County-maintained roads often play a big role in the bike-friendliness of a metro area. In the summer of 2011, Ride Illinois (then, the League of Illinois Bicyclists) surveyed those county highway departments serving the state’s 12 main urban areas, asking about specific bicycle and pedestrian road design policies. Sixteen of the twenty county highway departments responded, which provided a glimpse of where we were and where we needed to improve.
This year, Ride Illinois did an update to nearby peer counties of Will County, since we were planning a request to them. Below are some main points from our survey update of six Chicagoland county Departments of Transportation:
- The counties, except for Will County, have a DOT staffer whose duties include reviewing road projects for what bike/pedestrian features are needed (e.g. Bike/Ped or Non-Motorized Travel Coordinator).
- Will is the only county in which the towns always pay 100% of costs of bike/pedestrian facilities along a county road. Local cost share is 0% in DuPage, 20% in Lake, usually 50% in Cook, and 0-100% in McHenry and Kane – depending on where within the county.
- All county DOTs have experience building county-funded side path trails along their roads – except Will.
- Most counties surveyed, plus Kendall, add paved shoulders of useable width for cyclists on some or many of their urban and rural road projects.
- Other counties have been more proactive than Will about adding and paying for bike/pedestrian accommodations as part of key county DOT bridge projects (e.g., Black Road over I-55).
In July, we sent a request to the Will County Division of Transportation
to review and substantially update its bicycle and pedestrian accommodation policies – as has been done by every other Chicago area county DOT, and IDOT, in recent years. We asked WCDOT and the County Board’s Public Works and Transportation Committee to study this issue and modernize their bike/pedestrian accommodation policies. Ride Illinois offered to serve as a resource. We have not yet received a response.
While Will County Forest Preserve has a good and growing off-road trail network, a bike- and walk-friendly road network is necessary for the safety of people walking or biking for transportation, whether by choice or necessity. For roads where there is need, this may include sidewalks or side path trails, intersection crossings, paved shoulders, or other features.
In our 2019 Chicagoland update of our 2011 survey of county DOT bike/pedestrian policies
, we found Will County’s to be ranked lowest, by a substantial margin. Also, our 2015 Complete Streets Audits of county highways found poor bike/pedestrian conditions on most of Will-jurisdiction roads in the growing and developed areas of Will, where accommodations for walking and biking are most needed. We have been alerting communities in Will County that their cost burden for facilities on/along county roads is much higher than their peers’ in other Chicago area counties.
We will continue to work on this important issue.