Proponents of building a bicycle/pedestrian bridge or underpass at the intersection of First and Forest avenues in Riverside suffered a setback last week when they were informed that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) had turned down two applications to get that ball rolling.

But Randy Brockway, the Riverside resident spearheading the effort, said his group considers the setback a temporary one.

“Frankly, we don’t feel it’s much of a blow,” said Brockway. “We looked at this as one of many grant applications. This doesn’t close the door.”
Thomas Murtha, a senior planner with CMAP, informed Brockway of the agency’s decisions on grant applications on Sept. 7. The agency had put out a call for applications earlier this year to develop a five-year $400 million program of projects that, according to its website “improve air quality, mitigate congestion, and help to implement GO TO 2040,” which is the agency’s regional master plan.

The grant funding was to have come through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program.

The village of Riverside, which sponsored the applications for the grants, sought approximately $2.5 million in two separate requests for the construction of the bridge/underpass and separate intersection improvements that address safety at the intersection. The applications were completed in March.

“The CMAQ selection process was very competitive, so the Riverside project was not selected for CMAQ funding,” Murtha wrote in an email to Brockway on Sept. 7.

Of the 115 projects in northeast Illinois chosen for grant funding, several have bike/pedestrian bridge elements, including a pedestrian crossing over Randall Road in Algonquin ($3.1 million), a Lakefront/Navy Pier bike/pedestrian flyover ($11.3 million) and a bike/pedestrian overpass at Touhy Avenue in Lincolnwood for the Skokie Valley Bike Trail ($1.4 million).

As Brockway’s group seeks other potential grant opportunities to help fund the construction of a First Avenue bridge, Brockway said last week that the group may temporarily shift their focus to another important aspect of their plan – connecting the Salt Creek Bike Trail to the intersection of First and Forest avenues.

The group has already been successful in getting the Illinois Department of Transportation to redo the crosswalk striping at the intersection. They are also lobbying village hall and the police department to hire a second crossing guard there.

“There are short-term things we’re working on,” said Brockway.

But the extension of the bike path from the McCormick Woods north of Brookfield Zoo to that intersection is key, Brockway said. He added that top Brookfield Zoo officials had also expressed an interest in the concept.

While early plans showed the bike path winding east down 31st Street and then south along the west side of First Avenue, Brockway believes it may be easier and better to go around the zoo from the west.

“It seems to be doable through Brookfield,” said Brockway.

According to Brockway, Chicago Zoological Society Director Stuart Strahl suggested that the path could run west along the south side of 31st Street, over the bridge and then south along the west side of Salt Creek through Cook County Forest Preserve District land.

The path could then cross over Salt Creek to the east using either an intact bridge that exists or via a new bridge built on concrete abutments that remain from an old streetcar bridge. The path could then turn south to Washington Avenue and continue east on Washington Avenue to First Avenue.

Matthew Mayer, vice president of public affairs at the Chicago Zoological Society, expressed support for Brockway’s efforts through a spokeswoman last week but did not comment specifically about any plan to link the Salt Creek Bike Path through forest preserve property.

In March, Strahl sent Riverside President Michael Gorman an enthusiastic letter of support for the CMAP applications.

“We believe both these proposed improvements would support our organization’s conservation mission by providing all interested parties, including zoo guests, members, volunteers and employees … with an opportunity to walk or bike to the zoo or elsewhere,” Strahl wrote.

Brockway’s vision is for the path to continue down Forest Avenue to downtown Riverside, cross the railroad tracks at Longcommon and then head down Riverside Road to the Swinging Bridge and, eventually, link up with the existing bike path in Cermak Woods.

“But let’s cross First Avenue first,” said Brockway. “Let’s build the trail. If it spurs development further, so be it. I certainly don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.”

Bike paths have faced opposition in Brookfield over the years although Riverside’s stance has softened over time.

In 2010, the village board agreed to designate a pair of bike routes within the village. They are not official bike paths with street markings, but signs mark the routes.