Safety concerns expressed about North Branch Trail extension
by BRIAN NADIG
Many residents were upset that Cook County Forest Preserve officials did not address their safety concerns about a portion of the planned extension of the North Branch bike and pedestrian trail during a Nov. 30 public briefing on the project’s construction.
“Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears,” Old Edgebrook resident Petra Blix told the district’s representatives. About 80 people attended the 60-minute meeting, which was held at the Edgebrook Clubhouse, 6100 N. Central Ave.
At issue is a stretch of the trail’s extension which will be built 70 feet west of Central Avenue between Louise Avenue and Prescott Avenue, which are the only two side streets leading to the 55-home Old Edgebrook subdivision.
Original plans had called for the trail to be constructed on the east side of Central, but that was ruled out because it would have been too costly to reprogram traffic signals in downtown Edgebrook to allow for a trail crossing at Lehigh and Central Avenues. It would have cost about $1 million to reprogram all of the traffic signals, according to the district.
When the route change was announced last summer at a meeting of the Edgebrook Community Association, several residents complained that the neighborhood was never consulted on the change. “This change was made without any community input,” Blix said.
At the construction briefing, district planner Kindy Kruller said that the district participated in at least a dozen meetings on the project with community groups and elected officials and that no additional changes in the design of the trail will be made.
“We really tried to reach out to all stakeholders,” Kruller said. Old Edgebrook is a city landmark district, whose designation allows for the district to have the option of constructing a trail in the area, she said.
Residents of the subdivision and the community association have expressed concern that vehicles turning into the subdivision will have not see the bicyclists who are crossing at Louise and Prescott. The trail is being built 70 feet west of Central to allow for vehicles to stack up while motorists are waiting for trail users to cross, and plans call for a stop sign and warning panel to be installed for trail users at the crossings.
Residents have asked that the district consider installing additional safeguards, including speed bumps, more lighting and a slow-down-zone that would be created by a right-turn angle in the trail’s design as it approached the crossings.
However, those measures do not meet federal trail guidelines, and more lighting is not needed because there is an existing street light 10 feet away from the crossings and use of the trail is limited from dawn to dusk, Kruller said. Several audience members responded that it would be difficult to enforce the night-time ban.
The Illinois Department of Transportation has approved the plans for the crossings at Louise and Prescott, Kruller said. The department reviews the project to ensure that the federally funded project meets federal guidelines, she said.
Several residents expressed concern that department officials had never attended a community meeting on the project. Kruller said that the department was not required to have a representative at those meetings because “they’re not the land owner and it’s not going to be their trail.”
A woman inquired about the possibility of re-opening an approximately 125-foot-long, vacated roadway that connects the subdivision to the parking lot of the clubhouse so that they could access Central Avenue via a traffic signal that is being installed at the driveway entrance of the clubhouse as part of the trail project.
Normally there is a chain which prevents access to the roadway, but after the meeting the chain was down, and at least one vehicle was seen using the roadway. A decision on the roadway would be up the city Department of Transportation, according to the district.
The 3.1-mile southern extension of the 18-mile North Branch Trail starts at Devon and Caldwell avenues and finishes at LaBagh Woods.
The first phase of construction, from Edgebrook to Forest Glen, will start this month and should be substantially completed by the fall of 2016, district officials said at the meeting. This phase will cover about two thirds of the length of the extension.
The second phase, from Forest Glen to the Irene Hernandez Picnic Area at Kostner and Foster avenues, could start next year and be completed at about the same time as the first phase, but a timetable for the second phase will not be finalized until the bidding process is over.
Tree removal for trail’s extension is scheduled to start the second week of December, and bridge construction will occur over the winter. One of the bridges will be built just east of Central over the North Branch of the Chicago River in Edgebrook Woods and the other over Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Indian Road Woods.
Plans call for construction to occur between 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with some work possible on Saturdays if weather-related issues start to slow the project, according to officials. The project is estimated to cost up to $8 million.
"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 that it distributed last year. "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."