North Branch Bike Trail Extension would include traffic signal in front of driveway entrance for Edgebrook Clubhouse
by BRIAN NADIG
A traffic signal would be installed at the driveway entrance for the Edgebrook Clubhouse, 6100 N. Central Ave., as part of a revised plan for the three-mile North Branch Bike Trail extension project.
Another change to the project calls for the trail to be routed along the west side of Central Avenue, next to the 55-home Old Edgebrook subdivision, instead of the east side of Central. Several residents have expressed concern that it would be difficult to see the bicyclists on the path when they turn onto Central from Prescott Avenue or Louise Avenue, which are the only two vehicular access points to the subdivision.
The Cook County Forest Preserve District updated residents about the project at the July 10 meeting of the Edgebrook Community Association. The meeting also included a presentation of an alternate trail plans which a group of residents and the Urban Environmental Alliance are proposing in an effort to preserve more trees and to lessen the overall environmental impact of the project.
Many of the residents at the meeting said that the changes in the trail’s route came as a surprise to them. Some residents charged that the Cook County Forest Preserve District has done a poor job of reaching out to the Edgebrook community, while a member of the Indian Woods Community Association said at the meeting that the district had been cooperating with its group since a public meeting on the project was held in 2010.
Construction of the approximately $7 million project is scheduled to start next spring, and the state Department of Transportation has authorized that engineering plans be completed for the project, according to the district. “As far as the forest preserve (district), we have our plan that we are moving forward with,” project manager Pamela Sielski told the Edgebrook association.
The existing 18-mile trail starts at Devon and Caldwell avenues and travels through several northern suburbs until it ends at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. The planned southern extension would run from the Devon-Caldwell intersection to the Irene Hernandez Picnic Grove at LaBagh Woods near Foster and Kostner avenues, from which bicyclists would be able to connect to the Sauganash Trail to the north, the Lakefront Trail to the east or the planned Weber Spur Trail to the northeast.
From Devon and Caldwell, the extension would travel southeast along Lehigh Avenue to Central. Plans had called for bicyclists to cross Central at the existing traffic signal at Lehigh, but changing that signal to accommodate a bike crossing would have been cost-prohibitive because it would have required changes to six other signals in Downtown Edgebrook that are coordinated with the signal at Lehigh and Central, Sielski said.
Instead the trail would now run along the west side of Central south to the driveway entrance of the clubhouse, from which bicyclists would cross Central at new traffic signal that would be installed there. Bicyclists would then cross the North Branch of the Chicago River via a new bridge that would be built just east of Central and north of Indian Road.
The trail would then continue through Indian Road Woods, where a bridge would be constructed over railroad tracks near Indian Road and Ardmore Avenue, and at Cicero Avenue an existing passageway under the Cicero Avenue Bridge would be widened to accommodate bikes. The bridge would lead into Forest Glen Woods, from which the path would continue to LaBagh Woods.
Several residents that the revisions to the project would result in the removal of a significant amount of forestry along Central in what they described as the “backyard” of Old Edgebrook. Some residents also suggested that the portion of the trail along Lehigh in the Edgebrook Woods be relocated to an existing parking lane on Lehigh in an effort to save more trees.
Plans call for the paved bike path to be 10 feet wide, with a two-foot shoulder on each side, and the Urban alliance estimates that in some areas up to 40 feet of forestry could be affected due to the staging of construction equipment for the project.
The Forest Glen Community Club has been working with the alliance, which is a coalition of several environmental organizations, and the alliance has asked the Edgebrook association to endorse its alternate plans for the trail. The alliance is recommending a trail that would cut through the Billy Caldwell Golf Course, where fewer trees would have to be demolished due to the existing open space there, or an alternate route that would be located on Leoti Avenue north of the golf course, said alliance board member Bathsheba Birman.
The alliance also is recommending that the trail continue through the Edgebrook, Forest Glen and Sauganash neighborhoods along portions of Leader Avenue, Lansing Avenue, Forest Glen Avenue, Kercheval Avenue and Bryn Mawr Avenue. All of the residential streets in the alliance plan are existing bike routes but lack lane markings or signage indicating the designation, she said.
The alliance plan would eliminate the need for new bridges or the expansion of the passageway under Cicero and that the cost savings could be used to install bike lane markings on the residential streets and to plant trees or other vegetation along the trail, Birman said. The forest preserve district plans to plant trees as part of the project, but it will be less the number demolished, as non-native trees will not be replaced.
Forest Glen resident Sue Arnold said that the community has several safety concerns about the planned expansion of the passageway under Cicero. She said that there are several crime-related problems there and that the area regularly floods.
District officials said that they are aware that the passageway will be unusable at times due to flooding but that it would prevent trail users from having to cross Cicero on most days. They also said that studies have revealed that bike trails reduce crime in residential neighborhoods, although several residents responded by citing reports of attacks against women on the Sauganash Trail.
Birman said that despite plans by the district to move forward with the project, elected officials in the area are taking notice of residents’ concerns and that changes to the plan cannot be ruled out. The alliance has been working with a bike trail advisory which was formed at the recommendation of Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th).
Indian Woods vice president Don Walsh said that his association supports the district’s planned trail and that having a traffic signal at the clubhouse driveway entrance would improve traffic safety in the area. Due to a curve in the roadway, southbound motorists on Central are at high risk for their cars to be rear-ended when they are waiting to make a left turn onto Indian Road, and that the signal should slow traffic, Walsh said.
“The proposed extension is sure to provide safety benefits by providing cyclists an off-street trail connection between the North Branch Bicycle Trail and the City of Chicago’s Bike Network (230-mile network of trails, lanes and designated routes).
“Auto-bicycle conflicts would be reduced since the trail will be located along a preserved greenway and provide access to hundreds of acres of woodland, prairie and floodplain within an urban corridor,” the district stated in an information packet on the project.