THE ADAMS County Board is caught in a crosswind of sorts on the issue of bicycling. On one hand, the board is a major sponsor of an effort to develop a master plan for bikeways and greenways in Adams County, which presumably would encourage bicyclists to make use of the county’s scenic roads for recreational purposes.
On the other hand, some members of the board are fighting proposed legislation that would amend the Illinois Vehicle Code to make bicyclists “intended and permitted” users of the state’s roadways, except for highways where bicycling has been specifically prohibited.
This is an awkward position for the County Board. It almost seems as if the board is caught between whether it should welcome bicyclists with open arms or slam the door in their faces – both at the same time.
Let’s start with the master plan.
Back in March of 2005, the county was awarded a $20,000 grant to develop a master plan for bikeways and greenway preservation in the county.
County Board Chairman Mike McLaughlin, who likes to go biking himself, played a key role in obtaining the grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
The grant enabled the county to hire Klingner & Associates – a Quincy engineering and architectural firm – to develop the plan. When completed, the plan will identify recommended bike routes between small towns and historical sites in the county. It also will suggest links to 47 miles of existing bike routes through the city of Quincy.
A public open house will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Quincy Regional Airport’s conference room to get public input on planning bikeway corridors in the county.
Cullan Duke, project manager for Klingner & Associates, said 14 corridors have been tentatively identified, but nothing is locked in stone.
“We’re in the process of developing this plan, and part of the process is to get public input,” he said. “That’s why we want to have this meeting. We’ve got some proposed corridors, and we want public input on those so that we can further develop the plan and finish it up.”
Meanwhile, at the County Board’s Feb. 14 meeting, board member Dave Bockhold, chairman of the Legislative and Judicial Committee, reported that the Illinois General Assembly is back in session and is once again considering the so-called “bike bill,” HB 4907, which was almost passed into law last year.
Bockhold said the Illinois Association of County Board Members is lobbying against this bill. He shares the opposition.
“This bill would make bicyclists intended users of our roadways instead of just permitted users, and it does not contain sufficient safeguards for local governments to reduce the risk of lawsuits,” Bockhold said.
The proposed bill says, in part, that “no public entity shall be liable … for the creation of, the existence of, or failure to remedy any condition related to the design, roadway surface, lighting, signage, or pavement markings of any street or highway causing injury to a person riding a bicycle, if that condition meets the standard of care required for a passenger car.”
In an interview, Bockhold said he is particularly concerned about liability issues that could adversely affect local governments that maintain rural roads.
“If there are accidents that happen with bicycles being involved, we could be liable if, say, we don’t have the proper signage,” he said. “It opens us up to possible lawsuits. There are all kinds of issues there.”
Bockhold also fears the legislation could conceivably force local governments to build expensive bike paths to make sure bicyclists have a safe place to travel if the existing roadways are not deemed suitable.
“Most of our roadways really aren’t wide enough,” Bockhold said. “They were just made for vehicle traffic. That’s why we don’t have bike paths on every road. We just don’t have the money ourselves to do all these kind of things.”
Bockhold said he is not opposed to people riding bikes on rural roads – as long as local governments aren’t held liable if the bikers have an accident. “If they want to get out there and take their chances, that’s fine with me,” he said.
But he doesn’t like having a bike bill pushed down the throats of local governments. “It’s just opening up a can of worms, if you ask me.”
McLaughlin said he, too, has some concerns about the bike bill because it could lead to lawsuits if rural roads used by bicyclists aren’t kept in good shape at all times.
He said Illinois townships in particular have been campaigning against the bill because of the liability concerns. “They were adamantly opposed to it,” he said.
McLaughlin said it’s hard to tell what impact the bike bill might have on the development of a bikeway master plan for Adams County. “Right now it’s a gray area until we see what they pass in the Legislature,” he said.
Duke said the primary goal of the master plan project is “to provide designated bikeways” that the public can use. “It will help guide where bicycle facilities are developed in the future,” he said.
Whether the plan will be affected by any liability issues arising from the bike bill “is yet to be seen,” Duke said.
“This is a concept plan. So there would not be approval for anything to implement until all these kind of issues are dealt with and resolved,” he said.
(Ed Husar covers city and county government for The Herald-Whig.)