Registration opens soon for the 2013 Good To Go Commuter Challenge, May 11-17. The Challenge is a friendly competition between individuals, teams and workplaces. During the week-long challenge, participants track and report their sustainable commutes online; anything counts except driving alone.
Victor Connor is a retired computer science professor of at Illinois State University, and has also worked for IBM and State Farm as a computer programmer/analyst. He holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in electrical and computer engineering.
We asked Victor a series of questions regarding bicycle policy for the area. This is part six, and the final installment, of our series of interviews with Bloomington and Normal mayoral candidates. Thanks to Scott Richardson and Tyler Curtis for helping to make this series possible.
What role should bicycles play in a community’s overall transportation plan?
If I were designing the layout for a new town and had plenty of money to work with, I’d design it very bicycle-friendly to be a more attractive option for people based on safety, convenience and less pollution. Although I spent ages 10 to 19 using a bicycle as my main mode of transportation (each year biking at least 2,000 miles), and many years since then have bicycled when possible to avoid using the car and for exercise and the environment’s sake, practically for most people it is difficult to commute to work and to run errands via bicycle.
Riding bikes leave the rider open to the elements so is limited by weather, safety, there isn’t much space to transport items, it’s hard to transport children to daycare and back, and often a commute leaves the rider sweaty and smelly which is frowned upon in working environments. Bicycle transport is not an option for many citizens… too young, too old, disabled, too pressed for time.
Also, we’re talking about the town of Normal here which has an established layout. This community has not been built up with bike transport in mind, so there would need to be a lot of renovation done to facilitate space for bicyclists through and around town which would cost a lot of money. The town of Normal is over $90 million dollars in debt. Normal has 170 miles of surface streets to use, the Constitution Trail, and bicycle-friendly sidewalks around town. If I were mayor I would listen to my constituents, and I don’t see the majority of the townspeople wanting to spend a significant amount of money making the town more bicycle-friendly than it already is with so many other needs competing for taxpayer money. So until we get much closer to paying off our debt, I see bicycles playing the same part in our communities overall transportation plan in the near future as they do today. I do think the town should spend the money needed to fix potholes and maintain the streets in a much better manner, and this would help all bicyclists, walkers, and drivers.
Normal has a Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan that’s slowly being implementing. What do you like about this plan and what do you think the Town should implement after the Southern Corridor, currently under consideration?
I’ve skimmed through the Bicycle-Pedestrian Master Plan and it looks like it will cost the town roughly $30 million to implement. We have so many other town expense needs that to spend that much taxpayer money for this would not be the best use of our funds. A much more cost-effective solution would be more attention paid to improve our streets by fixing potholes, seams, and create flatter and wider sidewalks in areas where it makes sense. Once the town pays off a large part of our debt, then we can consider upgrading and lengthening Constitution Trail and entertain other ideas.
What are the benefits or problems created in making our community more bicycle-friendly?
The benefits of making our community more bicycle-friendly would encourage its use, therefore lessening environmental stress by replacing car and other means of transport with a non-pollutant method. More use would give riders more exercise (but depending on how much pollution they’re breathing while biking may or may not make them healthier).
Problems created mostly involve costs; for example adding space for bicycle paths on existing streets would reduce space for cars, increase liability for the city, and increase costs for streets and sidewalks – creation, maintenance and signage. Keep in mind, when making bicycle paths and encouraging their use, if a pothole has not been fixed or a grate in the road causes a horrendous bicycle accident, who pays for it? Is the town liable?
Let’s talk about law enforcement and education. What sort of effort is needed on both fronts as it concerns bikes, cars and the two sharing the road?
I don’t really know what is emphasized in young people’s driver education these days, but when I took it not much time was spent on cars sharing the road with bikes or pedestrians. This topic should be dramatically increased so drivers would be much more careful with bicyclists around. Drivers need to be more aware of cyclists, give bikers more street space and be more patient, and if any accident occurs because of a driver not doing so then the driver should get fined or worse.
Do you think bicycle infrastructure, things like bike lanes, can attract businesses and jobs? Do you think Uptown Normal is headed toward Bicycle-Friendly Business District status with its bicycle amenities? And what would you do as Mayor to make Uptown or other parts of Normal more bicycle-friendly?
Possibly to a small degree, but they may actually hurt businesses more than they help them. I’d have to spend a lot of time analyzing this.
With all the other demands for taxpayer money, I think there has already been enough done in this area for now. Again, we still need to fix road potholes and seams so the streets will be better for all– bicyclists, drivers and people walking. Of course, if a plan were written up and put in a ballot and the town voted for it, then by all means we should do it.
For now, with our town over $90 million in debt (with taxes rising significantly) and being land-locked, the bicycle friendliness of Uptown Normal needs to be left as is. Where would the space come from? How would it be paid for?
We asked our Facebook community for questions and someone wants to know if you consider yourself a cyclist and if you bike regularly for recreation or errands or work or all of the above.
As a youth I was a major cyclist which I did for transportation’s sake. In my 20’s and 30’s I did it more for exercise and the occasional errand/recreation. In my 40’s and 50’s I slowed down dramatically and in my 50’s I started walking with my wife a lot more instead, probably walking 3 to 5 hours a week in the spring, summer and fall. In total, I’ve easily biked more than 25,000 miles which is the circumference of the Earth.
Mike McCurdy is WGLT Program Director and co-coordinates the community sustainable transportation project Good To Go. The 2013 Good To Go Commuter Challenge is May 11-17.