BATAVIA – Making Batavia a bicycle-friendly community has had some growing pains.
The touch-activated flashing-light crosswalks along Route 31 have created plenty of controversy in the past several years.
Meanwhile, Batavia city aldermen and park board members frequently have discussions about making better connections along the Fox River Trail bike path and elsewhere in the community.
Now, concerns about bicyclists breezing through stop signs on city streets have city officials worrying that the worst could happen.
The issue has been raised in the dead of winter as aldermen reviewed plans in a committee meeting recently for designating bicycle lanes on both sides of South Prairie Street as part of a complete reconstruction of that thoroughfare.
Mayor Jeff Schielke said he has received complaints from residents about large groups of fast-pedaling, serious cyclists racing through neighborhoods without obeying stop signs.
“We’ve got to send the message loud and clear” that bike riders must obey traffic laws, the mayor said, or face a moving violation ticket, the same as motorists.
“It’s a problematic issue that we should not take lightly,” the mayor said, citing “blatant violations” of stop signs.
The intersection of Main and South Jackson Streets is particularly worrisome, Schielke said, along with Prairie’s intersections at both Laurel and Pine streets.
“This isn’t just a problem with elite bicyclists,” Batavia police Chief Dan Eul said later in an interview. “There is very little compliance in the bicycle community.”
A bicyclist ignoring a stop sign is subject to a $120 fine under the Illinois Vehicle Code, Eul said.
However, Eul said the police department has no plans to deploy patrols specifically targeting bicyclists and added that Batavia is not unique when it comes to bike riders flouting the law.
“I don’t know of a community that doesn’t deal with these problems,” Eul said.
While expressing support for bike lanes, the mayor said that some residents on South Prairie are opposed because the change will result in the loss of on-street parking.
Aldermen decided to leave the bike lanes in the South Prairie plan, which is slated for reconstruction next year. While backing the mayor’s call for tougher enforcement of stop sign violations, they also said the city should seek to educate bicyclists on the rules of the road.
First Ward Alderman Scott Salvat said that if a few tickets are issued for stop sign violations, word will spread pretty quickly through the bicycle-riding community.
Several members of the Batavia Bicycle Commission, a group appointed by the mayor to promote safe bike-riding in the community, expressed support for the South Prairie bike lanes before the council committee.
They suggested that designated bike lanes on city streets are more likely to be used by families and casual bicyclists, as opposed to the bicycle clubs and other groups of serious bicyclists cited by the mayor.
“Putting in bike lanes like that is a great way for people to learn and to get people downtown," said Scott Brasel of the commission.