselle Road where it passes over I-90 along the Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg border. Schaumburg has a great bike path network that leads to the southeast corner of Roselle and Hillcrest, just south of the I-90 eastbound on-ramp. Diagonally across this intersection, there begins a paved bike path that continues north on the west side of Roselle Road. From there, an elevated sidewalk along the bridge is wide enough to carry two lanes of bike traffic across the tollway to the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve - a total distance of .4 miles.

If only any of it were connected...

Here is a picture of the paved bike trail leading to the sidewalk that crosses I-90. One guess as to what is wrong with this picture?

Path to Nowhere 1

This guardrail prevents anyone traveling on the bike path from continuing north along Roselle Road over I-90. The weed-covered intersection in the foreground (below) is an access road that may one day serve as an off-ramp for eastbound I-90 traffic. Right now, however, it's just another obstacle.

Path to Nowhere 2

Below is the sidewalk along the bridge. This view is looking south, but you can see that the sidewalk can't be used in either direction as there is no concrete sidewalk or paved path leading to or from it. It's quite literally the bridge to nowhere...

I-90 Roselle sidewalk 1

The view below, looking north, shows a narrow footpath between the roadway's western edge and a slope down to the I-90 right-of-way. Good luck walking or riding along here...

I-90 slope looking north

At the intersection of Roselle Road and Central Road just north of I-90, we find signalized pedestrian crosswalks. The problem is, only one side of the four-sided intersection - the southwest side - has a sidewalk that connects to it! This is the crosswalk to nowhere that leads to the sidewalk to nowhere...

Roselle and Central crosswalk to nowhere Roselle and Central sidewalk to nowhere

Despite the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve bike trail running parallel with Central Road less than twenty feet away, there is no connection with the intersection (view looking east), let alone its unusable crosswalks.

Paul Douglas Path and Central separation

Clearly, there is both a figurative and literal disconnect between Hillcrest and Central along Roselle Road. The people of Schaumburg are asked to portage guardrails and walk their bikes down a narrow footpath along a grassy slope, roll down a sidewalk, cross four lanes of traffic, and cross another patch of grass before connecting with the Paul Douglas Trail. That is, if they choose not to ride in three lanes of traffic hurrying to enter and exit I-90...

This incomplete infrastructure also prevents anyone living south of I-90 from safely commuting by bicycle to Harper College, which is just another mile up the road. It prevents me and other residents living north of the tollway from safely traveling by bike to Schaumburg's abundant shopping. It's a disconnect that keeps communities separated from one another by arbitrary, man-made barriers.

I don't know what it would take to coordinate an extension of the Paul Douglas Trail through the intersection at Central and over I-90 to the intersection at Hillcrest. I imagine IDOT, the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and the City of Schaumburg would have to work together to plan it and bicycling advocacy groups would have to join in to secure support and funding. But it can, and should be done.

 

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Keep riding and be safe!

 

 

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