If you’re involved in cycling in C-U and haven’t met Jeff, then no doubt you’ve at least seen him. We asked him 10 questions about the past, present, and future of cycling in Champaign-Urbana.
Cycling goes back to being a kid for me. I had a paper route on the whole north side of my small home town starting in 2nd grade, so I bought a bike and put over 15,000 miles on it just from my paper route. A bicycle is great transportation for a kid! Later in college I went on four bike touring trips with my brother and that launched me into a new area of cycling. Now, a bike is my preferred choice of local transportation in C-U.
When did you become an active member of the cycling community?
Soon after I moved back to Urbana I met some members of Champaign County Bikes (CCB) who were participating in Sustainability Week at the U of I. I was impressed with them and their vision for cycling in C-U, so I joined CCB, starting volunteering, and a couple of years later took a bigger leadership role in the organization. Now I’m CCB’s Executive Director.
What have been some of the major shifts that you’ve seen in cycling in Champaign-Urbana over the years?
Here are a few things anyone will notice out on the streets of C-U:
- More cargo bikes on the streets. Cargo bikes are bikes designed to carry younger kids, groceries, and larger packages. Cargo bikes enable people to run their errands on a bike instead of a car.
- More folding bikes on the streets– adult bikes with small wheels. Thus a bike can be carried on a bus or train, stored in one’s office, and kept inside an apartment. This is another sign bikes are evolving into a flexible source of urban transportation.
- More bikes with fenders, panniers (removable rear “saddle bags”), and lights. These are your everyday, all-weather bikes used by bicycle commuters.
- Better bicycle parking is showing up around town, and it’s being used!
Kids using bikes as not just something that’s fun, but also as an everyday means of transportation seems to me to be an important step in normalizing bikes as a viable alternative to cars in the US. Do you think kids will start to bike to school again? Do they need to?
I think kids will start riding more, especially in cities with a higher Bicycle Friendly Community award level, and where they have an active Safe Routes to School organization. On the whole, our nation has not turned the corner on this trend, yet. (Read this and spend some time on their website, it’s great. And watch this, one of the most highly viewed Street Films ever.) But in some school districts the change has already occurred and that inspires us here in C-U.
What do you think are some of the causes in these shifts?
- One big game changer was the adoption of Complete Streets Policies by Urbana, the U of I, and Champaign. Complete Streets says, “Streets are for everyone and should be designed for everyone: Pedestrians, bicyclists, transit (buses), and cars.
- A second was involvement in the League of American Bicyclists‘ Bicycle Friendly Community Program by Urbana, the U of I, and Champaign. Going through the application process and doing a community-wide evaluation of the Five E’s is incredible. (Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, Evaluation, and soon – Equity!) Because there are different levels of recognition awards, communities like ours can see both where they are, and specifically what they need to work on to become even more bicycle-friendly.
- A third driver is the creation of Bicycle Master Plans: Urbana and the U of I, now have plans. Savoy’s plan is in the works, as are the Urbana and Champaign Park Districts’ master plans. I think Champaign will be looking to complete a master plan in the near future too.
- An external factor at work, especially among the younger population, is climate change awareness. Paired with an active urban lifestyle, bicycling is gaining in popularity, while car ownership in that younger demographic is dropping.
What are some of the goals for the next few years with respect to cycling in CU?
- Greatly increase the number of trips made by bicycles everywhere.
- Build the Kickapoo Rail Trail.
- Do bike education among C-U’s youth.
- Work closely with the U of I’s new Active Transportation Coordinator to work on the implementation of the U of I Campus Bicycle Master Plan.
- Increase bike parking in C-U at key destinations: schools, businesses, special events, job sites.
- Work harder on equity issues within CCB’s bicycle advocacy activities.
What about long-term goals?
- Urbana becomes a Bicycle Friendly Community Platinum award winner.
- Champaign becomes a Bicycle Friendly Community Gold community.
- The U of I reaches a Bicycle Friendly University Gold level.
- Adoption of a Vision Zero target by Urbana, Champaign, the U of I, and the Illinois Department of Transportation.
- Champaign-Urbana becomes a bicyclist’s destination because: (1) bicycle friendliness = great quality of life, (2) we have a strong bicycle community, and (3) we host some amazing bicycle events!
- Attract/inspire a significant concentration of bicycle industry and research in our community.
What should someone do if they want to get more involved in cycling?
- Just ride – more often, to more places, for more reasons, with more people.
- Help a child, neighbor, or work colleague to become a more confident cyclist.
- Entrepreneurs can start a bike-related business or research program.
- Join one of these local groups:
How can people connect with Champaign County Bikes?
- Visit our website. (Watch for a new site in the next month or so).
- Contact me, (jeff “at” champaigncountybikes “dot” org)
- Sign up for CCB email list.
What do you think is holding back some people in the community from biking? How can we address it?
We are gaining some real critical mass. The more people bike, the more other people bike. The more kids bike, the more their parents will bike (and vice versa). The Kickapoo Rail Trail and more bicycle classes, will go a long long way. As will the MCORE project once it’s finished in a couple of years.
Thanks for talking with us, Jeff!