The year of the bicycle in Riverside

Opinion

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Tom Jacobs

Web Extra! View the proposed bike map

Riverside needs bike routes. It needs them to connect us to our neighboring communities and their bike paths, and, in a larger sense, we need them to demonstrate our willingness to play an active role in the growing regional network of sustainable transportation connectivity.

We also need them to provide for safer access to our schools, and as a way to bring in customers to our local merchants in the central business district.

Not least of all, we need them to come closer to a modern-day adaptation of Frederick Law Olmsted's vision of providing suitable access to Riverside and of "taking air and exercise in driving, riding and walking" and providing "facilities for quiet out-of-door recreation."

On Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. in Room 4 of Riverside Township Hall, Pamela Brookstein from the Active Transportation Alliance will talk about a Riverside bicycle or multi-modal transportation plan.

Following her presentation will be an overview and discussion of proposed new bike routes for Riverside. The meeting is hosted by the Riverside Sustainability Council. All are welcome.

In 2008, the Riverside Cycling Club proposed the first bike route through Riverside which was adopted by the village board the same year. The route is along Forest Avenue and Longcommon Road, involves some minimal signage and provides easy access to the train station and the central business district.

However, as the route follows two of the busy arterial roads in Riverside, it is primarily used by riders on road bikes.

This year, the Riverside Sustainability Council is proposing two additional bicycle routes. The Riverside Heritage Route is intended to expand our connection into the regional bike route system, while the Riverside Ring Route will strengthen our internal connectivity.

Both proposed routes are shown on the Riverside Bike Map which is available for review at www.rblandmark.com.

The Heritage Route connects to Cook County Forest Preserve District's Salt Creek Bike Trails to the north at the corner of Desplaines Avenue and 26th Street and to the south at the Barrypoint Road bridge.

The very idea of this route is to bring Salt Creek Bike Trail riders through Riverside, and to funnel them through the central business district on Burlington Street. Here, the Burlington boardwalk, an idea introduced by a business owner to the village board in November last year and described in the June 2009 column by this author, should be implemented in concert with the new bike route; outdoor seating areas, planters and adequate bike parking needs to be provided.

Additionally, and akin to a very successful service implemented in Paris, bicycles could be rented inexpensively from an automated "service point" located at the Riverside train station.

Placed under the cover of one or two of our train stations' sizable roofs, bicycles could conveniently be picked up and returned by visitors arriving by train or car. As a green island of magnificent beauty in the Chicagoland area, why shouldn't Riverside become as well know as, say, Mackinac Island, which is preferably explored by bike?

The Riverside Ring Route, approximately 6.4 miles in length, follows the curved roads along Riverside's perimeter while avoiding the main Riverside arterial roads. It will serve as a boundary loop encompassing the countless other curved neighborhood roads of Riverside, which inherently lend themselves to recreational biking as well.

At the end of West Avenue and the BNSF tracks, coincidentally the location of the most important North-South connection across the railroad line in Olmsted's original plan, a new at-grade crossing for walking and bicycling only should be built.

This new crossing would make it possible for the Ring Route to avoid the often congested and dangerous intersections at the center of town. The Ring Route would also be a significant incentive for students to ride their bike to Riverside-Brookfield High School, and at the least, stop the unacceptable and very unsafe situation of First Division students crossing the tracks at the end of the swim club parking lot to get to West Avenue and the school.

Living in Riverside makes all of us residents a privileged group of people. It is time that we start to understand ourselves not primarily as owners but rather as guests in a very special place that is only temporarily entrusted to our care. We need to be implementing things today that will be a great asset to the people who will, for their short while, inhabit our village in the future.

We also ought to recognize that the village shall never rightfully claim the full extent of its beauty if we do not proactively enable all people, from near and far, to share and enjoy that beauty with us.

Bike routes have been overdue in Riverside for at least two decades. Let's implement them this year.

Tom Jacobs is a Riverside resident, architect and founder of the Riverside Sustainability Council.

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