Harlem Avenue BNSF grade crossing (Bob Uphues/Editor)

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is asking residents, commuters, business owners and those who work in Riverside and Berwyn to participate in an online survey they’ve just launched to gather input and data as they assess ways to make Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad grade crossings safer and easier to traverse.

The survey can be found by clicking here. According to CMAP Senior Planner Tom Murtha, about 200 people had taken the survey in the first couple of days after it was released to the public.

It’s part of a federal process CMAP is engaged in to determine whether there’s a purpose and need for any grade separation solutions along the BNSF line in Riverside and Berwyn and, if so, what the alternatives might be to make grade separation a reality.

“There’s a balance between the purpose and need and what’s achievable through engineering,” Murtha said. “There will be a wide range of alternatives and analysis to see if any are acceptable to the communities and do what the project is calling for.”

The survey includes more than a dozen questions that seek to gather information on who is using the grade crossings and how often, which grade crossings should be the focus of any study, how delays inconvenience motorists and pedestrians and what circumstances planners ought to consider in coming up with solutions.

“We’re going to reach out to stakeholders, but we also want a broad base of feedback from residents, commuters and business owners about their experiences at those crossings so our data can be put into perspective,” Murtha said.

At this point, CMAP has not set a deadline for the survey, but Murtha said he expected it to wrap up in early October.

About two years ago, Murtha appeared at a Riverside Village Board meeting to gauge village support for a grade separation feasibility study CMAP was planning to conduct. At the time, trustees appeared skeptical that a solution that didn’t adversely affect Harlem Avenue businesses and Riverside’s historic character could be found.

Murtha said CMAP took those concerns to heart and said he wasn’t sure that any solution could be found that would be acceptable along Harlem Avenue. The agency’s study, however, is broader than Harlem Avenue and will seek data and feedback on other problem spots along the line, such as at Oak Park Avenue, where trains blocking that intersection can delay ambulances trying to get to MacNeal Hospital.

“I don’t know whether we’ll get to the point of alternatives, but we’re trying to set this up to be creative to address concerns about historic preservation and businesses,” Murtha said. “Getting that feedback will help us understand those concerns a bit better.”