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Print

Making connections: Cyclists need funds to extend bike path

March 10, 2012 at 12:37 PM

The State Journal-Register

Imagine riding a bike, running or walking 37 miles from Girard to Athens on a dedicated, paved trail. It could be possible if local trail enthusiasts have their way.

David Sykuta, chairman and co-founder of the Springfield Bicycle Advisory Council, said the project to build a trail from Macoupin County to Menard County could become reality if the council and other local organizations can secure funding.

“We finished the Springfield portion of the (Sangamon Valley) trail, about 5.5 miles from Centennial Park to Stuart Park,” Sykuta said. “There’s no funding right now for portions that would go north from Stuart Park to just north of Athens, and from south of Centennial Park to south of Girard.”

The first 5.5 miles were built with federal stimulus money. The Springfield portion of the Sangamon Valley Trail opened in July and cost $3.7 million to build.

Sykuta did not give an estimate for what the remaining 31.5 miles of trail would cost to construct but said the Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission is working on a master plan to address all area trails.

“We’re working with the planning commission to develop a master plan, but of course the challenge with any bicycle plan is money,” Sykuta said. “But, we do have the right of way to build the trail to Athens and Girard.”

‘They want to see them connected’

David Drennan, an avid bicyclist and runner, said the Sangamon Valley Trail provides something no other trail in Springfield offers: multiple access points.

“The big difference between it and the other trails in town is that it has a lot of intersections and road crossings,” Drennan said. “This can be good and bad. If you want to get a good workout in, it’s hard to get up a decent speed and hold it while on (the trail). But, it keeps it more of a family friendly trail.”

In addition to the Sangamon Valley Trail, Springfield has four other trails, including the Bunn to Lost Bridge Trail, Interurban Trail, Lost Bridge Trail and Wabash Trail.

“With the exception of the Wabash and Interurban Trails, none of them are connected,” Sykuta said. “If you talk to riders, that’s the one thing they complain about. They want to see them connected.”

Drennan said riders would feel safer if all of the trails were connected.

“It would be nice eventually if you connect the Wabash Trail to the Sangamon Valley Trail and also connect the Interurban Trail with the Lost Bridge Trail,” Drennan said. “By adding bike lanes or connecting trails in and across town, they would greatly improve the trail system in town and make riding a lot safer.”


The planning commission’s master plan will help identify ways to connect the trails using existing bike baths, Sykuta said.
The city has also agreed that any new roads built in Springfield should have a bike lane.

“If you look at where we’ve been and where we are now, we’ve made a lot of progress,” Sykuta said. “In my opinion, we need to connect the trails so people can use them for more than recreation. We need to connect them so people can use them to commute. Right now though, people don’t want to fight motorists.”

Future expansion possible

The Springfield Park District has identified several trails for possible expansion, pending allocation of future federal and local dollars for local trail systems.

According to the park district’s website, the Lost Bridge Trail, which stretches from the parking lot of the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) building on Dirksen Parkway to Rochester Road in Rochester, could be extended to Taylorville and Pana.

“We have the right-of-way from Rochester to Pana,” Sykuta said. “Part of it has already been completed from Taylorville to Pana. But there’s a 20 mile gap between the Lost Bridge Trail in Rochester and the trail in Taylorville.”

The Bunn to Lost Bridge Trail, which runs from IDOT on Dirksen Parkway to Abundant Faith Christian Center off of Taylor Avenue, could also be extended to Stanford Avenue, according to the park district’s website.

“There’s also a lot of interest in a bike trail on Third Street if the high speed rail system goes on Tenth Street,” Sykuta said. “We could link up a lot of the older parts of Springfield with a trail like this.”

Models for future development

The model for what the Springfield trail system should look like is Madison County — specifically, the Alton area, Sykuta said.

“It is a county that might be smaller than Sangamon County but it has more than 100 miles of bike trails,” Sykuta said. “One of the decisions they made a number of years ago was to combine the park district with the mass transit district. This allows them to have a steady revenue source to build a trail system.”

Sykuta said he does not know if combining the park district with the mass transit system would work in Springfield but without a regular source of revenue, it is hard to develop a system that everyone would support.

Bloomington-Normal also has a good system that connects two universities and spans the length of both towns, Sykuta
said.

“(It’s) well laid out and well connected,” Drennan said. “You can get from place to place in the city, follow them to the edge of town and enjoy a ride in the country, and then return via the trail. Springfield’s trail system is not as advanced or developed as Bloomington but I think they are slowly but surely getting there.”

It all comes back to money, Sykuta said, and trails have to compete against other projects.

“As much as bicycling is popular, it always brings out demons when it comes to funding it,” Sykuta said. “Look at all of the backlash we got when we started building the Sangamon Valley trail during a tough economy. A lot of people complained it was a waste of money.”

SPRINGFIELD AREA TRAILS

Bunn to Lost Bridge Trail

1.5 miles
Starts: Abundant Faith Christian Center, off Taylor Avenue
Ends: Illinois Department of Transportation building, Dirksen Parkway and Ash Street
Future plans: Extension to Stanford Avenue
Interurban Trail

8.3 miles
Starts: Wabash trailhead, Wabash and Park avenues.
Ends: Walnut Street, Chatham

Lost Bridge Trail

5 miles
Starts: IDOT building, Dirksen Parkway and Ash Street
Ends: Rochester Road, Rochester
Future plans: Extension to Taylorville and Pana
Sangamon Valley Trail

5.5 miles
Starts: Stuart Park
Ends: Centennial Park
Future plans: Extension north to Athens and south to Girard

Wabash Trail

2.1 miles
Starts: Wabash trailhead, Wabash and Park avenues
Ends: Robbins Road, near Parkway Pointe
Source: Springfield Park District, springfieldparks.org

 

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