Two Wheels, One City, No Limits

Recently, I (Jennifer) was asked to write a piece for The Voice, a monthly newsletter created by the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.  There are so many activities our city has to offer throughout the summer, and I believe there’s no better way to get to these events than on a bicycle.  

Rockford's new 'rails to trails' bicycle path, just south of downtown.

Rockford's new 'rails to trails' bicycle path, just south of downtown.

There’s nothing quite like seeing Rockford come alive in the summer. I have the great fortune of living in the Edgewater Neighborhood, where dog walkers and families with strollers traverse freely year-round, but the onset of summer is really something to behold. From a jam-packed Sinnissippi path and the strains of music from Anderson Gardens floating across the Rock River, from the Forest City Queen gliding by to the roar of the crowd at Ski Bronc shows, the sights and sounds of summer permeate the long, sunny days. 

And what if I told you that there was a way to amplify your enjoyment of these amenities that not only improved your own physical health but the fiscal health of our community, decreased your impact on the environment, improved your access to familiar and new adventures, and afforded opportunities to get to know the people and places of our city more deeply? There is no better way to explore our city and enjoy all it has to offer than from a bicycle. Today, I’ll focus on three reasons: Proximity, Perception, and Practicality. 

State Street, looking west.  This temporary bike lane has been applied each year for the past three years.

State Street, looking west.  This temporary bike lane has been applied each year for the past three years.

Proximity: One of the great advantages of the amenities already mentioned is their proximity to each other and many more on both sides of the river, spilling out to the north and south from downtown. Some are accessed directly from the Sinnissippi path or are immediately adjacent, and many more are within a short ride on streets to which the path connects. Madison Street in particular is now active and lively from north to south. The summer addition of separated bike lanes on the State Street bridge opens even more of the city to bikes and pedestrians, and the “Rails to Trails” bridge just south of Davis Park provides a new East-West connection. While it may seem too far to walk from a concert at Nicholas Conservatory to have a drink at Owly Oop, hop on your bike and the distance is covered in just a few minutes – I give you permission to have another beer because you burned extra calories on the way! 

Perception: Let’s begin by discussing the perception of safety when exploring the city by bike. While it is very true that some high-traffic areas are not suitable or advisable for bicyclists, streets in downtown and adjacent neighborhoods in particular are well-suited for riding. Narrower streets, on-street parking, and the all-day presence of pedestrians lead to slower traffic and more attentive drivers. The perception and reality of safety can be greatly improved by planning your route ahead of time (perhaps trying out an unfamiliar route at a less busy time of day) and knowing how to respond to changing traffic patterns and intersection layouts. 

Another area to address is how your perception of a city can be changed by exploring it on two wheels. Appreciation of the natural beauty of a tree-lined street and the physical beauty of the buildings of downtown is greatly enhanced while biking; chance encounters with friends are easily facilitated by simply pulling up to the curb (no need to hold up traffic or scramble for a parking spot!); community activity that is unapparent from 30+ mph suddenly make a district seem vibrant, lived-in, viable. Suddenly, streets and whole sections of the city aren’t just thoroughfares, they are destinations! Further, some of the most beautiful views in the city are accessible only by bike or by foot, such as the cliffs along the river just north of Riverside and the cityscape and dam by means of the new bike/ped bridge just south of Davis Park. 

Practicality: The best argument for enjoying a Rockford summer on two wheels is the fact that it is immensely practical. Imagine riding up to front row parking every time, everywhere, even at busy City Market and Dinner on the Dock. If you’ve spent more than 10 minutes getting from one parking space to another in the downtown corridor, you’ve exceeded the time it takes to bike from Nordlof Center to Rockford Art Museum, from 317 Gallery to Octane. 

City Market attendance averages 5,000 persons weekly.  Imagine if everyone drove separately in their own cars to the market; how does that affect the sense of conviviality and place-making that downtown advocates are fighting for?  Arrive on your bike, however, and you'll find 'parking' in a flash.

City Market attendance averages 5,000 persons weekly.  Imagine if everyone drove separately in their own cars to the market; how does that affect the sense of conviviality and place-making that downtown advocates are fighting for?  Arrive on your bike, however, and you'll find 'parking' in a flash.

Improving bike facilities makes fiscal sense for a community. Domestic and international studies have shown increased retail traffic along streets with improved bike facilities. Recent research (Lund University, Sweden) has demonstrated that every kilometer driven by car costs society 17 cents, while biking one kilometer saves society 18 cents (in health, infrastructure, car collision, environmental impacts, etc.). 12 bikes can easily be parked in the space it takes to park one car. Further, a large portion of Rockford’s population simply doesn’t drive, whether they are too old or young, can’t afford a car, don’t have a license, or simply choose not to. Ensuring adequate space for the mobility of all residents goes a long way to improving the equity of our community. 

Take time this summer to explore Rockford by bike and discover the freedom that two wheels can offer! 

**Want to get to know other bike enthusiasts, learn about upcoming events, or help advocate for bike initiatives in our city? Follow I Bike Rockford on Facebook or email ibikerockford@gmail.com to learn more.