Biking to Work in Joliet, IL

Since I’m discussing transportation this week in my SUST 210 Sustainable Future online class at Roosevelt University, I thought it most appropriate to use my bike to commute to work. Some of our sources I’m analyzing with my students speak directly to the need for active/alternative transportation modes, and how such systems relate to urban design and community structure.

I am not a “hard core” cyclist who buys fancy gear and takes 100-mile rides through the countryside; nor am I an urban bike renegade who likes to blow through any intersection at as high a speed as possible. I consider myself very much an average-ability and safety-minded cyclist of modest endurance, someone who doesn’t mind putting on warm clothes and biking to the train station or to a local destination in cold weather or a drizzle. In the Netherlands, I would be in good company; here in the US, that probably puts me within 0.5% of Americans.

My first decision yesterday: should I really take my bike, or should I drive? I had to go to Joliet’s Barnes and Noble bookstore way out by the Louis Joliet Westfield Mall, a destination located about 6 miles from my house and on a very busy road (US Route 30). Then I had to go to the public library to work, then back home. It would be a long trip, and I had a lot to do that day. Did I really have time for all that? And what about carrying my notes and computer on my back, plus the presents I would be purchasing at the bookstore?

It was cold, 28 degrees F, but sunny and not too windy — and I decided to try it. After all, biking would keep my GHG emissions down to zero, plus I’d get some much-needed February exercise. The extra time from biking would be more than repaid by the free workout I’d be getting! My rationalization complete, I tapped into my somewhat extensive personal knowledge of safe Joliet street/trail routes, and headed off. Here is a map of the route I took.

Note the out-of-the-way path I took to get to the bookstore, a 6.1 mile trip that could’ve been much shorter had I traveled directly. But Route 30 is a busy and dangerous road, and I prefer to avoid hi-traffic streets. There are no bike lanes on Rt. 30. In fact, there are no bike lanes anywhere in Joliet. So I took a quiet E-W residential route to a N-S rails-to-trails path on Joliet’s West Side, then headed north along the trail. That linked up with another trail, one within the Will County Forest Preserve’s Rock Run Marsh. Consequently, even though I was in a highly developed part of Joliet’s West Side, much of my ride was bucolic, and all of it was safe and quiet, except for crossing busy arterial streets. This is a route I’ve ridden with my kids many times. You can see water, trees, cattails, and prairie grasses; you can hear and see a lot of birds. It’s a nice way to travel.

That left me with a short job on Route 30 to get to the bookstore, which actually was OK. Once there, I was able to relax while listening to Miles Davis on the store radio, surrounded by books (itself a delight), and with good access to a bathroom and the BN cafe, which has free wi-fi. Life was good!

My ride to the public library was shorter, but on a busy N-S road on Joliet’s West Side. Lots of room for cars, but no dedicated bike lane here. As noted above, there no bike lanes in the city of Joliet, a real flaw in the town’s transportation infrastructure. Despite this deficiency, parts of town are very bike-able because of a plethora of quiet residential streets, some of which cut through town in helpful ways. However, this network is very limited, and known only to people who seek out such knowledge.

Back to my journey to the library: Essington Road had a good sidewalk, so I used that as well as the street to head south to my destination. Upon reading the Rock Run Forest Preserve trailhead, I left the street and rode a paved trail the rest of the way to the library, which sits on the eastern edge of the preserve and has beautiful views of its woods and marshlands. It is always uplifting to my spirits to come here, and sometimes I take a short break from working at the library to take a stroll in the woods or along the marsh’s edge.

So, my commute to work was about 9.5 miles, according to Google maps (which lets you map out bike routes, by the way), plus the 3.5 miles home after my library session (13 miles total). My total commuting time for this workday was 30min + 18min + 20min for the three legs of the commute, or 68min total. This compares most favorably with my door-to-door commute to the Schaumburg Campus (120min in the car) or my train commute to downtown Chicago (1hr 45min each way, door-to-door, or 3.5 hours total).

Guess how many bikes I saw on my cycling route yesterday? None. I did see several people walking or working in their yards, and all of us greeted each other with a pleasant hello. (I don’t do that while driving; do you?) I also saw hundreds of cars. I can’t recall if I saw a PACE bus, which probably means I didn’t.

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