The peaks and valleys of biking in Elgin
By Mike Danahey email@example.com June 14, 2012 10:10PM
Bike enthusiast Tom Armstrong takes a picture Thursday morning in downtown Elgin, before going on a ride with a group of local cyclists promoting bike-to-work week. June 14, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:29AM
ELGIN — The Fox Valley has come a long way in recent years in making the bicycle a practical, local alternative mode of transportation or recreation.
But an 18-mile bike ride Thursday morning from East Dundee to downtown Elgin and back — including a round trip in between from downtown to Lords Park with local bike enthusiasts and advocates — also showed how far it has to go.
With perfect San Diego-style weather, the Fox River Trail bike/walking path offered a quiet, steady, pretty much sweat-free ride, with only a few bikers, joggers and dog walkers at 6:30 a.m.
There is an ominous sign posted on safety horses by a footbridge in the East Dundee downtown warning of a dog — on second look, make that a doe that had just given birth to fawns. But she’s nowhere around.
It took a slightly-out-of-shape middle-aged reporter about 40 minutes to make it along the trail to where it ends by Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. From there, the trip was along mostly empty streets to Elgin’s city hall to meet those taking part in an early morning “Breakfast Ride With Elgin City Council Members” (Anna Moeller and John Steffen), which was part of the city’s “Bike to Work Week” offerings.
First thing’s first: Elgin’s volunteer bike ambassador, Tom Armstrong, is among those who feel that “Bike to Work Week” should really focus on biking of any sort — and he hopes to remove “work” from whatever next year’s events may be called.
Even those who do sometimes ride to the office realize what a pain that process can be. For instance, Steffen said he frequently bikes the mile from his east side home to his downtown law office in his suit, weather permitting, but has a car at his disposal at work should he need one.
It takes Stuart Nelson 15 minutes to bike from his east-side home to Elgin’s water treatment plant where he works. That’s just three minutes longer than he takes to drive to work, he said. But he keeps a change of clothes at work and in a locker at The Centre, should he stop for a workout after work.
One of the challenges Nelson says he encounters on rides is that street sensors aren’t set up to detect a bicyclist waiting at a traffic light. There also is a lack of bike racks to be found around town — including at Sherman Hospital, where he recently rode to visit a friend.
Riding along with Nelson, Steffen, Armstrong, Moeller and this reporter were avid cyclist and owner of Rediscover Records Rich Wagner; Armstrong’s friend and neighbor Barbara Broeske; and Ron Rudd of West Dundee, an Elgin city engineer who almost always bikes to work and who has served on the city Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
Shortly after 7:30 a.m., the ride headed on Douglas Avenue to River Bluff Road, onto Congdon Avenue to Hiawatha Drive, through Lords Park to Franklin Boulevard, then to Park Street and back downtown — a relatively flat route in a town known for its hills. And at that hour, and with mostly side streets used, not many cars were encountered.
Key to pedaling
During the ride, Rudd mentioned that he’s read that if mothers feel safer biking a particular street or path, they will let their children ride the same routes.
“People have to feel comfortable,” Rudd said of a key to getting more people pedalling.
That sense of comfort and safety was a topic of conversation at Wednesday night’s city council meeting. It came up during a discussion of a much-needed facelift the city is giving Villa Street from Lake Street east to Willard Avenue, putting down new pavement and addressing drainage and lane width issues.
The reconfiguration is set to have two traffic lanes and a two-way left-turn lane in the middle, each of which would be 11 feet wide, plus bikes lanes along each side, with each 4 feet wide.
The discussion will be continued in two weeks, in part because some council members had questions about safety issues, particularly related to biking. Councilman Rich Dunne wondered that with its relatively heavy truck traffic, if it might be better to put bike paths on a different, less-busy street.
Ultimately, such lanes could connect to other lanes allowing riders to go back and forth from downtown Elgin to Elgin High School on the eastern edge of the city, Armstrong says.
As for Thursday’s ride, Broeske — who has lived in Elgin since 1974 — said, “It showed how beautiful it is to stay in town to bike. I usually take trails, but this was a chance to try newly paved streets and meander. This is a changed town from when I came here, a more bike-friendly one.”