Niles approves plan to add more bike lanes, sidewalks

The Niles village board has signed off on a plan to make it easier to walk and bike around town.

The plan, which was unveiled the public in February, was unanimously approved by the board.

The plan calls for a series of infrastructure improvements to make the village more friendly to pedestrian and bicyclists, and will be broken up into several different projects.

According to Trustee John Jekot, a member of the village’s Multi-Modal Transportation Plan Steering Committee, Niles residents will have a chance to voice their concerns and provide feedback as each project gets underway.

The plan was developed by the multi-modal committee, the Department of Community Planning and consultants Sam Schwartz Engineering. The planners surveyed residents and businesses, and they held a number of community events to get further feedback.

As previously reported by the Niles Herald-Spectator, the plan calls for a litany of improvements. Most notably, it calls for adding sidewalks to streets that currently have none, an expanded network of bike lanes and bike-friendly streets, improvements to major street intersections, zoning changes to encourage denser, more transit-friendly development, and general streetscape improvements.

Now that the plan has been approved, the timeline isn’t entirely clear. A few weeks earlier, Bruce Sylvester, the village’s director of community development, said that some parts (such as filling in the gaps in sidewalks) can begin immediately, while others could take more time. The exact timing will depend on how much funding the Village Board is willing to allocate and how quickly the Department of Public Services can actually install the improvements.

Before the vote took place, Niles resident (and former trustee) Louella Preston brought up concerns about one aspect of the plan — installing bike lanes along Cumberland Avenue. She argued that the bike lanes could adversely affect street parking near Dempster Street and Ballard Road.

“Taking away one of those lanes just doesn’t seem feasible,” said Preston.

In response to her comments, Trustee Rosemary Palicki asked Jekot if the residents would have a chance to raise concerns when different parts of the plan come up for bid. He confirmed that it was indeed the case.

Niles resident and Niles West High School Chief Engineer Dale Zilligen also had concerns about the plan. When the meeting ended, he said he was worried about the impact the plan would have on the drivers.

“The police need to start enforcing bike rules, which they don’t,” said Zilligen. “[Bicyclists] never stop for a stop sign.”

He insisted that he didn’t mind people biking — he just felt that bicyclists and drivers should be treated the same way in the eye of the law.

Zilligen also felt that Niles should put greater priority in adding sidewalks.

“You only ride bikes a few months out of the year,” he said. “Sidewalks, you use 24/7.”

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