Some areas in Champaign-Urbana are better for bicyclists and pedestrians than others, a state advocacy group says, but overall, local governments are doing OK when it comes to making streets safe and convenient for all kinds of roadway users.
The League of Illinois Bicyclists last week released an audit of 16 area road segments, which scored an average 70.4 out of 100 possible points awarded for pedestrian, bicycle and crosswalk safety.
It is the second such audit the league has generated. Its first, in 2009, studied the Chicago area, where 46 road segments scored an average 52.1 out of 100.
"This area has really done a lot in terms of policy," said Ed Barsotti, the executive director of the League of Illinois Bicyclists.
Barsotti said each local government has policies in place to make non-motor vehicle modes of transportation easier and safer. But some have come along faster than others, he said.
The best place for bicyclists and pedestrians in Champaign-Urbana, according to the report, is First Street between University Avenue and Gregory Drive. It scored a 90 overall, and a perfect 35 out of 35 in the bicycle category.
The worst place is also First Street, but in Savoy, between Curtis and Old Church roads. That segment scored a 36 overall and a nine out of 40 possible points in the pedestrian category.
In Urbana, Goodwin Avenue south of Green Street is a "perfect model" of what the league would like to see, Barsotti said. The reason it was not rated as the best in the area is that a portion north of Green Street was included in the scoring.
"Urbana's master bike plan, their vision is very excellent," said Holly Nelson, a University of Illinois graduate student and a league intern who did much of the scoring.
In many cases, the scoring was based on whether the features of the road fit its context. Take, for example, Bradley Avenue between Mattis Avenue and Duncan Road, which scored a 62 overall and a dismal 6 out of 35 in the bicycling category. Nelson said it may have scored higher were it not for the fact that the road segment is one of the only access points to Parkland College.
Barsotti said the overall conclusion of the report is that area government agencies are encouraging "complete street" designs, which take into account all the ways residents use roads, and he would like to see that continue.
A recent Champaign City Council decision, however, showed how hard that can be given the economic times. Whenever city officials plan a major road project, they look to include the "complete street" strategies discussed in the report. But with Staley Road between Springfield Avenue and Bloomington Road slated for improvements, the city council had to chop sidewalks and bike lanes from the plan.
A complete street with a lifespan of 20 years, in the case of Staley Road, would have cost $8 million. As it stands now, a repaving of the road expected to last 10 years will cost about $3.4 million.
"It's really just a financial issue," Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski said. "We just don't have enough money."
That worries Barsotti. He said governments tend to think of pedestrian and bicycle features as "frivolous extras."
The irony of the situation is that as the economy worsens and city budgets get tight, more travelers are using modes of transportation other than motor vehicles.
"There's a whole lot of people nowadays who have to use their bike," Barsotti said.
Champaign planner Mishauno Woggon said the city still budgets $95,000 every other year to add bicycle facilities to streets, which in many cases requires relatively inexpensive road striping.
"We're very happy about that, considering how many things have been cut," Woggon said.