Advocates continue to push for trail path extensions

Trail alignment proposals for the central trails portion presented by Civiltech Engineering during a May 24 webinar | Screenshot

Local advocates, engineers and public officials provide status on proposed extensions through Chicago region

May 30, 2023 | By Francia Garcia Hernandez

Last Wednesday, the non-profit advocacy organization Active Transportation Alliance hosted a webinar to update residents and other interested parties on the status of several proposed extensions of the Des Plaines River Trails. If completed, these extensions would create a bike path that runs continuously to the Wisconsin border, connecting to the Salt Creek Trail and the Illinois Prairie Path, through some of Cook County’s most densely populated communities and key destinations.

Panelists shared proposals and progress on the projects that would eliminate gaps in the Des Plaines River Trail, including Mike Kerr, president of Christopher B. Burke Engineering and Lissa Sweeney, planner at Civiltech Engineering, the agency that has conducted several feasibility studies in the region.

The trails that would be connected are classified into three regions – north, central and south. The northern trail is a 10-mile segment of the Des Plaines Trail System from North Avenue to Touhy Avenue. The Forest Preserves of Cook County and Christopher Burke Engineering are currently working on several engineering studies to improve existing paths, which tend to flood or have portions that expose bike riders to dangerous intersections.

For the central trail, a 2.5-mile trail needs to be built to fill in the gap between the Forest Park CTA Blue Line Station at Van Buren Street and 26th Street.

Cook County, Active Transportation Alliance, and Civiltech Engineering are wrapping up a study to identify potential trail alignments, with a final report expected to be released this summer. Sweeney presented four trail alignments and their corresponding evaluations that have been identified as potential solutions. Three of these propose the paths are built on the west side of the Des Plaines River, while one would be east. All options were evaluated using environmental, engineering and public criteria. While alignment #2 has the best overall score, all alignments are being presented, Sweeney said.

In the southern trail portion, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) led a 2019 planning study to find alternatives to build a path that connects the Des Plaines River Trail between W. 26th Street and Ogden Avenue.

Community advocate Ralph DiFebo said creating trails in these gaps is essential to bike riders’ safety and to increase bike ridership, not only for recreational purposes, but as an alternative transportation method.

Emily Egan, community development director for the Village of Brookfield, said the village is very supportive of the project that would connect the trails and is navigating different challenges, including financial challenges. The community, as well as several studies, show the need to prioritize the bike trails at Washington and 31st St., she said. However, she is optimistic the project will be completed as she celebrated the construction of bike lanes on Washington Street is underway.

“We do have a path for success and we’re super optimistic about getting there,” she said.

To view a recording of the webinar, visit the Active Transportation Alliance YouTube channel.

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