That local officials are looking at ways of improving pedestrian and bicycle safety near Riverside-Brookfield High School is nothing new. Despite the fact that little has been done to address those issues until recently, pleas for creating safe passage for students to the high school have been made for nearly half a century.
The most recent comprehensive look at safety improvements along First Avenue in Riverside and North Riverside was in 1997, when the Illinois Department of Transportation examined the state highway as part of its Operation Greenlight study, which looked at all of the areas main arterial routes.
In that study, IDOT looked at the length of First/Cumberland Avenue, from I-55 to I-90. In the vicinity of First and Forest avenues in Riverside, the study recommends a “grade separated pedestrian and bicycle crossing … to provide a safe crossing for pedestrians,” noting that the high school and village of Riverside had “requested such a structure based upon the volume of students that cross the route near that intersection.”
The study also notes that the planned improvements could link the forest preserves in that area with the existing bike trail system — exactly what community members and the high school continue to ask for today.
But the request for a pedestrian bike path, specifically on the west side of First Avenue for the benefit of North Riverside residents who attend RBHS, goes back much further. In the mid-1980s, the village of North Riverside backed a plan to build a 5-foot-wide asphalt bike path along the west side of First Avenue from 26th Street to 31st Street “and possibly as far as Forest,” according to an article in the Feb. 11, 1984 Suburban Life.
The village backed a plan that would wind between trees, a safe distance from the roadway. In March 1984, the village presented the plan to the North Central Council of Mayors as part of that group’s transportation study, which sought to widen and improve street lighting on First Avenue.
But North Riverside was working alone on the effort. It seems North Riverside officials planned to line up financial support from the forest preserve district, Riverside and Brookfield once the village learned how much federal or state funding the project would receive.
In the end, the North Central Council of Mayors approved something very different than the original plan. Instead of a winding asphalt path through the forest preserves on the west side of First Avenue, the council approved spending $100,000 to build a sidewalk immediately next to the roadway on the east side of First Avenue from 26th Street to 31st Street.
A March 17, 1984 Suburban Life article about the decision makes no mention of participation by either the forest preserve district, Riverside or Brookfield.
At least something was done to address the issue in the 1980s. The first documented attempt to get the attention of the forest preserve district with regard to student safety also originated in North Riverside — in 1968.
On March 27, 1968, James Marousek, then a member of the Komarek School District 94 Board of Education, wrote a letter to Cook County Board President Richard Ogilvie, with a very familiar request. A day earlier, he had brought up the subject with Brian Whalen, the administrative assistant to Ogilvie.
“I explained the non-existence of pedestrian and bicycle paths connecting Brookfield Zoo and Riverside-Brookfield High School with the adjacent areas,” Marousek wrote. “It gives me great concern to view people — mostly youngsters — trying to traverse this region with its high vehicular traffic.”
Marousek included with his letter a hand-drawn map of the area and proposed routes for such paths — down the west side of First Avenue from 26th Street to Ridgewood Road.
Both Whalen and the Forest Preserve District General Superintendent Arthur L. Janura responded to the letter, promising to be in touch.
According to Marousek, now 93 years old and a member of the North Riverside Zoning Board of Appeals, he never heard back from the forest preserve district after that.