By Bob Uphues
A bike path along First Avenue connecting North Riverside with Riverside-Brookfield High School is one step closer to reality after the Cook County Forest Preserve District Board voted 16 to 0 on Tuesday to spend $100,000 to help fund the project.
The county's grant represents roughly half of what it will cost to build a bike/pedestrian path on the west side of First Avenue from Ridgewood Road to 31st Street. That's the first phase of a three-phase plan to extend the path north all the way to 26th Street and west all the way to Prairie Avenue, which would link it with the Salt Creek Trail.
"Our hope is to be under way this fall," said Douglas Chien, advocates' network manager for the Friends of the Forest Preserves, which worked with Brookfield resident Doug Hoogstra and Riverside resident Randy Brockway last fall to get the ear of Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski.
"He instantly saw how much sense this made," said Chien of Tobolski, who became the project's champion at the county level and won the support of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Tobolski showed amazing leadership and got everyone in the room," said Hoogstra, who had approached local leaders individually but without result. "He laid out a very clear path and slowly, methodically got it done. It was good government working together to get great results."
Hoogstra became interested in the path plan after attending a pedestrian safety meeting at Riverside-Brookfield High School a couple of years ago, when the village convinced the Illinois Department of Transportation to install left-turn signals at the First and Forest/Ridgewood intersection.
An avid bike rider who grew up riding the Salt Creek Trail, Hoogstra was frustrated that there was no direct connection to the Salt Creek Trail from his home in Brookfield.
"I tried to get the kids to the salt Creek Trail but couldn't do it, because it was so unsafe to do so," said Hoogstra, who said he would instead lash the family's five bicycles to a rack and drive to the trail. "It's ridiculous."
While building a path along First Avenue from Ridgewood to 31st Street won't connect the path to the Salt Creek Trail, it's a key step.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval, who is the chairman of the senate transportation committee, has already pledged another $600,000 in the next year to extend the path west along 31st Street to Golfview Road and then north, hooking up again with First Avenue, all the way to 26th Street.
There's no funding yet for the critical third phase of the path — extending it west from Golfview Avenue, across the Salt Creek bridge and all the way to Prairie Avenue. That leg will cost more than $1 million.
But, according to Chien, that's the leg of the path that the Cook County Forest Preserve District really wants to complete.
"That leg is the top priority for the Forest Preserve District, because it's the direct connection they've been lacking," said Chien. "This is the critical gap that's been missing."
In addition to the county funding for the first leg of the path, North Riverside has pledged $37,000 and Riverside $30,000. Riverside-Brookfield High School has placed $33,000 for the path in its 2014-15 budget.