Ride IllinoisRide Illinois
August 27, 2021

Al Sturges Reflects on his time with Ride Illinois

Former Ride Illinois executive director and long-time board member, Al Sturges, decided to retire from the board upon the completion of his latest term. It’s an understatement to say that Al had a significant impact on the organization and cyclists in Illinois during the nearly 30 years he dedicated to nonprofit bike advocacy. We truly appreciate Al’s service and wish him all the best as he enjoys time with his family and friends…and many miles on his bike!

Photo from 1998, when Ted Sanders was leaving the LIB board. Front row: Board members Don Lawrence and Barbara Sturges, LAB board President June Thaden, Founder Ted Sanders, Board member Don Barverman, Board President Eric Huitchison. Back Row: Board member Chuck Dold, Chicagoland Bicycle Federation Executive Director Randy Neufeld, Al Sturges.

Al and his wife, Barbara, are longtime residents of Park Forest, a suburb south of Chicago. They were early members of the Folks on Spokes bike club, and each had served as president of the club. Al became involved with bike advocacy in the early 90s when Barbara was on the first League of Illinois Bicyclists (LIB) board. Al would drive Barbara to meetings because she didn’t like to drive at night.

It wasn’t long before Al became more involved with LIB. Al was LIB’s first newsletter editor from 1992-1995. Al took on the role of executive director in 1995 as a volunteer. From 1992-1999, LIB was an affiliate of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) before becoming an independent organization in 2000. Al served as executive director until January 2000 when Ed Barsotti became LIB’s executive director and the organization’s first paid staff member.

Attending a meeting in Washington D.C. with Ray Lahood in 2004. L-to-R: Lynn Miller, Matt Maloney, Ed Barsotti, Rep. Ray LaHood, Michael Zellmann, Al Sturges.

As a result of Al’s efforts to establish a statewide bike advocacy organization in Illinois, he was recognized by the League of American Bicyclists with their Phyllis Harmon Volunteer award in the late 1990’s. Al transitioned to the president of the LIB board of directors in 2000 – a role he served faithfully until 2009. From 2009-2021, Al was an active, involved member of the Ride Illinois board. 

When asked about the highlights of his tenure with LIB and Ride Illinois, Al shared the following:

  • Achieving 501c3 status for LIB in September of 1996. It was a long, arduous process, but well worth the effort, according to Al.
  • Raising enough funds to be able to hire a paid executive director and keeping the organization on sound financial footing.
  • Al worked with IDNR to secure funding for the Old Plank Road Trail. There was a section of trail that a local official fought against because it went through a predominately African-American part of his town that he deemed unsafe, which is hard to believe in 2021! In the end, Al and IDNR worked to get the section built and today that beautiful stretch is Al’s favorite section of the Old Plank Road Trail.
  • Collaborating with Illinois Department of Resources (IDNR) on trail extensions in Chicago Heights and south suburbs, such as the Old Plank Road trail.
  • Developing the Grand Illinois Trail network in northern Illinois.

Of course, there were some frustrations related to the advocacy work that Al has been so passionate about for nearly 30 years, such as:

  • The length of time that the typical infrastructure or trail project takes to get off the ground or completed.
  • The fact that more people don’t bike for transportation in the suburbs and in small towns.
  • Limited inroads with health organizations. Al sees the bicycle as a practical, inexpensive solution to many issues that Illinois adults and children face.

Al shared his hopes for Ride Illinois and the future of biking for recreation and transportation in the state. He shared the following suggestions:

  • A continued push for bike education for adults, children, and motorists with proven resources, such as BikeSafetyQuiz.
  • An increase in the number of motor vehicles that proudly display the ‘Share the Road’ license plates.
  • Collaboration with organizations on efforts to make biking and walking safer in communities of all sizes.

In preparation of this article, we contacted several people who worked closely with Al over the years. They shared the following reflections:

  • Dick Wesfrall, Ride Illinois board president: “In my former career as a DNR planner, I was fortunate to have worked with Al on a number of projects. For the last eight years, I have served with Al on the Ride Illinois board. I have always been impressed with his professionalism, his calm persistence and his willingness to take risks.”
  • Ed Barsotti, former executive director and current senior consultant: “I’ve had the great honor and privilege to have known and worked with Al for 24 years with LIB/Ride Illinois. Along with the organization, I’m forever in his debt.
  • George Bellovics, retired landscape architect with IDNR: “Al was instrumental in many of the boulevard communities to sign and recognize the Grand Illinois Trail; including several segments like Cook County Forest Preserve’s Burnham Greenway. Al’s background was perfect for the job!

Al’s friendly demeanor and wealth of ideas will be missed in future board meetings. But Al knows that we’re only a phone call or email away and we hope to hear from him regularly. It would be difficult to over-state Al’s impact on cycling in Illinois! Whether you ride a bike once a year or everyday, you have benefitted from Al Sturges’ three decades of time, talent, and effort. We wish Al all the best and hope our paths cross again very soon!

Al studying the route near Effingham during the 2019 Grand Illinois Bike Tour.