On Monday the Active Transportation Alliance released their action plan for a continuous Chicago River Trail, one that would provide a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists along the north and south branches of the river, connecting with existing suburban trails. You can read an executive summary of their proposal here.
The advocacy group argues that while Chicago’s lakefront park and trail system is excellent, our riverfront still isn’t living up to its full potential. They say that the heavy use of local trails like the Lakefront Trail and the Bloomingdale shows there is latent demand for a robust riverfront trail system that would serve as both a recreation and healthy transportation facility.
The new system would also be a shot in the arm for the local economy, providing sustainable economic development opportunities, including tourism and retail. Active Trans notes that nearly one million Chicagoans live within a mile of the river.
Civic leaders have been calling for a continuous Chicago River Trail ever since Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Recently, Our Great Rivers, a visioning document for all three of Chicago’s rivers, was released as part of a project led by the Metropolitan Planning Council, in partnership with the city, Friends of the Chicago River, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, with input from thousands of residents.
According to Active Trans, almost half of the 27 miles of Chicago riverfront has existing trail segments, and several more miles are planned over the next few years. 14.8 miles of riverfront have no trail, but seven miles of river would be relatively easy to build trail segments on in the foreseeable future, the group says.
Active Trans has been in talks with neighborhood organizations in various communities along the river corridor to get input on the needs for the trail in local communities, ways to improve river access, and upcoming projects that could affect the construction of future stretches of trail.
The advocacy group notes that several upcoming projects offer opportunities to build new trail segments, including sections built as part of privately funded developments. Potential sites include El Paseo Trail project in Little Village and Pilsen, the south extension of the North Branch Trail, the Chicago Riverwalk expansion, the Bridgeport rowing center, the former Finkl Steel site, the redevelopment of Lathrop Homes, and planned developments in the South Loop and on Goose Island.