Saturday, May 19, 2007

Illinois' "Don't Bike" Map

IDOT’S Don’t Bicycle Map
by Mike Kruger
At the last evanston bike club meeting, I picked up a copy of IDOT’s official bicycle map for Northeastern Illinois. The 2006 edition is an update of earlier editions which I found useless and never used. Within this in mind, I thought I’d see if the new edition was an improvement, and see how it compares to the Chicagoland Bicycle Map, which covers roughly the same area.

CBF: $7
IDOT: free
Advantage: IDOT

IDOT: yes, at The maps didn’t seem to zoom in well the day I tried.
Advantage: IDOT

Logic of map
CBF: This map is based on street information, traffic count information, and local volunteers reviewing particular sections. The emphasis is on finding through routes from point A to point B.
IDOT: This map has all the hallmarks of a map made up quickly and sloppily using statistical formulas to evaluate relatively short stretches of road. There is no apparent attempt to create through routes at all. As a result, it’s hard to use this map to get anywhere.

CBF wants you to bike and shows trails, major bike lanes, through routes and some shortcuts. Most routes are on through routes, but some shortcuts through neighborhoods are shown when appropriate.
IDOT prints the off-road trails twice as wide as anything else. It only shows roads IDOT has information on, and so it doesn’t show any connections through neighborhoods. The vast majority of the roads shown are shown in “red” – not recommended for biking.

The IDOT map shows much of the popular Sheridan Road route as “not recommended for biking”. Ironically, this does not include the part of Sheridan north of Tower Rd. where Winnetka has banned bikes. That section is marked OK.
On the other hand, it shows Waukegan Rd through Glenview in the middle category “caution advised”. Given that practically nothing in Cook County is rated as “most suitable for biking”, this is close to an endorsement. But Waukegan is a terrible choice – in the bike/ped planning process currently under way in Glenview, not a single person has proposed Waukegan as a biking corridor now, or as a road which could be sufficiently improved to be a biking corridor.
Glenview Rd shows up as “white”. Taken literally, this would mean biking is. This is probably a typo.
The bike trails are not only indicated in a very wide line, but with the type of interrupted line that usually means “under construction”. As a result, it’s hard to see where the path actually connects with any precision. There’s a bike path shown beginning at the corner of Glenview Rd. and Milwaukee Avenue, heading southwest to Central. The map makes it appear this is parallel to Dearlove Rd. In reality, this path is a quarter mile farther north, on the other side of the railroad tracks, and is blocked off from Central Rd. by two large fences. The path just goes around some athletic fields.
Even the popular North Branch Trail is inaccurately shown running on the east side of Harms Rd, not the west side, and the “Y” intersection just south of Dundee Rd. is shown on the north side of Dundee Rd. At least two miles of the Skokie Valley Trail are shown on the wrong side of Skokie Highway. The Skokie Valley Trail is shown running all the way up to 176, when it ends a mile south at Laurel Avenue.
All streets in downtown Chicago are marked as “not recommended for bicycling”, even those with bike lanes such as Roosevelt, Clinton, Canal, and Wells.
The principal diagonals northwest from downtown – Elston and Milwaukee Avenues – are mostly marked as “not recommended for biking”, even though the map also correctly indicates that Elston has bike lanes along its entire length. The portions of Damen Avenue with bike lanes are similarly marked both as having a bike lane and as being “not recommended for biking”.
This listing of errors is not the result of painstaking research. I’m sure there are many more curiosities in the remainder of the map.
Overall, the impression given by this map is that there is almost no way to do any bicycling in the Chicago area.

When I made similar comments on the last edition, I found a few defenders who said that while the Chicago area map might have limitations, the maps were good for the other 8 regions in the state. Considering that two-thirds of the people in Illinois live in this region, that’s not much of an excuse.

Why would a cyclist want to carry this map? I have no idea. If you need a map, spend $7 on the CBF map.
As to why IDOT would prepare the map: there were some provisions in some of the federal funding requirements that initially led to the state bicycle maps. Some states (for example, Wisconsin) did an excellent job. Other states, such as Illinois, seem to have done it out of either obligation or a desire to convince cyclists that their only place is on bike paths through parks.