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Oh, those European bicyclists!

The folks in Europe are trying to do the same thing for bikes that transportation engineers did in the past for cars: Build autobahns. Obviously, they can’t be called “autobahns” (maybe “bikebahns” or, more realistically, “bike highways?”), but the concept is there: a paved road just for bikes that would connect cities and universities.

Busy intersections would be rare because the bike highway would go over or under main roads. The pavement would be smooth, and even lit at night. And, of course, snow would be cleared in the winter.

Germany is in the midst of building such a bicycle highway along the Ruhr River that would be 100 kilometers (61 miles) long. The main incentive is safety. Such a route would eliminate the major bike-travel negative: bike interaction with cars.

One firm did a study that confirmed a route like this would be a worthy investment because the bike road would take 50,000 cars off the road daily. That’s hard to believe, but much of the relief would be in cities.

Recently, Milan, Italy, banned private vehicles for six hours, producing this quote from a major spokesman: “It’s the way of the future. Building highways in cities is a life-threatening recipe from the 1960s. No one wants more cars in cities. Cars are so 2005.”

OK, let’s move from Europe to right here in America’s heartland. Where would be a good place to put a bike highway? Or, more to the point, what places should be connected by such a project?

What leaps to my mind is the Quad-Cities and Iowa City. We have numerous colleges and universities here, and Iowa City has the education mecca of Iowa — the University of Iowa. Also, both of these urban areas have a wealth of cultural and recreational attractions that could be accessed by bike.

Just think of biking to a Big 10 game at Kinnick Stadium, staying overnight at a nearby motel, then biking home the next day. What a fun weekend! Or, going to a concert at the new Hancher Auditorium along the curve of the Iowa River. In the opposite direction, a good number of Iowa students would welcome a weekend bike excursion to the Quad-Cities for a first-run attraction at Moline’s TaxSlayer Center or an event at Davenport’s RiverCenter, for example.

And recreational bicyclists could make a beeline for worry-free, safe riding through the Iowa countryside, with stops at places such as Muscatine, West Liberty, West Branch or smaller towns for a true taste of the real Midwest.

Let’s not ignore a bike highway through Illinois from the Quad-Cities. We almost have one with our Great River Trail, but alas, it doesn’t go far enough up the Mississippi to connect with any major urban area. It connects us with Savanna, but that’s about the end of it for now. It doesn’t directly connect with the iconic views from Palisades State Park, much less Old World Galena or energetic Dubuque.

Let’s finish that trail from the Quad-Cities into Dubuque and have a bike highway comparable to the one being built in Germany. Maybe even better, since the Mississippi surpasses the Ruhr River in many respects.

But north is just one direction to go. What about going east and south from the Quad-Cities through the classic Illinois prairie? Galesburg, with its railroads and Knox and Carl Sandburg colleges, would be a great town to connect with the Quad-Cities. From there, it’s not too far to Western Illinois University in Macomb, or to Peoria with its Bradley University and other cultural attractions.

Envisioning the possibilities bike highways may bring is one thing, and thinking about the way they could influence us to consider the concept within our own cities is another. Just think of the many varied and expensive roadway improvements for cars that are going on right now. What if bike highways could be extended into and through our cities, giving urban transportation users safer ways to bike through cities without the hassle of cars bearing down on them?

That might lead to a bike revolution, and negate the need for all those future car-centered roadway expenses.

As the man said: “No one wants cars in cities. Cars are so 2005."


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