Almost all the key players appear to be on board — The Illinois Department of Transportation, the village of Riverside, Riverside-Brookfield High School. Improvements to the intersection of First and Forest avenues are on the way and will, in all likelihood, be in place by the summer of 2015.
But another key aspect to the pedestrian/bike safety plan for that general area is a bike path or sidewalk that connects 31st Street (ideally, it would go all the way to 26th Street) with Riverside-Brookfield High School.
But that’s going to take buy-in and active participation from the Cook County Forest Preserve District and Brookfield Zoo, which inhabits a good deal of forest preserve property around the school, including the west frontage of First Avenue from 31st Street almost to Ridgewood Road.
So far, the forest preserve district has been pretty much invisible with regard to this effort and Brookfield Zoo, while supportive of the effort, has been largely passive.
Perhaps the most effective route for local officials would be to reach out to Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski and try to engage his support. While zoo officials tend not to get too involved in matters outside their gates, surely there’s incentive for Tobolski to do so.
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to First Avenue. It is a heavily trafficked truck route and state highway, where vehicles whip past the high school at 40 mph. Add to the mix impatient parents trying to drive their kids to school, hundreds of students crossing First Avenue each morning before and after school, and kids on bicycles navigating the intersection and you have a very dangerous mix.
There have been a number of accidents through the years, some involving students darting across the street, some involving vehicles. In 2010, there was a fatal crash involving a truck and car on a Friday afternoon.
The forest preserve district in recent years has invested money to refurbish and extend its bike trail system throughout Cook County, including nearby improvements on the Salt Creek Trail and new trails in Cermak Woods in Lyons.
We don’t believe there’s any reason why the district shouldn’t consider connecting its Salt Creek Trail, which reaches all the way to 26th Street in North Riverside, with Ridgewood Road via a route that includes First Avenue.
And there’s no reason why they should not step up to be the lead agency in such an effort. While the village of Riverside and RBHS certainly need to be involved, the forest preserve district is the key because it owns the land — land that can be used to help not only students get to school, but recreational cyclists to traverse that area safely.