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Planned North Branch Bike Trail Extension Splits NW Side residents

  Some celebrated plans for the new trail, while others said it would snarl traffic and draw crime.
North Branch Bike Trail Extension
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EDGEBROOK — Plans to extend the North Branch Bicycle Trail south from Edgebrook to Mayfair drew a mixed reaction Thursday night.

The new off-road trail planned by the Cook County Forest Preserve will extend the 18-mile North Branch Trail three miles south, from Devon and Caldwell avenues to Foster and Kostner avenues near Gompers Park.

Heather Cherone says some residents are afraid the extension would bring crime to their neighborhood:

Paul Klocek, who has lived in Edgebrook for more than 25 years, said he was considering selling his house if the path of the trail is not changed.

"Not enough consideration has been given to the motorists who use Central Avenue," Klocek said, echoing concerns voiced by many residents of Edgebrook and Old Edgebrook at a standing-room-only community meeting held by the forest preserve to address concerns about the trail's path.

"It will make it a nightmare trying to get out of Edgebrook," he added.

But others said they welcomed the plans for the trail, which will allow bikers to travel from the Lakefront Bicycle Path all the way to the Chicago Botanic Gardens on the North Shore.

Phil Phillips, who has lived in Old Edgebrook for 31 years, said any inconvenience would be "a small price to pay" for such a great addition to the Far Northwest Side.

"I'm delighted with the plans," Phillips said.

Most of Edgebrook residents' concern focused on plans to install a traffic signal at the front entrance of the volunteer resource center, 6100 N. Central Ave., in Edgebrook, to allow the trail to cross Central Avenue and continue south.

That will snarl already bad traffic traveling through downtown Edgebrook and make it impossible for residents of Old Edgebrook to leave their 55-home subdivision, several speakers said.

Other locations for the crossing and stop light were considered and rejected by both the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation, officials said.

The meeting — held in a room without any air conditioning on a sultry night — was tense at times, with speakers shouting over each other and challenging representatives of the forest preserves.

Others questioned how many trees would be removed to make way for the trail.

Chris Slattery, the director of planning development for the forest preserve, said 425 trees would be chopped down, almost half of which are dead or non-native plants that would need to be removed anyway.

Members of the Edgebrook Community Association disputed that, saying documents the organization's members obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that closer to 6,000 trees would meet the business end of a chain saw.

That is based on a misinterpretation of the forest preserve's data and plans, Slattery said.

Representatives of the forest preserve police dismissed concerns that bikers and runners would be vulnerable to attacks on the trail, which will cut through dense woods, saying crimes on the hundreds of miles of trails in Cook County are rare.

The trail will require that a bridge be built over the Chicago River east of Central Avenue and north of Indian Road.

Another bridge will be built to allow the trail to soar over the Milwaukee District North Line Metra tracks near Indian Road and Ardmore Avenue.

The trail will cross the Edens Expressway via an existing underpass, which will be improved, and a new underpass will be built to allow the trail to cross Cicero north of LaBagh Woods in Forest Glen.

Twenty-two different trail alignments were considered before the current path was picked "based on community feedback, engineering studies and input from regional partners," according to the forest preserve's website.

The trail extension has been in the works since 2008, with the first community meeting held in 2010.

"An off-road trail is best for everyone, not just experienced bicyclists who can ride on the road with cars," said Kindy Kruller, a senior planner with the forest preserve.

Michael Lieber, of Wilmette, who often commutes downtown by bike, said he couldn't wait for the new trail to open.

"It will certainly be safer, and very possibly it will save lives," Lieber said. "And it will allow thousands of more people to experience what the forest preserve has to offer."

In 2013, the Illinois Department of Transportation approved a path for the trail that would have crossed Central Avenue at LeHigh Avenue, rather than in front of the Edgebrook Golf Course and forest preserve volunteer center. However, that plan was scrapped when officials realized it would require seven signals in downtown Edgebrook to be adjusted ­— and add another $1 million to the trail’s price tag.

Engineers with the Chicago Department of Transportation recommended that the signal be moved outside the volunteer center, which officials said would help visitors to the center and golf course.

The three-mile extension is expected to cost $7.7 million, with 80 percent coming from the federal government and the rest coming from the Cook County Forest Preserve.

Plans for the trail are expected to be finalized in November, with construction scheduled to begin in spring 2015, and take a year to complete.

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