Jul 9, 2010

An Open Letter to the Highland Park Traffic Commission

Dear Traffic Commission,

At your June 23, 2010 meeting, you asked the dozens of cyclists present to speak to cycling issues in Highland Park. This letter is in part a response to your request.

We cyclists appreciate the HP Traffic Commission’s efforts, especially the Commission’s thoughtful approach to accommodate all users of the Highland Park transportation infrastructure, including cyclists, pedestrians and transit users. We also appreciate your willingness to stand in the middle of the inevitable conflicts of interest that arise from the different uses. These issues directly affect the quality of life in Highland Park and have lasting impacts on our communities and even our pocket books as research has shown even real estate values are associated. So your work is quite valuable.

Cyclists and pedestrians are the most vulnerable users of the traffic infrastructure. At the June 23 meeting it was discussed that cyclists must obey all traffic laws the same as motorist. And while we heartily agree, we would like to remind the Commission that the consequences of motorists breaking the traffic laws are typically much more catastrophic than cyclists or pedestrians doing so. For example, should a cyclist not obey a stop sign, they primarily put themselves at risk, similar to a motorist not wearing a seat belt. But should a motorist not obey a stop sign, it can be deadly for another motorists, cyclists or pedestrians. It is simply physics--thousands of pounds of metal and glass in motion are a lethal weapon compared to couple of hundred pounds of mostly flesh and blood. So we ask the Commission to put its focus on how to best create a safe traffic environment and utilize Highland Park’s resources for engineering, education and enforcement with a safety-first focus.

Single file cycling provisions are confusing and unenforceable. We applaud your June 23 recommendation to align the Highland Park bicycle code with state regulations which allow for two abreast riding. Two abreast riding is necessary if for no other reason than a cyclist must be able to pass another cyclists. As an illustration we recently received a report from a cycling group from July 6, 2010 where on Skokie Blvd a motorist pulled alongside the cyclists to inform them that Highland Park requires single file riding. The cyclist leading the ride, an organized ride out of the Old Orchard’s Lifetime Fitness Health Club, was confused and pointed out that they are in fact riding in single file. Later the cyclist was reflecting on why the motorist would be making these comments and he realized that as part of their cycling they often must pass one another and that there was a brief time when one rider was being passed by the other riders and this must have been when the motorist was approaching from behind.

Special provisions for recreational cyclists are not advised. At the meeting it was suggested that the large recreational cycling groups that ride though town on weekend mornings might be provided with some special provisions like an organized event such as a marathon might be provided. While this sounds accommodating to the cyclists, we believe it could lead to more difficulty. Though some large groups are regular and identifiable, trying to identify who is a recreational rider and who is riding for other reasons is a meaningless distinction. The transportation infrastructure is for all transportation users regardless of their personal reasons for using the system. Motorists may also be recreational users which we see on nice summer weekends when antique auto enthusiasts bring out their cars or groups of motorcyclists ride through town. Motorists who are on their way to work may get aggravated when someone they judge as a recreational user is impeding their transit, but both users are equally entitled to use the public infrastructure.

Paving the Green Bay trail is not relevant. It was briefly discussed by the Commission if paving the Green Bay trail might aid cycling. If the concern of the Traffic Commission is the pressure on Highland Park’s traffic that large groups of cyclists create, paving the trail will offer no help. Though trails are a wonderful addition to the transportation infrastructure, their use by groups of cyclists traveling at high speeds creates other concerns. Pedestrians on the trails, sometimes with young children or pets in tow, and other slow cyclists are already pressured by fast cyclists coming through the trails and accidents have ensued. For safety we believe a better question than paving the trail, is to ask how we can make a St. Johns Ave or a Green Bay Road safe for users from eight to eighty years old. That is a Complete Streets question and one that once answered well, can go a long way to increase our mutual quality of life. And we applaud the Traffic Commission for continuing to recommend a Complete Streets Policy.

Highland Park should form a Bicycle and Pedestrian Task Force. Though most Highland Park residents over the age of 15 are motorists, not all are active cyclists or pedestrians. The knowledge and experience of active cyclists and pedestrians are invaluable. Highland Park will not be able to make good decisions on engineering, education and enforcement without informed user input. Additionally a task force can act as a liaison to the interest groups. For example the bicycle groups that ride through Highland Park on weekend mornings can be directly communicated with by the Task Force to negotiate preferred routes through town or to raise any concerns about enforcement. Also recall that we cyclists and pedestrians are typically also motorists and transit users, so we are best positioned to offer advice on accommodating all users.

Thank you again for the work of the Highland Park Traffic Commission,


Jay Goldstein
For North Suburban Complete Streets

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