Tri-County rebrands BikeConnect plan to better meet public’s needs

By Ken Keenan for Chronicle Media

Bike parking at Junction City for Walk, Bike, Ride Greater Peoria: Paving the Way to Just Transportation. (Photo courtesy of Michael Bruner)

When the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission officially unveiled its BikeConnect HOI (Heart of Illinois) plan, in 2017, the primary focus was to identify a proposed bicycle network that connects communities in the greater Peoria area.

But times change, and sometimes plans change — or evolve.

Seeking to expand on the BikeConnect plan, TCRPC has introduced Walk, Bike, Ride Greater Peoria: Paving the Way to Just Transportation. While BikeConnect solely focused on bicycle transportation and improving bicycle infrastructure in the region, the intent of Walk, Bike, Ride Greater Peoria is to make the transportation system more equitable for users of all modes of transportation.

“We’re going through the planning process to update the original plan,” said TCRPC Senior Planner Michael Bruner. “We’re updating that plan and making it more inclusive. We’re looking to improve it and add additional forms of transportation — upgrade it to include all nonautomobile users. Not just bicyclists, but pedestrians, roller skating or scooting. BikeConnect hasn’t stalled, it’s just being rebranded. The new name is more realistic to what the plan is.”

A major part of that plan is to include input from the public, as evidenced by a recent open house conducted by TCRPC. Bruner said the commission is currently studying the response it received from those who attended.

“There’s a lot of people in the Peoria area, so we want to hear from each user in our region, so we benefit as many people as possible,” he said. “It’s really important to have public feedback to understand their likes and dislikes for our region. Everyone’s experiences and needs are different. Collectively, input from everyone is important, and by giving people ownership, we hope more action happens.”

Bruner said an example of such action is the protected pathway along the Bob Michel Bridge, connecting downtown Peoria to East Peoria.

“A lot of individuals use that to go to stores or to work, and it’s being improved,” he said. “I live in East Peoria, so I’m always using the bridge.”

Bruner also cited an ongoing study that seeks to connect Germantown Hills to Metamora as another example of formulating a plan with the public’s interest at heart.

“When funding comes, a designed plan will be in place,” he said. “Without that plan, who knows if Germantown Hills-Metamora happens. Now we’re seeing an actionable project moving forward. The best way to say it, when communities apply for grants, the No. 1 thing is what type of public participation exists, and do you have a plan? If you say your project went through the entire public process, that is what funders want to see.”

Bruner continued: “The ultimate goal of planning work is to implement those plans. If you have projects that have already been vetted, that increases the likelihood of those projects being implemented.”

Walk, Bike, Ride Greater Peoria also addresses the needs of area residents who rely on public transportation to get around, including ways to make accessibility more user-friendly.

“In a perfect world, there’s a bus stop right outside your door — or job or grocery store,” Bruner said. “But that’s not how it works, so we want to focus on how we can improve the public transportation system in the Tri-County region so it’s not negative or stressful when going to places we need to go. We want to tighten that up … make sure we improve that experience so you can walk or bike to a bus stop in less time.”

Added Bruner: “Safety is a concern as well, and ADA access for all abilities to enjoy our region. Environmental issues, that’s a component, too. That’s why we have to be flexible and review these plans and update them. We want to make sure we’re relevant, and that the public gives the green light to help us improve public transportation in the area.”

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