Hidden Gem bike ride a treat, but watch out for those craters

Viewpoint: 

The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

Like the craters of the moon.
 
Traversing the geology of Flossmoor’s choppy streets gives a good general idea of what those astronauts encountered on the lunar landscape 50 years ago.
 
What an adventure. Every block brings another encounter with a roadway that has been gouged by the worst that our Midwestern elements can offer — extremes in cold and heat — mixed in with the everyday abuse from cars and trucks.
 
Some streets are worse than others but few are entirely free from the scars that come when asphalt totally surrenders to vehicular wear and tear.
 
In the Heather Hill neighborhood, where I live, there is a notable half-block just south of the intersection of Lawrence Crescent and Maryland Avenue. Anyone examining the streetscape finds layers of pavement worn away, leaving the aforementioned lunar surface.
 
  The intersection of Maryland
  and Lawrence? Or the surface
  of the moon?
(Tom Houlihan/
  H-F Chronicle)
 
Flossmoor actually has a worst street — the one block of Brumley Drive east of Bruce Street. It achieved that distinction in a study of the village’s streets a couple of years ago — more on that in a moment. I’ve driven my car down that block and can attest that it might qualify as a tourist attraction if it wasn’t so awful.
 
But I am getting ahead of myself.
 
Last month I was fortunate enough to participate in the bike ride that was organized as a preview to the inaugural Hidden Gem half-marathon in September. It followed the 13.1-mile route of the foot race, which goes through just about every neighborhood in the village. Nearly 200 bike riders followed the course and I think we all enjoyed ourselves immensely.
 
There is no way I can run more than a dozen miles — my knees are shot and I can probably jog no more than three or four blocks on pavement — so the bike ride gave me a chance to still be part of the half-marathon.
 
The Hidden Gem race was designed to give people from out of town a chance to see what Flossmoor has to offer. And the course does just that. The town looks great. The bike ride took place on a sunny day, not too hot, and we were greeted by enthusiastic residents on every block.
 
But, oh those streets. 
 
I ride my bike on Flossmoor streets all the time and I am used to the lunar landscape in small doses. But it becomes so much apparent when it’s a 13.1-mile ride through the entire town.
 
The bike ride on July 13 did not go down that stretch of Brumley Drive but did traverse the intersection of Lawrence and Maryland. To me, that registered as the worst single spot on the course. It’s one thing to ride through those craters by yourself. It’s something else again to do it in a big pack of bike riders.
 
Once again, let me point out that I think we all enjoyed the bike ride. But it was also clearly an exercise in avoiding potholes.
 
So here is my message to anyone in Flossmoor who’s listening.
 
Fix. The. Streets.
 
As I mentioned earlier, Flossmoor already has a comprehensive study of the village roadways — it was released in July 2017.  The study rated all village streets according to pavement conditions under the PASER system developed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Transportation Information Center.
 
Streets were evaluated on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as ‘excellent” and 1 as “failed.” In 2017, no Flossmoor streets were excellent and only Brumley was considered failed. More than 40 percent of village streets were classified as “fair,” with a rating number of 4. The study indicated it would take $20 million to fix all of Flossmoor’s streets.
 
Like most towns, Flossmoor does have an ongoing street repaving program that is financed by motor fuel tax (MFT) monies distributed by the State of Illinois. In recent years, Flossmoor has received around $150,000 in MFT funds each year and that is used to repair a small number of streets around town.
 
This summer’s program totals $400,000, with $150,000 from the state and $250,000 from the village’s general fund. Seven streets are slated for repaving. Village officials have said that an adequate yearly street repair program would require $500,000 a year so the current MFT allotment doesn’t come close to solving Flossmoor’s problems.
 
That could all change next year. This spring, the village board gave the go-ahead to prepare for an $11 million referendum in November 2020 to raise money for comprehensive street repair in Flossmoor. If it’s approved by voters, the village would be able to fix the streets classified as fair, or worse, in the 2017 study. 
 
Since the Chronicle was started five years ago, I’ve attended lots of Flossmoor village board meetings and have learned that this is a town that is fiscally conservative to the nth degree. Village officials are extremely proud of Flossmoor’s stellar bond rating and the fact that it has been recognized nationally every year for nearly four decades for its exemplary financial reporting. They should be proud, and so should Flossmoor residents.
 
But something needs to be done when the infrastructure is crumbling, and that is sorely evident on the village’s streets.
 
If residents approve the referendum, the three-year street improvement program would begin in 2021. That would coincide with the village retiring $8.58 million in bonds for construction of the Flossmoor library. I never claim to be an expert on financial matters but that probably means that the village would continue to live within its bonding limit when embarking on the street program.
 
And, in a few years, participants in a future version of Bike the Gem might be able to ride through town without streets that remind them of the surface of the moon. I can’t wait.
 
Ultimately, of course, residents will have to decide if they want streets that are safe, drivable and not filled with craters.
 
Let me repeat this one more time.
 
Fix. The. Streets.
 

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