No, I’m not talking about the tunnels underneath Knox. I’m talking about the other great, largely unknown and unused transportation infrastructure in Galesburg — bike lanes! Separated bike lanes!
I’m talking about sidewalks (Cue sad trombone sound effect).
No, really, sidewalks. Two single lanes per street in most locations. Separated by a curb, not just paint, from car traffic. What more could you want?
This discovery hit me between the wheels on a recent mission to my local food store. It’s located on a major thoroughfare. The mission was not across town, but far enough for a test. I’ve heard so much about “we need bike lanes,” that instead of the side streets I normally take, I thought … “what about the sidewalk?” and then decided that I’d just give it a try.
When a semi-truck cruised by at top speed, it felt pretty good to be up on my elevated bikeway, aka the sidewalk. There were curb cuts at every corner, so I didn’t have to get off or bunny-hop.
Not bad. Not perfect by any measure, in fact, not quite good. But not bad. No matter what you’ve heard in school about GPAs calculated to three decimal places, out in the real world there are only three “grades”: EE (exceeds expectations), ME (meets expectations) and DME (does not meet expectations).
Sidewalks are OKAY with ME.
That does not mean there’s no room for improvement. Sidewalks need a lot of improvement. There are, in fact, many patches that get a grade of DME. In many places, they need curb cuts at the corners. And, just like so-called bike lanes in the street, sidewalks tend to accumulate litter. And some are still quaintly paved with bricks. Perfect for postcards, but so-so for walkers or human-powered wheeled vehicles.
That sidewalks, here and in other cities, are even close to passing grade is due in large part to the efforts of a Galesburg native, Lester Pritchard, whom I met briefly some 40 years ago.
Confined to a wheelchair by cerebral palsy, “Mr. Pritchard traveled far and wide as an advocate for those with disabilities, forcefully addressing issues on federal, state and local levels,” the Chicago Tribune reported when he died in 2009.
“Mr. Pritchard’s activism began in his hometown of Galesburg, IL., where his family ran a local newspaper,” the Tribune wrote. “He championed efforts to make local businesses accessible and cut sidewalk curbs to street level.”
Hence my ride to the grocery store on a paved, separated bike lane was made easier by someone who never rode a bike.
That the City of Galesburg, of all places, has not curb-cut every sidewalk is inexcusable. That Galesburg sidewalks have in several places been shoved aside in the budgeting and planning processes is inexcusable. That residents of Galesburg, no names here, have actually blocked construction of sidewalks in their neighborhood is inexcusable.
Do I care that few people walk? Do I care that few people ride bikes? No and no. Do I care about people who have less mobility — whether they’re walking, biking or in a wheelchair? I’m thankful that Lester cared and cared enough to lead.
And I’m thankful that in leading the effort to make our city more friendly to the less mobile, Lester Pritchard made Galesburg more bikeable.