New route proposed for extension of bike trail
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 3-mile North Branch Bike Trail extension.
Another change in plans for the project calls for the trail to be routed along the west side of Central Avenue, near the 55-home Old Edgebrook subdivision, instead of on 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 featured a presentation of an alternate plan for the trail which a group of residents and the Urban Environmental Alliance are proposing in an effort to preserve more trees and to lessen the environmental impact of the project.
Many residents at the meeting said that the changes in the route of the trail came as a surprise to them. Some residents said that the forest preserve district has done a poor job of working with the Edgebrook community, while a member of the Indian Woods Community Association said at that the district had been cooperating with that 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 engineering plans to 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.
On July 11 the association sent the district a letter asking that the project be put on hold because community input was not sought on the changes announced at the meeting.
The existing 18-mile trail runs from Devon and Caldwell avenues through several suburbs to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. The southern extension would run from Devon and Caldwell to the Hernandez Picnic Grove in LaBagh Woods near Foster and Kostner avenues. From there 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 run southeast along Lehigh Avenue to Central. Plans called for bicyclists to cross Central at the 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 now would run along the west side of Central south to the driveway entrance to the clubhouse, where bicyclists would cross Central at a new traffic signal that would be installed there. The trail would cross the North Branch of the Chicago River via a new bridge that would be built east of Central and north of Indian Road.
The trail would run through Indian Road Woods, where a bridge would be constructed over railroad tracks near Indian Road and Ardmore Avenue, and an existing passageway under the Cicero Avenue bridge would be widened to accommodate bikes. The bridge would lead to Forest Glen Woods, and the path would run to LaBagh Woods.
Several residents that the revisions to the project would result in the removal of a significant number of trees along Central in what they described as the "back yard" of Old Edgebrook. Some residents also suggested that the portion of the trail along Lehigh in Edgebrook Woods run in 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 3-foot shoulder on each side, and the Urban Environmental Alliance estimates that in some areas up to 40 feet of woods 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 plan for the trail. The alliance recommends that the trail cut through the Caldwell Golf Course, where fewer trees would have to be removed due to the existing open space there, or that it follow a route on Leoti Avenue north of the golf course, alliance board member Bathsheba Birman said.
The alliance also recommends that the trail run 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 signs indicating the designation, she said.
The alliance says its 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 removed, as non-native trees will not be replaced.
Forest Glen resident Sue Arnold said that the community has several safety concerns about the expansion of the passageway under Cicero. She said that there are 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 on 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 association vice president Don Walsh said that the group supports the planned trail plan and that having a traffic signal at the clubhouse driveway entrance would improve traffic safety. Due to a curve in the road, motorists driving southbound on Central are at risk of their cars being rear-ended when they are waiting to make a left turn onto Indian Road, and 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)," the district stated in an information packet on the project. "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."