By Mike Bryson
This spring RU Professor Mike Bryson and Sustainability Studies undergrad major Kenton Franklin joined a bicycle planning committee in the Village of Schaumburg, where Roosevelt University’s suburban campus has been located since 1996. Composed of local citizens, bike advocates, business leaders, and others, the committee is assisting Schaumburg is developing a new active transportation plan that will improve access to and promote usage of the Village’s bike and walking paths as well as public transportation. Leading this effort is the Active Transportation Alliance, Chicago-based organization that advocates for sustainable transportation development and innovation, especially biking.
The Northwest Suburbs have a plethora of bike organizations and pathway/trail networks that connect communities and parklands and encourage residents to ride. Moreover, these communities cooperate in regional bike transportation planning through the Northwest Municipal Conference, which represents over 1.3 million people living in an area of more than 300 square miles. Schaumburg, in particular, has been a regional leader since the late 1970s in developing its 87 miles of on-street bike lanes and off-street pathways that lace residential areas and link up with the town center, various parks, and other destinations. Current planning efforts focus on improving signage, ensuring safer crossings of busy streets, improving access to important destinations (such as public transit stations), and developing programs that encourage bike usage whenever possible.
Such efforts are critical when one considers the sprawling size of Schaumburg and other suburban/exurban communities, which were designed with cars in mind, not bicycles. Those realities are evident in the six- to ten-lane roads running through the region, the vast distances one must travel between some destinations, and the lack of safe pedestrian/bicycle crossings at many busy intersections. Tackling these challenges is not sexy work — but it’s important for safe and enjoyable bike travel.
This is where it’s useful to reflect on the differences between biking in a big city like Chicago versus a modern suburb like Schaumburg. Chicago is well-known as an innovative and friendly place for bicyclists, what with its extensive and growing network of on-street dedicated bike lanes as well as its many trails — including the showcase 20+ mile lakefront trail that runs from the far North Side through downtown to the far South Side. The density of urban development ensures that in many neighborhoods (though certainly not all) people can bike to many key destinations within a mile or so of their homes.
But biking in Chicago has many challenges and hazards, chief among them busy traffic and parked cars along streets. Riding safely in Chicago requires constant vigilance and savvy defensive riding skills; otherwise, getting hit by a moving vehicle or an opening door can bring a rude end to one’s travels.
In suburban areas, the trade-offs swing the other way. In general, traffic is lighter (though often faster, especially in places like Schaumburg which have many 45mph-rated streets) and there tend to be far fewer cars parked along the streets. But with everything more spread out within the sprawling patterns of suburban development, cycling in some suburban communities for errands can be a daunting undertaking of time and energy. This is why it’s imperative for Schaumburg and other suburbs to make cycling as safe and convenient as possible, in order to overcome these structural barriers to habitual biking.
All that said, bicycling in Schaumburg has a promising future. With its solid foundation of three decades’ worth of planning, an updated bicycle map, community events that promote cycling (such as the annual Fahrrad Tour von Schaumburg), existing trail/path network, and local grassroots organizations such as the Schaumburg Bicycle Club, Schaumburg is already ahead of many other towns and cities in northeastern Illinois. It also benefits from being adjacent to other suburbs with trail networks and commitments to improving cycling, such as Hoffman Estates, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, and others.
Finally, and just as significantly, Schaumburg has trail/path access to several major parklands within the Village boundaries (notably, the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary) as well as in the Cook County Forest Preserve System. The latter includes Busse Woods to the east, the Paul Douglas and Deer Grove Preserves to the north, and Poplar Creek Preserve to the west — all of which boast extensive and well-developed bike trails.
The integration of municipal bike paths with forest preserve and parkland trails embodies the best possible outcome of bike planning: linking people with nature. Within this kind of active transportation vision, we can do much more than simply use our bikes to get exercise while going from point A to point B; we can, in the process, trade the exhaust fume-saturated world of traffic-choked streets for green pathways that link people’s homes with parks, businesses, schools, and civic buildings.