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SPOTLIGHT: Danville encourages alternate transport

SHARE SPOTLIGHT: Danville encourages alternate transport

DANVILLE, Ill. — Mitch Lankford rides his bicycle to work on average about three days a week, and lately, four days now that temperatures are milder. He chooses to bike, partly because he likes the environmental benefits, saving the gas and getting the exercise.

An engineer with the city, Lankford would use his bike to get around more often, he said, if there were more shared-use paths and bike lanes and racks to lock his bike once he gets where he's going.

He said it would be nice if there were more bicycle accommodations, especially on heavily traveled streets, like Vermilion Street, where bicyclists shouldn't resort to the sidewalks because they are too narrow for bikes and pedestrians.

"I would definitely go more places if there were more bike lanes," said Lankford, who estimates he would save $40 a month if he were riding his bicycle to work five days a week.

That's what the city's MOVE Danville initiative is all about, making the city more accommodating to alternative modes of transportation, including the bicycle, the bus and walkers. When city streets are resurfaced or other improvements made to streets and sidewalks, the city wants to make improvements to sidewalks or add bicycle accommodations where desired. And Danville Mass Transit is making plans to improve its bus stops and add bicycle racks to the front of the bus fleet.

"It's a great way of extending the reach of public transportation," said John Metzinger, director of Danville Mass Transit.

He said those who live beyond the reach of the mass transit network can ride bicycles to the nearest stop, put their bikes on a rack on the front of the bus and access the system from there.

Metzinger anticipates delivery in a couple weeks of a sample bike rack for a bus. It will attach to the front bumper of the bus. A rider with a bike would unfold the bike rack, place his bike on it and board the bus. Metzinger said the racks hold two to three bikes at a time and are very easy to use with a rod that pulls over the front tire, securing the bike.

The goal is for all 15 buses in the fleet to have a bike rack, and Metzinger estimates that would cost about $12,000. He is seeking funds through the Federal Transportation Administration, which has money for bike projects.

"I think for it to really have an impact, every bus in the fleet needs a rack," he said. "Our buses can move around the system and are not always assigned to the same bus route."

Metzinger knows from riding some of the mass transit route and talking to riders that some want the bike racks and will use them. He said riders made that suggestion to him, and it's common to see bikes locked up at the transfer zone in downtown, where people have ridden there to catch a bus.

"So that bus-bike connection is really a vital one for the non-driving public," he said.

Mass transit also is doing an inventory of its bus stops, identifying improvements needed at the top 20 stops, which are determined by ridership volume. Potential improvements include sidewalks to the stops, shelters, benches and lighting.

"We're looking at each stop and building a wish list of what we would like to happen," Metzinger said, adding that the department has received $54,000 in federal and state grant funds for those improvements. He said that money won't cover all 20 stops.

In the public works division, City Engineer David Schnelle said staff are surveying sidewalks throughout the city, looking at areas without sidewalks and with sidewalks, making note of conditions, especially trip hazards and compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

A few years ago, city officials did a study of Danville's road system, determining what streets would be best for bicycle lanes and accommodations, and city officials incorporate those plans into street improvement projects, like the resurfacing of Vermilion Street from Fairchild to Harrison streets next year. City officials have several different lane configurations they're considering, including bike lanes, and are seeking public input on which option is preferred.

Schnelle said statistics show that if communities build more bike lanes and shared-use paths, people will use them. He said that's been evident with the shared-use path that was built several years ago along Winter Avenue when that city street was rebuilt. He expects to see walkers, runners and bikers using the Lincoln Park shared-use path that's slated for construction next year and will link Jackson and English streets with Logan Avenue. Statistics also show, Schnelle said, that communities with bike plans and more walking accommodations are healthier.

"People will use them," he said.

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com