How to implement bike and pedestrian plans: Case studies from Arlington Heights and Park Forest

A safe walking and bicycling environment is essential to fostering healthy, sustainable, and vibrant communities.  

To advance these goals, Arlington Heights and Park Forest both worked with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to develop bicycle and pedestrian plans.

Photo of bike rack at Park Forest library

A bicycle and pedestrian plan — sometimes called an active transportation plan — identifies short- and long-term policies and projects that create a comprehensive, safe, and connected non-motorized transportation network. These plans seek to increase bicycling, walking, and transit use; improve traffic safety; support local businesses; and create healthier, more environmentally-friendly communities. They include recommendations for policy changes and infrastructure improvement projects.

Although creating a bicycle and pedestrian plan is a critical first step, implementation must follow. Arlington Heights and Park Forest demonstrate two approaches to adopting bicycle and pedestrian-friendly policies and constructing infrastructure. Here’s how they did it:

Arlington Heights

Arlington Heights is a suburban community in northwest Cook County with a population of 75,124. In 2017, the village approved its bicycle and pedestrian plan. The plan identifies bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements that will help the village achieve goals related to access, mobility, health, and sustainability. Since the adoption of the plan, the Arlington Heights has begun to implement plan recommendations through the following actions:

  • Allocated budget. The bicycle and pedestrian plan informs Arlington Heights’ budget process. The village used the plan to establish an annual budget of $20,000 for bike lane striping and signs. In addition, the village allocated $50,000 in its FY2021 budget for a phase I feasibility study of a road diet on Windsor Road. A road diet reduces the amount of space on a street used by cars to improve safety and allow for other types of travel.
  • Applied for grants. Grant funding is key to moving a project from a vision to reality. The village actively pursues available funding and uses the plan to guide which projects to fund. Many federal and state grant programs require that proposed projects be included in an adopted plan. In 2020, the village secured grant funding through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) for a phase I feasibility study of a multi-use path. The path would use a ComEd right-of-way to connect Palatine Trail to the Prospect Heights Bike Path.
  • Completed small, effective projects. Arlington Heights identified projects from the plan that could be accomplished relatively quickly, would significantly improve the active transportation network, and would require minimal budget. For example, the village constructed a short, cut-through ramp to connect a dead-end street to an existing path. The Kennicott Avenue improvement project was implemented within the first few years of plan adoption.
  • Stayed committed. Infrastructure projects can take several years and require ongoing commitment to ensure they maintain momentum and funding. Projects must go through preliminary engineering to determine feasibility and initial costs; phase I to survey existing conditions and develop preliminary engineering plans; and phase II to develop construction documents and acquire necessary rights-of-way — all before phase III, the construction phase of the project.

One plan recommendation is to improve the crossing at Wilke Road and Lake Cook Road to access the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. In 2019, following completion of phases I and II of the project, Arlington Heights obtained funding for construction through the locally programed Transportation Alternatives Program ($198,000) and Invest in Cook phase III funds ($75,000). The rest of the project is supported through the village’s general fund. Construction on the project began in spring 2021 and was completed on June 8.

Aerial photo of Lake Cook and Wilke intersection

Park Forest

Park Forest, a community of 21,699 residents that borders Cook and Will counties, adopted its bicycle and pedestrian plan in December 2014. The planning process allowed community members, elected officials, and village staff to work toward a shared vision for the community. From there, the village began to implement the plan through new policies and infrastructure improvements:

  • Adopted bike and pedestrian-friendly policies. Less than one year after plan adoption, Park Forest adopted a complete streets policy. The policy, which guides the village to create streets that are safe for people of all ages and abilities, was named one of the best in the nation by Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition. In 2017, the village also adopted an updated unified development ordinance that integrates bicycle and pedestrian-friendly requirements in the municipal code. The zoning regulations include bike-parking requirements for all new development, building design standards to support pedestrian movement and safety, and complete streets standards for subdivisions.
  • Gained buy-in from the public works department. Most municipalities use their public works departments to develop and implement a capital improvement plan (CIP) and oversee bike-ped projects. Park Forest’s public works department added recommendations from the bicycle and pedestrian plan as line items to the CIP, which allowed for realistic budget forecasting. The department’s buy-in also supported implementation through grant procurement and project management.
  • Budgeted for bike-ped infrastructure. Park Forest allots funding for bike-ped infrastructure improvements to build and maintain its network. In addition, while federal, state, and local grant programs provide most funding for large-scale bike-ped projects, they often require a local match. Park Forest budgets annually for complete streets design and local match requirements. The village also allots about $70,000 each year for sidewalk maintenance and $150,000 for pedestrian cut-throughs.
  • Committed to continued development of bike-ped infrastructure. Park Forest is committed to pursuing grant funding during each funding cycle to construct bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Grant funding has supported the installation of sidewalks, bicycle lanes, way-finding signs, and shared lane markings on major streets throughout the community. Funding sources for infrastructure projects include Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, the Transportation Improvement Program (ITEP), and Invest in Cook.

Key takeaways

While significant time and effort is required to create a bicycle and pedestrian plan, the heavy lifting comes after plan adoption. Arlington Heights and Park Forest, while separated by close to 50 miles, took a number of similar approaches to implementing their bicycle and pedestrian plans. These actions can provide communities in northeastern Illinois with a blueprint for implementation:

  • Get community buy-in. It is essential to build community support for bike-ped projects during the course of plan development and implementation. Buy-in must be facilitated through elected officials and village staff who can serve as champions for the project, along with local stakeholders and community residents.
  • Aggressively pursue funding. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure often requires outside sources of funding. Communities should dedicate staff time and resources toward actively pursuing grant funding, as well as managing active grants. In recent years, CMAP has helped a number of communities pursue grant funding through its Local Technical Assistance program, including a new cohort of communities through the recent call for projects.
  • Include projects in the CIP and budget. A community’s capital improvement plan provides a timeline and a set of potential funding sources for bike-ped projects. It also guides the annual budgeting process to ensure sufficient funding for local grant contributions and infrastructure maintenance. In the past, CMAP has provided support to communities like Blue Island and Richton Park to develop CIPs. In 2021, CMAP will be developing CIPs with Berwyn, Burlington, Calumet Park, Lynwood, Steger, and Thornton.
  • Take an incremental approach. Infrastructure projects can take several years, from project design to funding to construction. Start with low-hanging fruit, such as adopting bike and pedestrian-supportive policies and constructing low-cost projects that provide big impacts (for example, cut-throughs). Meanwhile, continue to identify projects, funding sources, and partnership opportunities to implement larger-scale projects.


Find more information about bicycle and pedestrian planning at these links: