Mego: Time to make Naperville truly friendly for bicyclists

Almost 14 years ago, 17-year-old Nathan Oglesby was riding his bike on Highway 14, returning home from a job in Cary. As he crossed the Fox River, he was struck by a car and killed. At the time, there was only about a one-foot space between the roadway and the metal guard rail. All pedestrians and kids on bikes had to use that space as their only way across the river.

Didn’t everybody see that an accident was inevitable? Sure, but a bike study hadn’t been finished for some reason, and a requested grant was slow to come. Because of the efforts of the boy’s parents, and pressure from the community, the bridge was eventually retrofitted at considerable expense with a concrete path on the other side of the guard rail.

Oh, I should mention that Oglesby wasn’t the first young boy to be killed biking across that bridge. He was the third.

In transportation jargon, the street wasn’t complete. A street isn’t really complete until everybody can use it, no matter what their circumstances. If you can’t safely walk or ride a bike on the street, it simply isn’t done yet.

Oglesby’s death started a movement. A bill to try to make all Illinois streets complete was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 7, 2007. In mid-summer, it was sent to Gov. Blagojevich, who gutted it with an amendatory veto. The veto was over-ridden on Oct. 10, and Illinois became the first entire state to mandate that: “Bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be given full consideration in the planning and development of transportation facilities, including the incorporation of such ways into state plans and programs.”

Now, seven years later, Illinois has just released the Illinois Bike Transportation Plan, that will allow the Illinois Department of Transportation “to systematically integrate transportation alternatives into existing state operations” in such a way that “all modes (of transportation) be integrated, coordinated, planned and built with the idea that present and future travel options are user focused, economically supportive, ecologically sensitive, and information centric.”

So it would appear that we’re making progress. The foundation principles of this plan are access, choices, connectivity, safety and collaboration. In other words, you should now be able to choose any mode of transportation you want and have it seamlessly connect to every other mode all throughout Illinois.

Except, of course, you can’t. Here, you can’t even make it through the downtown. Oregon had a complete streets policy, not a law, in the 1970s, but so did Naperville. The difference is that Oregon wrote its down and actually took it seriously. We didn’t. As a result, you can bike all over Portland and connect with trains and buses. Here, a woman in an SUV will run you down in the middle of town and drive home with your bike embedded in the grill of her car, as has happened.

We have done a wonderful job in recreational biking, mainly by using floodplain land along the river. But is that going to be it? Are we just going to give up on the idea that people could use bikes to travel to the train station, parks, restaurants and stores, especially in the warm months when parking is at a premium? Wouldn’t the restaurants and stores like us to find a solution?

I can’t imagine how much time and money has been wasted on things like bike plans that are just a bunch of worthless maps, jargon, and word clouds.

Towns don’t follow plans. They need laws and deadlines. They can’t hope things happen; they have to make things happen. We need to look at every single street in town and ask ourselves a very simple question. Is it complete? And if not, how do we make it that way?