A study published this month ranks Indiana among the nation's worst states for cycling and Illinois among the best, but one local planner said he believes the results are misleading.
"The Illinois results are skewed because of Chicago," said Mitch Barloga, nonmotorized transportation director for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
"Chicago is just over the top. Thanks to Mayor (Richard M.) Daley and the Active Transportation Alliance, now it is probably one of the best cities in the world for biking."
The 2013 Bicycle Friendly State survey, conducted by the League of American Bicyclists, ranks states based on performance in a variety of categories including legislation, policies, infrastructure, funding, education and planning.
While Indiana as a whole ranked poorly -- 42nd on the list -- Northwest Indiana's work on nonmotorized transportation corridors was recently lauded with the movement of the northern branch of The American Heritage Trail to include local routes.
Barloga said Northwest Indiana's proximity to Chicago is a plus in the hiking and biking world.
"We bring in the Active Transportation Alliance to help with planning here quite a bit," he said. "We are firmly a Chicago suburban area, whether some people want to admit it or not."
"We have to get bicycle and pedestrian accommodations put into the fabric of our ordinances," Barloga said. "Complete streets is the key to this in every region in the U.S. You can't get everywhere simply by trail. People think 'Oh, we have a trail. That's enough,' but that isn't the whole story."
"Complete streets" is a planning term used to describe roads that accommodate a variety of modes of travel in a safe way, including by personal vehicle, bus, bicycle and on foot.
Several communities, including Highland, Valparaiso and Munster, recently underwent "road diets," a thinning of a multilane road to accommodate bike lanes. Roundabouts, which are preferred by cyclists, are planned for Crown Point and Schererville as well.
"Development of trails is leading the way and people want to get to them other than by driving," he said. "If you live a mile from a trail but you can't get there without putting your bike on a rack and driving there, it is missing the point.
"Trails are nonmotorized super highways -- but they are limited," Barloga said. "There are only so many we can build. The real work is on city or town streets."
Barloga said multiple studies have shown 40 percent of all trips are taken within two miles. Being able to make them via bike in a dedicated lane on an existing road is key, he said.
"Bike lanes are very doable," Barloga said. "It's just a matter of knowledge and education. It's amazing what a stripe of paint will do to protect a rider on a bike. It's just a matter of striping, you don't have to widen the roads. It's not a matter of saying you've got to spend more money."
Barloga mentioned the new Vale Park Road bridge over Ind. 49 as example. The initial Indiana Department of Transportation plans were for a $12 million, 5-lane bridge with stop lights at either end.
But city officials pleaded with planners, saying bike and pedestrian access were important to residents and asked for a revise. INDOT listened and built a two-lane bridge for motorists with dedicated bike lines, pedestrian trails and roundabouts at either end.
In the end, the price tag was $7 million less than the original plan.
"Not only did they save taxpayer money, they now have a complete street segment that is one of the best examples of this in the entire Midwest," Barloga said. "It comes down to the desire of the community. Any community that comes and complains to me about money tells me that they don't really care or want to get it done."