Champaign applies to be a “bicycle friendly community”

Despite infrastructure challenges, the city of Champaign is applying to be designated as a “bicycle friendly community” by the American Bicyclists in Illinois. 

Rob Kowalski, assistant planning director for Champaign, said the application will be submitted mid-February. The city of Urbana received its “bicycle friendly community” designation in 2011. 

Kowalski said he believes the city is ready for the title even though challenges, such as bridge crossings over interstates, can make it dangerous for bicyclists. 

“We’ve been striping bike lanes, producing maps, and just the fact that we’re a University town laid out well for bicycling gives us a very strong application,” he said. 

He also said the Illinois Department of Transportation announced a $1.7 million grant on Wednesday to reconstruct the Windsor Road bridge into a complete street with bike lanes and sidewalks.

“Construction takes a long time and a lot of money, but we’re making progress,” Kowalski said.

However, Ken Sutto, Campus Bike Shop manager, said although he appreciates Champaign’s efforts to be more bike friendly, he does not feel the city is ready for the title. 

“I think the bike paths need to be connected, and the road condition in this town is pretty poor in a lot of places,” Sutto said. “I live near downtown, which is fine, but the further west you go and the further north at all, it’s pretty insane to try and ride a bike. It’s darn near suicidal at times.” 

Sutto said the designation would be good for the city as it contributes to sustainability but before it could happen, he said it is necessary to have more support for cyclists in the infrastructure.

According to the League of American Bicyclists, the title requires being active in the five “E’s:” engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. 

Jeff Yockey, president of Champaign County Bikes, said although Champaign and Urbana faced challenges in terms of the economy, he is excited to live in a city that considers bicyclists in city development.

“We’re about 20 years behind the ‘gold-cities’ (League of American Bicyclists designation), and that’s a lot of paint and cement to catch up in, but we’re getting there,” Yockey said. 

Yockey said his goal is for the community is to raise interest in biking as well as dismissing concerns. With resources like a Champaign-Urbana bicycle map his organization created, he said he thinks receiving the title is possible. 

Kowalski was also hopeful about the city’s prospects.

“I don’t suspect we’ll have a problem getting the designation,” Kowalski said. “I feel very confident about it.”

Claire can be reached at everett5@dailyillini.com.