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Northern attitudes: At ATA’s Suburban Advocacy Connect event, talk of a “livid” battle over Skokie bikeway plan

Other topics discussed included federal funding for bike-walk safety projects, Ride Illinois events, an infrastructure field trip in Glenview, and Bike the Drive.

A sign about angry birds on the Skokie Valley Bike Path at Clavey Road. Photo: Jeff Zoline

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Earlier this week, the Active Transportation Alliance held one of its Advocacy Connect lunch hour Zoom chats, this time focusing on the suburbs. These chats let the advocacy group discuss its campaigns that attendees might want to get involved with, and provide a platform for guest speakers and audience members to talk about walk/bike/transit efforts in their communities.

After some brief introductions, Dave Simmons, executive of the statewide advocacy organization Ride Illinois, gave a rundown of what the organization has been up to, assisted by Bike Safety Project Assistant Elizabeth Adamczyk. Simmons mentioned that there will be Learn to Ride Lessons at the University of Illinois Chicago this Saturday, June 22, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Halsted/Taylor parking garage, 760 W Taylor St.

Dave Simmons

Next the event's host ATA Advocacy Manager Maggie Czerwinski gave some updates on what they've been up to. They're preparing for the group's main fundraiser Bike the Drive on the morning of Sunday, September 1st, which will open DuSable Lake Shore Drive for car-free bicycling – a truly eye-opening experience.

The advocacy group is also co-hosting a three-part webinar series with the Illinois Department of Transportation on the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. According to the ATA website, this program "will be open beginning of August through September and provide $140 million in state and federal funding for walking, biking, and trail projects around the state." Czerwinski encouraged local village and city staff to attend the series to learn about available resources.

Maggie Czerwinski

"Another grant that I want to flag is the Safe Streets [and Roads] for All federal grant program," Czerwinski said. The program, which launched in 2022 and will run through 2026, is distributing $5 billion in grants nationwide to prevent serious and fatal traffic crashes. "In the Chicago region, countywide action plans are being developed in every county... to really pinpoint where the issues are for vulnerable road users. You’ll probably be hearing more about that this summer."

Czerwinski added that if a county is working on the Safe Streets plan, any community within the county is eligible to applying for a demonstration grant to pilot a safety strategy, such as a temporary bike lane, on a test basis. The community would evaluate conditions at that location before and after implementation to gauge whether there were any measurable improvements, such as a new bikeway correlating with more ridership and/or fewer crashes.

Czerwinski also gave an update on the Clean and Equitable Transportation Act, sponsored by State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8th). "This is the big bill that is looking at addressing the transit fiscal cliff in our region, looking at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through the transportation sector, looking at electrification."

She discussed the timeline of that legislation. "This bill was introduced at the beginning of May and the [legislative] session closed at the end of May. This summer, the plan is that there will be public hearings, there will be town halls, especially in our region... getting people’s thoughts to potentially tweak the bill. And this bill could be discussed and voted upon in the lame duck session [a short meeting of the outgoing legislature before the new legislature is sworn in], which I think is sometime in November. But most likely we’ll see it remerge next year during that full session, and this will be a big focus throughout the session."

Brian Larson

Next up was Brian Larson from the Northwest Municipal Conference Bicycle Pedestrian Committee, which includes the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago. The committee is hosting its annual field trip for members on Tuesday, July 9th, at 9:30 a.m., meeting at the Glenview Park District Park Center, 2400 Chestnut Ave. Larson encouraged relevant elected representatives and other staff members to attend. "We'll be touring some of the new construction that Glenview has put in place around the Glen [town center] that enhances bike and pedestrian access in the area."

Ben Harris of the Cook County Forest Preserves talked about how his organization will be partnering with Ride Illinois for four more free Pedal the Preserves events this summer. Helmets and loaner bicycles will be available.

Ben Harris

Harris also mentioned a bike lane plan in the northern suburb of Skokie that is getting fierce Not In My Back Yard (our words, not his) pushback from some neighbors, plus passionate support from local advocates.

The village of Skokie hopes to complete a 2.7-mile east-west bike route on Church Street between Linder Avenue and McCormick Boulevard, with construction taking place in 2025. The planners' goal is a relatively modest one: to paint bike lanes on both sides of Church between the North Shore Channel Trail and sculpture garden, and the west end of the village, near the North Branch Trail.

Nonetheless, Streetsblog reader Robert Keding us there was heavy opposition at a June 13 public meeting about the project. "Unfortunately, the reaction by the crowd was very negative, with the lion's share of feedback being directed at loss of parking and [claims that] traffic congestion would increase."

The proposed route on Church Street in Skokie. Image: Google Maps

"People are, like, livid" about the Church proposal, Harris acknowledged during the ATA chat, "I mean, pro and con about this."

He noted that the final public meeting on the project will be on Thursday, June 27, 5-7 p.m., in the activity room of Weber Leisure Center, 9300 Weber Park Pl. in Skokie, and encouraged bike advocates to attend. If you can't make it, you can review the plans online and complete the public comment form by Friday, June 28 to give feedback on the initiative.

Image: Village of Skokie

Keding echoed that advice. "I am hoping to get more attendees to come to the second and final meeting... to voice their support for the addition of bicycle lanes to Church St, balancing out the negativity." 

"I already see the proposed plan as a heavy compromise," Keding added. "There are sections of 'sharrows' [bike-and-chevron pavement markings, AKA 'shared-lane makings', but no striped bike lanes] and a lack of physical protection for cyclists. So I really hope the backlash so far won't lead the Illinois Department of Transportation to water it down even more."

Read more background about the Church Street bike lanes issue in this Skokie Patch article by Ben Meadows.

Rendering of the east end of the Church Street project, where it would connect with the North Shore Channel Trail and sculpture garden. Image: Illinois Department of Transportation

The next ATA Chicago Advocacy Connect will take place Friday, July 12, noon to 1 p.m. Register in advance here.

You can watch the previous City Advocacy Connect video chats here, and the previous Suburban Advocacy Connect discussions here

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