Overflow crowd at Edgebrook Clubhouse attends meeting on North Branch Trail Extension


Details of a plan to route a portion of the 3.1-mile North Branch Trail extension along the west side of Central Avenue next to the 55-home Old Edgebrook subdivision were presented at an Aug. 21 public meeting, prompting some residents to call for revisions.

While about 110 people attended the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s meeting at the Edgebrook Clubhouse, several residents charged that they were never notified of other public meetings on the $7 million project. A district document shows that four community members attended a 2010 public meeting on the project.

“As far as the forest preserve (district), we have our plan that we are moving forward with,” project manager Pamela Sielski said at the July 10 meeting of the Edgebrook Community Association.

At the association’s meeting, many residents learned for the first time that the planned trail was being relocated from the east side to west side of Central between Lehigh Avenue and the driveway entrance of the Edgebrook Clubhouse, 6100 N. Central Ave., where a traffic signal would be installed.

The on-demand stoplight would activate by having bicyclists press a button or by a censor that would detect vehicles leaving the clubhouse. Earlier plans had called for bicyclists to cross Central at the existing stoplight at Lehigh but that would be cost-prohibitive because it would require the six other traffic signals in Downtown Edgebrook to be reprogrammed, according to the district.

Some residents have complained that the stoplight would cause traffic to back up on Central, blocking Louise Avenue and Prescott Avenue, which are the only two vehicular access points to Old Edgebrook. Safety concerns also have been raised about the ability of those motorists exiting Old Edgebrook to see bicyclists on the trail.

Stop signs for bicyclists would be installed along the trial where it would cross Louise and Prescott, and the trail would be located adjacent to the street to allow for better sight lines for drivers, said project consultant David Landeweer. When cars are stopped at the new signal, it should cause breaks in traffic that would facilitate drivers who are turning onto Central from Prescott or Louise, he said.

At the stoplight, bicyclists would cross over to the east side of the street, as the planned extension of the trail would continue southeast until it ends in LaBagh Woods.

Concerns also have been raised that the trail might violate conditions of the city landmark district designation that exists for Old Edgebrook since the late 1980s. At the time, the forest preserve district’s support for the landmark designation was contingent on the district reserving the right to install a bike trail in the area, according to district representatives who were at the meeting.

Several residents at the meeting charged that the district did not consult the community about moving the trail from the east to west side of Central and about an earlier proposal to reroute the trail through the Old Edgebrook neighborhood.

The forest preserve district considered having the trail use an existing pathway in Edgebrook Woods before continuing south onto a block-long stretch of Lundy Avenue in Old Edgebrook and then along the perimeter of the clubhouse parking lot until it reaches the driveway entrance on Central. Several residents said that they would prefer the this route because it would preserve more trees that running the route along Central.

Some residents also recommended having the run along the western boundary of the Edgebrook golf course, but Landeweer said that there are flooding issues in that area.

District director of planning Chris Slattery reported that about 425 trees would be removed as part of the project and that many of those trees are dead or non-native.

Old Edgebrook resident Petra Blix said after the meeting that the number of trees removed could be significantly higher because smaller trees, some of which are less than six inches in diameter, are not included in the district’s calculations. Several residents asked officials to walk the proposed trail with them in an effort to clarify the issue.

Those who testified in favor of the project and would help introduce thousands of new people to the forest preserves. Old Edgebrook resident Bill Phillips said that in exchange for a small inconvenience, the trail would provide a beautiful amenity for the community.

Construction of the trail extension is scheduled to start next spring.

The existing 18-mile North Branch Trail starts at Devon and Caldwell avenues and travels through several northern suburbs until it ends at the Chicago Botanic Gardens in Glencoe. The southern extension would run from the Devon-Caldwell intersection to a picnic grove in LaBagh Woods near Foster and Kostner avenues, from which bicyclists could connect to the Sauganash Trail to the north or the planned Weber Spur Trail to the northeast.

The extension would include the construction of a bridge 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. District officials have acknowledged that there would be times when the passageway floods, forcing bicyclists would have to use alternate routes.

Districts officials at the meeting would not commit to make any changes to the route. Slattery said that one of the purposes of the meeting was to allow the district to explain why certain trail designs were chose over alternates that were considered.

District senior planner Kindy Kruller asked that questions and recommendations about the trail be e-mailed to her at kindy.kruller@cookcountyil.gov.

One resident said after the meeting that the community will “have to go to the top” of the district in order to get changes made.