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Cyclists Cheer Bike Proposals In North Branch Plan

By Ted Cox | March 29, 2017 5:56am
 The Department of Planning and Development envisions
The Department of Planning and Development envisions "enhanced streets" with widened sidewalks and separate bike lanes to improve transportation in the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
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Chicago Department of Planning and Development

GOOSE ISLAND — Cyclists are rolling with the proposals for a riverwalk bike path and for extending the 606 trail found in the latest draft of the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan.

Among the proposals mentioned in the guidelines released over the weekend are connecting the popular 606 trail to the Lakefront Trail via Dickens Avenue, and perhaps extending it Downtown to Union Station and Metra's Ogilvie Center via the Cherry Avenue rail and foot bridge and Goose Island.

The guidelines also laid out possible bus lines and light rail lines along with bike lanes in a north-south path connecting the corridor to the main train stations.

"We're very encouraged by the drafts on transportation and open-space recommendations," said Jim Merrell, advocacy director for the Active Transportation Alliance.

 Jim Merrell of the Active Transportation Alliance would like to see cyclists and pedestrians have separate paths on the riverwalk proposed for the North Branch of the Chicago River.
Jim Merrell of the Active Transportation Alliance would like to see cyclists and pedestrians have separate paths on the riverwalk proposed for the North Branch of the Chicago River.
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Chicago Department of Planning and Development

While some have criticized the plan for not looking far enough into the future to see the need for a major new park between the growing populations of Lincoln Park and Wicker Park, Merrell said Tuesday he wanted to "commend the city and their project team on including some really forward-thinking ideas."

Merrell was enthusiastic about the "continuous riverwalk trail loop on both sides of the river," saying, "Potentially separated paths for people biking and people walking is a really great idea."

The proposals, he added, are consistent with the alliance's Chicago River Trail Action Plan.

A key, he said, is the way the plan persistently imagines a riverwalk with separate bike and pedestrian paths, as well as "enhanced streets" with widened sidewalks and protected bike lanes.

"The best practice is really separating those different modes," Merrell said. "It improves safety. It improves the functioning of the street. And it makes people feel safe and secure, which oftentimes will result in people wanting to walk or bike." It's all about creating "low-stress environments," he added, for pedestrians as well as cyclists.

He credited Mayor Rahm Emanuel, saying the under his leadership "the city has done a lot to really pursue more of these multi-modal strategies."

One stated goal of the plan is to "connect the North Branch Loop Trail to the 606 trail with an active park at the intersection."

The guidelines laid out four proposals for extending the 606, including two with hairpin turns either to the north or south, and two more direct routes east toward the lake. Merrell said it's too early in the process to start selecting a best one from the others, but he applauded how all seemed well-thought-out and consider the needs of cyclists.

Once the 606 crosses the river and connects with the riverwalk, it's proposed to either branch off east down Dickens Avenue to the Lakefront Trail, or run south to the train stations and the Loop, or both. Merrell said  if those plans were carried out, it would come close to creating "a whole integrated network trail system."

Like the 606, he said, it would function as both a transportation benefit for cycling commuters, as well as a recreational opportunity for people just biking around.

Some of the proposals, though, are years in the future.

Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner in the Department of Planning and Development working to deliver a final draft to the Plan Commission next month, pointed out that the modernization plan basically sets a framework for development in the corridor and can't get bogged down in details.

She cited how the transit way between Goose Island and Union Station would involve a tangle of agencies extending back to the infamous viaduct system at Ashland, Elston, Armitage and Cortland avenues, including the city, state and federal transportation departments, Metra and private railroads. Thus, the plan has to set goals, she said, while leaving the details to be hammered out later for projects that might be 10 years or more down the road.

The guidelines also propose adding several water-taxi stops to the current ones at the southern tip of Goose Island at Chicago Avenue and the so-called turnaround basin at the northern end of the island at North Avenue, in addition to the light rail line that could connect Goose Island with the West Loop train stations.

Merrell applauded the wide array of transportation concepts in the plan, and how many of the proposals were already looking ahead with details like separating pedestrians and cyclists, so they don't have to be corrected down the road the way the Lakefront Trail is now being divided.

"It's really exciting that there are so many cutting-edge ideas being included," Merrell said.