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Q&A: Developing a bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure master plan for the city of Pekin

Flickr Creative Commons/Tripp
The City of Pekin is developing a master plan to be "intentional" about updating bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

The City of Pekin is several months into the development of a master plan for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. The year-long process in conjunction with the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission and the Lochmueller Group consulting firm started with an evaluation of what the city has to offer cyclists right now.

Officials have a public input open house planned for September, with the master plan completed by the end of this year. You can find more information on the timeline, as well as submit your own input through an online survey, here.

Collin Schopp spoke with Pekin City Engineer Josie Esker during one of several planned public open houses to learn more about the process of creating the plan.

This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Just for starters, kind of a broad overview, what is the event that we're out here tonight?

Josie Esker: We are at a pedestrian bicycle open house. Basically, what we're trying to do here is gather information from the public about what the issues are that they have right now, with walking and biking throughout the city of Pekin. And kind of what they're looking for as far as what their priorities are for what the city could invest in to make biking and walking easier and more fun.

What phase is this in the process of making the master plan?

Esker: Sure. So we've been having some planning meetings on this, the city actually was awarded a grant to create that master plan. So we've been working on it for well, probably a few months now. We've done bicycle plans in the past; it's not like the city has never thought of this as an option before. But we're trying to update our existing plan and make it reflect the current needs of the city and our citizens.

How would you describe the current needs of the city when it comes to biking and getting around?

Esker: I think we definitely could do better. There is a really nice bicycle trail throughout town that the park district owns, that the city kind of helped with during that planning phase. But other than that, we don't have a lot of specific bicycle facilities. So we're looking to possibly use some of our existing infrastructure to improve where we can and then maybe add some new infrastructure as well. To kind of get more than just one long trail try to get people safely to that trail. I think it's kind of set up to where it's more used for recreation right now, which is great. There's definitely a place for that in it, too. We definitely want to focus on the recreation aspect of it, as well. But I think we're trying to look more at getting people from one place to the other as well, trying to use it as an actual form of transportation and how we can set people up for success and safety as we're doing that.

Do you see a demand for biking, or a biking community, in Pekin?

Esker: I mean, there's definitely people who bike in Pekin. And I know we have a lot of people who bike recreationally on the current trail. And then there's definitely, definitely a small group of people who bike for transportation purposes. But I think we're hoping to improve the options for those that don't. And just, you know, if you had that option, I think more people probably would be. I think we're just kind of looking to the future and trying to make sure we're set up with a plan. And I think we'll also be able to use that plan to help us write grants, to maybe have some help from the state and federal government as we go forward. So there’s kind of multiple benefits here.

There’s a lot of projects, either in early phases or getting ready to start, the Court Street project comes to mind. When you’re looking at those projects that are already in the books, are you looking at options to increase bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure?

Esker: Yeah, I mean, just because we started the plan now, doesn't mean it hasn't crossed our mind that we need to improve our pedestrian facilities prior to this. We currently don't have sidewalks along a large section of Derby Street. We view that as a problem just as much as the public does. And we are going to be adding continuous sidewalks all the way along there to make sure people can walk safely along that route on both sides of the road to make sure things are ADA accessible, and that we are thinking about more than just the driving public.

On our Court Street project we are also going to be drastically improving the sidewalks. They're in pretty rough condition right now. We're gonna be adding wider sidewalks so that it's safer. And we actually, along the park and along the high school, we're going to be adding an eight foot wide path so that we're definitely encouraging our students who are walking or biking to school to use that and be in a safer position while they're traveling along Court Street. We also have another bike trail that is planned. It's actually a multi-use path. But it'll be for bicyclists and pedestrians along Stadium Drive, which is right by the high school. So it's not like we're not currently actively trying to make this infrastructure better already. It's just, we don't want that to seem random. We want to do it with an intention. And we think a master plan is definitely a benefit.

There’s a concept in Peoria city code called “Complete Streets” where any time they update a street they have to consider how what they’re doing affects all kinds of transportation. Is there a similar philosophy present in the way Pekin operates?

Esker: Sure, yeah, we definitely look at Complete Streets anytime we're, especially for, completely redoing a street. When we're doing a small project, sometimes that doesn't quite fit into the budget. But when you're doing a larger project, yeah, we definitely are looking at complete streets. And yet, even if that's not codified, it's, I think, something that all engineers now are at least considering, depending on the area and the use of the road and what they think it might grow into. Yeah, I think it's necessary.

How do you balance decades of infrastructure built with cars in front of mind with developing new options for bicycle and pedestrian transportation?

Esker: Yeah, it can be difficult for sure. We definitely don't always receive positive feedback from all users whenever we're talking about bicycle facilities, but I think it can be done well. Especially, say we have a road that's 40 feet wide, it's currently only two lanes. There are just some options there that are simple, that don't cost a lot of money, that don't negatively affect the drivers, either. And I think it just has to be a little bit of a balance. And if the city becomes a city where we start seeing a lot more bicyclists, then we might change that philosophy and even become more heavy on bike facilities. But, you know, for now, we're trying to at least come up with some options for people to get around town safely on bikes.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.