After falling off the stove last year, the Illinois Department of Transportation’s planned improvements to the intersection of First and Forest avenues clearly are back on the front burner.

The plan that IDOT and most local officials have settled on are in line with what IDOT proposed back in early 2012 — countdown signals and right-turn lanes to allow traffic to flow smoothly and give pedestrians a greater sense of how much time they have to cross a very wide, very busy state highway.

That solution is not favored by everyone. Randy Brockway, the man responsible for pushing village, school and state officials to get serious about pedestrian safety at First and Forest, feels Riverside is being shortchanged by IDOT’s plan.

Brockway, in a perfect world, would prefer to see pedestrians and bicycles afforded a way to cross the intersection without having to set foot on the roadway at all. He wants a grade-separation structure.

Failing that, Brockway has consistently pushed for inclusion of a raised median in the middle of First Avenue to provide pedestrians refuge in case they get stuck while crossing the roadway.

Brockway has consistently argued that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls for such medians in order to increase safety for pedestrians. The trouble is that adding the medians would force IDOT to negotiate to obtain land or a permanent easement from the Cook County Forest Preserve District, which could hamstring getting the improvements done. It would also increase the width of the roadway.

While Brockway does not appear to be winning the battle for the median, he was successful in lobbying for a road safety audit to be conducted concurrently with intersection improvement planning.

What impact that process will have on the eventual solution at First and Forest or the impact it will have on getting the work done is unclear. At this point, it would seem as if any additional information about potential safety measures would be welcome in any case.

But the intersection improvements are the easy part. The hard part, and the real long-term goal, is to get a multi-purpose path built from Ridgewood Road north to at least 31st Street if not all the way to 26th Street.

That’s going to take some real intergovernmental cooperation, including Brookfield Zoo, the Cook County Forest Preserve District, Riverside-Brookfield High School and the village of North Riverside.

The latter two appear to be on board with examining that possibility. The other two, we’re not so sure. While the zoo does not control the land, being an active advocate for such a path certainly couldn’t hurt in gaining the assent of the forest preserve district.

Gaining the support of Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, who represents the area on the Cook County board, will also be key to making the path happen.

Getting the intersection improvements done is the first step in moving forward the idea of an extended path. It’s important not to derail that project if officials want to convince their partners to join in the much heavier lifting later on.

2 replies on “First and Forest improvments first step in extending nature path”