Kane County taking steps to improve bicyclist safety after recent crashes in Batavia

A bicyclist crosses Route 31 at Houston Street in downtown Batavia last week. Statewide, motor vehicle collisions with bicycles increased 8% in 2022 over the previous year. Paul Valade/Daily Herald Media Group

Just weeks after a Batavia woman was killed and a teen boy critically injured, both while riding bicycles in the city, Kane County is taking steps to keep pedestrians and bicyclists safer.

A minivan struck the woman on May 23 after she left Les Arends Forest Preserve, while crossing Batavia Avenue near Millview Drive. She died from her injuries a few days later.

A teen boy was struck by a truck on May 31, while crossing South Batavia Avenue near Union Avenue. An Aurora man has been charged with six counts of felony DUI in the crash.

Steve Coffinbargar, assistant director of transportation-project implementation at the Kane County Department of Transportation, said there are more motorists speeding and more cyclists on the road, which could lead to more accidents such as the two in Batavia.

“Bicycling became more popular during the pandemic, so there are more cyclists and some could be inexperienced,” he said. “And since the pandemic, there has been an increase in speeding. So those are the two things that I do know. People are driving faster, there are more bikes on the road, and with smart phones, there is more distracted driving.”

Maria Castaneda, an Illinois Department of Transportation spokesperson, said that bicycle fatalities are increasing throughout the country, but it’s too early to find a “precise reason.”

“Speeding and distracted driving continue to be a major factor in too many serious injury and fatal crashes – behavior that is almost 100% avoidable. We continue to ask the public to be mindful of the conditions and environment where they are traveling, especially in areas popular for biking and walking,” she said in an email.

According to IDOT data, 35 cyclists were killed statewide in 2022, up from 34 statewide in 2021. There were 2,257 vehicle-bicyclist crashes last year, and 2,142 in 2021. So far, there have been 8 bicyclists killed in Illinois in 2023.

KDOT always is looking for ways to keep the county’s roads safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and cars, and has several projects in the works, Coffinbargar said.

“We continue to improve our traffic control, by adding striping, signage, crosswalks, rectangular rapid flashing beacons, which are pedestrian or bicycle signals that are activated by people who approach a road and press a button, and cause lights to flash and folks can then cross safely,” he said. “We’ve added [rectangular rapid flashing beacons] at Kirk Road and the Illinois Prairie Path [crossing], Longmeadow Parkway has two, [there are some at] Montgomery Road at Virgil Gilman Trail and Bliss Road at Virgil Gilman Trail.”

Coffinbargar said other improvements the county is making include improving “skew angles” of the roads, which helps drivers see pedestrians and bicyclists, and adding pavement striping.

The county also is adding multi-use paths to county roadways, which Coffinbargar described as a wide, separated path for pedestrians, that run alongside roadways, rather than on-road bicycle lanes, and continues to make improvements on road pavement.

“[KDOT] has updated our bicycle-pedestrian plan, which will be presented to the County Transportation Committee on June 20,” he said. “That considers improvements to 2050, and includes safety enhancements to street design. We have a dedicated staff person to work with municipalities to look for improvements. We also have an app with a bike map that gives a rating of county roadways so users can see which roads are safer for bicycles to plan their route.”

In Batavia, city administrator Laura Newman said that in a June 13 meeting with IDOT officials and several state legislators, she was told that the state agnecy will let the city get a permit now to re-stripe Batavia Avenue from Fabyan Parkway to Wilson Street, and Main Street to Mooseheart Road, to make it a three-lane road. That is not likely to happen until at least April 2024, however.

Newman said IDOT also has agreed to study the speed limits on the road, beginning in July.

The city asked IDOT for a road diet – the three-lane concept – several years ago. It is in a Phase I engineering study for the request. IDOT has not approved doing it in the downtown section, because it is concerned that reducing the road in that section could cause bottlenecks.

Any changes to Route 31 have to be approved by IDOT, which has jurisdiction over state roadways.

Coffinbargar acknowledged that the improvement projects “aren’t perfect,” and that different entities have to work together to prevent tragedies like the recent incidents in Batavia.

“We continue to look for opportunities to make improvements, but it’s a group effort, at the state level and federal level, we need to educate pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. We’re all users of the road, we need to continue to follow users of the road to make it safer for all users.”

Daily Herald reporter Susan Sarkauskas contributed to this report.