July 1, 2019 is a notable day in the history of transportation in Illinois. Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that puts $45 billion towards state construction projects. Within that $45 billion is $50 million annually toward projects for pedestrians and bicyclists. This is a massive victory by the Active Transportation Alliance, other advocacy groups, and the legislators who worked to get the bill passed and on the governor’s desk.
The funding will work towards efforts to increase bike ridership and public transportation use across Illinois. The additional resources will substantially increase the size of the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP). Funds will be allocated via a competitive grant process and focus on the creation of projects such as pedestrian refuge islands, protected bike lanes, new bike and pedestrian trails via the conversion of abandoned railroad corridors, upgraded crossings, and additional safety infrastructure. Additionally, the bill requires that at least 25% of funding to be directed towards projects in “high-need communities, based on community median income and total property tax base”, thus providing access and increasing connections across the State.
Although the program is a tremendous leap forward, groups such as, the Active Transportation Alliance recently mentioned that the bill is not perfect as, “It lacks a data-driven, performance-based planning process to allocate funds.” The Active Transportation Alliance notes that there is a risk that funds could be allocated to roadway expansion leading to higher congestion in the long run.
Bicyclists and pedestrians understand that higher congestion not only poses a risk for more traffic, but a risk for their well-being as well. More people driving means more opportunities for crashes, injuries and deaths. In a recent release of statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted that in 2017, 5,977 Pedestrians and 783 bicyclists were killed in accidents with motor vehicles in the United States. This is particularly disturbing as fatalities are on the rise. In 2003 pedestrians and cyclists represented 12.6% of total traffic fatalities and in 2017 that number rose to 18.2% of total traffic fatalities in the United States.
Aside from physical injuries, effects on health and the environment will inevitably occur as more cars will produce more pollution and contribute to the ever-increasing threat of climate change. Thus, implementation of the funds is important and local and state officials must ensure that if resources will go towards encouraging drivers to take to the roads, they must also ensure that bicyclists and pedestrians will be protected.
Illinois Moves Forward
Illinois has proven itself to be reasonably progressive when it comes to bicycle related infrastructure and laws to protect bicyclists. Reducing the number of bicycle accidents that result in personal injuries or fatalities should not be politicized. These efforts, for the most part, have been bi-partisan as seen in recent years with former Gov. Bruce Rauner signing “Dennis’ Law” as well as a bill to promote the use of the “Dutch Reach.” However, “money talks” and the funding that Illinois now has in play due to Gov. Pritzker’s signature will create an opportunity to build safer and more accessible roadways and paths for bicyclists and pedestrians.