Monday, June 25, 2012

The Boondocks Have Vanished

During the mid-90's, I established a series of rides I called the "Vanishing Boondocks" series. The intent was to leave from what was then the outskirts of town for the corn and soybean fields of the triangle defined by the cities of Naperville, Oswego, and Plainfield; to ride on the low-traffic farm-to-market roads we had all come to love, and to witness the destruction of our habitat at the hands of real estate developers.

On my 48-mile ride yesterday, one of the few I've taken to the area in recent years, I determined that the boondocks have indeed vanished. Oh, they don't look all that different. Most of the housing tracts have grown from the towns' edges. 248th street is mostly lost now, along with nearly everything between it and U.S. 30, but the old roads beyond look mostly the same. What's not the same about them is the volume of motor traffic. Those scenic country byways we enjoyed for so many years have now become a nightmare of whizzing cars. You can't ride a half a mile without feeling eyes on the back of your neck, without the hissing of tires drowning out the sounds of birds and bugs and your own peaceful thoughts.

The triangle has not become the wasteland of shopping centers and big, unaffordable houses I had feared. The farms are still there, and the roads are much as I remember them - too narrow to accommodate bikes and significant motor traffic. But thanks to the amount of land given up to urban sprawl, there are just enough new settlers to have changed the cycling landscape out there forever. The real estate bust of 2007 and the subsequent crash of our economy may have put a stop to the development, but nothing is going to wipe away the mess that was made in the runup to it.

I did notice that they're building bike paths out there. I saw a big bike bridge over Ridge Road south of 127th. The sad part is that someone would think such a thing should be necessary.

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