It’s really remarkable what a little cooperation can do.

People have been talking about connecting North Riverside with Riverside-Brookfield High School via some sort of path along First Avenue from 26th Street to Ridgewood Road for more than 40 years.

As recently as five years ago, such a path appeared to be an unattainable dream. But in the past couple of years, with collective local buy-in from Riverside, North Riverside, Brookfield and Riverside-Brookfield High School, the needle began to move a bit.

There are a couple of keys to the progress. The first was convincing the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) that safety improvements were overdue at the intersection of First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood adjacent to RBHS.

Those improvements, scheduled to be completed later this summer, included a segment of 8-foot-wide multiuse path that will stretch from Parkview Road to just north of the high school building. That’s the germ of the long-awaited First Avenue path. With the template in place, it may be a lot easier to convince IDOT and the Cook County Forest Preserve District — through whose land the path would run — to finish the job.

The other critical element of the new progress on the plan is the leadership of Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski. Because of the county board’s oversight of the forest preserve district, Tobolski’s support is essential. 

And he’s not only given verbal support, he’s the one personally shepherding this idea along, meeting with local, county and state officials to keep the idea from falling off the drawing board.

The First Avenue path appears very real now — to the point where people are also beginning to whisper the words “overpass” and “underpass” again. A safe way for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross First Avenue at Forest/Ridgewood has been part of the discussion almost as long as the First Avenue path itself. But the cost and complexity have kept it from going anywhere.

By completing the First Avenue path, connecting it to the Salt Creek Trail and getting more pedestrians and bicyclists to the corner of First and Ridgewood, the need for such a structure may become more and more evident to IDOT.

That kind of project will be expensive and will need significant funding from the state in the form of grants. It’s still years away at best.

But these things fall like dominoes. First it’s left-turn lanes, then it’s intersection improvements and the beginning of a bike path.

The next thing you know, there will be some real progress over at First and Forest/Ridgewood. Patience, persistence and cooperation are the key ingredients. And right now, Riverside, North Riverside and Brookfield have that working in their favor.