Last August, the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District did the right thing by voting to dramatically reduce the wait until customers are allowed to bring bikes on South Shore Line trains. While NICTD had previously been talking about delaying the bikes-on-board pilot until 2021, they instead agreed to test the program this April. Their decision was surely influenced by the Active Transportation Alliance sarcastically giving them the Broken Spoke Award as “the least bike-friendly commuter rail service in the nation.”
But there’s another important bike issue that NICTD is still dragging their feet about. The 11-mile Burnham Greenway Trail will eventually connect Chicago’s Lakefront Trail with the growing network of multiuse paths in the south suburbs and Northwest Indiana, including the Cal-Sag Trail. However, there’s a two-mile gap in the trail in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood and the suburb of Burnham.
The gap forces cyclists to ride on wide roads with fast traffic, or else detour several miles out of the way. Although the needed two-mile stretch of trail is already designed, approved, and funded, the transit agency doesn’t want to let the trail cross its tracks at grade level. Instead, NICTD, along with the South Shore Freight Line, is insisting that a multimillion-dollar bridge be built, a project that would take years to complete.
The trail crossing in question would be on Burnham Avenue just south of Brainerd Avenue, near the South Shore’s Hegewisch station. “NICTD is worried about safety and liability,” explains Active Trans suburban outreach coordinator Leslie Phemister. “But right now there’s nothing to stop a pedestrian from walking onto the tracks when a train is coming.” There are currently crossing gates and warning signals for drivers, but not for pedestrians.
The planned trail crossing would involve widening the existing sidewalk to accommodate bikes, adding bollards to keep pedestrians and cyclists out of the street, and adding gates that would block the sidewalk when a train approaches. Phemister says the transit agency should welcome these improvements, which would benefit people walking to the station. “Safety is everyone’s concern,” she says. “No one wants to get hit by a train.”