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New bike lane in downtown Freeport worries business owners

Freeport works to improve downtown life with a bike lane that would eliminate half of the parking spots on Chicago Avenue.
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 7:21 PM CDT
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FREEPORT, Ill. (WIFR) - After receiving a 1.98 million dollar state grant, Freeport moved forward with plans to implement a 6-foot bike lane on E. Chicago Avenue. While city leaders say they believe this will help business, others are not sure.

Van Smith owns Perfect Image Barber Shop on East Chicago Avenue, and has been there for 63 years. He attended the city council meeting Wednesday that focused on the bike lane plans.

“I said how many here like your project? One hand. One,” Smith said describing the meeting.

He says around 30 businesses joined him, but only one showed support for the city’s plans. The bike lane would eliminate 41 parking spots on the east side of the street. With an older client base, Smith worries for their safety.

“And then the winter time. Ice and snow out there. If they have to park on the other side, if they got a chance to park on the other side, they couldn’t do it,” Smith shook his head. “They’d fall. That’d be the end of them.”

Smith said he estimates the lack of parking will cost him 20 percent of his customers.

“So, I’ve been telling them. We’ll just have to go out to that $5 clip joint in front of Menards. We can’t walk. You know that,” Smith said.

City leaders insist the plan is flexible. Community and development director Kirstin Hinds said next month the city will present several options to the public.

“We’re looking at either the possibility of seasonal bike lanes, with parking in the winter, and then adding in handicap accessible or business designated parking around the corner where they can easily get to and from the sidewalk,” said Hinds.

Hinds said the plan includes adding signs to existing bike paths to direct visitors to downtown Freeport.

“You know cyclists that come downtown, they’re probably just going to see it. Maybe they’re going to get food, stopping to get a drink somewhere, but then at least they’re able to come through the downtown,” said Hinds. “They have that direct access to our downtown area to see what it’s like.”

The bike lane would stretch from Douglas Street to Jackson Street pas the Lindo Theatre. City leaders expect construction to begin no earlier than March of 2022. Businesses will stay open during construction, and city leaders say they’ll ensure the public knows they have access to their stores.

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