Today we're featuring a guest article from Strong Towns members and advocates Jessica Irons, Ashley Sarver and Jennifer Smith who are active in a bike group that is helping Rockford, IL to become more financially strong and resilient. Read more about Strong Towns members taking action in Rockford.
Rockford, Illinois is on its way to becoming a strong town. There is a noticeable increase in collaborative efforts between various groups in the city and region, and the strong citizens of Rockford are coming together to make their town a better place to work, live, play… and bike!
I Bike Rockford (#IBikeRKFD) is a grassroots community group that aims to unite all kinds of cyclists – road bikers, mountain bikers, people who bike for transportation, and people who just love bikes – to advocate for bike safety and awareness. Our mission statement is: “Working so that more people of all ages, abilities, and biking styles can say ‘I Bike Rockford’ for fun, recreation, and transportation.”
I Bike Rockford started simply as a Facebook page created by a cyclist interested in increasing awareness about something he cares about. The group has morphed into a living organization with visible leaders, champions, and advocates in the area focused on safety, infrastructure, and community building. Zak Rotello, who started the I Bike Rockford Facebook page says, “I'm just amazed at how it has taken off and become a real community advocacy group.”
Zak runs a local restaurant called the Olympic Tavern and each summer hosts an event called “Tour de North End” focused on bike safety awareness and local businesses in Rockford's North End neighborhood. Popularity of the event has grown over the past several years and it is well attended by cyclists of all abilities and ages. It was recently featured by a local company, Our City, Our Story and shows the collaborative nature of this group and this town.
In June of 2016, this spirit of collaboration was taken to a new level with the help of I Bike Rockford when we heard about a new sewer project getting underway on a main east-west thoroughfare in town. Todd Fagen, a civil engineer in the Rockford area and avid bike rider, recognized that this road would need to be torn up for the sewer work and saw it as an opportunity to save money on the street project by doing two projects at once. He proposed the addition of a biking and walking pathway to the sewer plans.
This would serve as a vital connection to existing bike infrastructure downtown and north-south bike routes. With this east-west connection identified for over 20 years in local and regional plans, it would serve not just cyclists passing through but also students at the nearby middle school as they travel to and from school. Currently, you can find many students forging goat paths along the side of the road as there is no sidewalk to make their daily commute along this 45 mph, four-lane roadway.
A rally for the project was held at a downtown coffee shop and dozens from the cycling community showed up to sign the petition. Following the rally, over 1,200 community advocates have signed the petition and the city is currently undergoing a feasibility study to add a bike path to the project. This type of collaboration would have never happened had it not been for a group like I Bike Rockford.
I Bike Rockford is successful because of the diversity of types of cyclists involved and the grassroots, incremental progress it has achieved. This advocacy group is excited to work with local leaders to ensure that future plans and developments help make Rockford an easy and pleasant place to cycle.
I Bike Rockford members see the importance of working together as strong citizens to advocate for improvements that may be part of the City’s larger vision but which are sometimes set aside when citizens do not speak up. This type of citizen-led advocacy is vital in Rockford and any place that wants to work toward becoming a more resilient, responsive, and strong town.
(All photos from I Bike Rockford Facebook page)