Park Ridge Bike Path Project, Which Sparked Safety Concerns, Has Been Back-Burnered
Park Ridge aldermen have delayed a plan to build a stretch of multiuse path along a busy highway that would have made it easier for kids to walk and bike to school, in order to avoid chipping in city funds on the project. Another factor in the decision may have been concerns from local school board members that the trail would tempt children to make unsafe crossings at unsignalized intersections to access the bikeway.
As reported by Jennifer Johnson in the Chicago Tribune yesterday, the 8-foot-wide path would have run for a half mile along the south side of Oakton Street between Prospect Avenue and Michael John Drive. It would have provided a direct route for kids who live in northeast Park Ridge and attend Emerson Middle School, near the northwest corner of Oakton and Prospect in Niles. Oakton, which forms a border of Park Ridge and Niles, currently has a sidewalk on its north side, but not on its south side.
Park Ridge was eligible for a federal Safe Routes to School grant of up to $200,000 with no matching funds required, which was previously believed sufficient to cover the entire cost of the project, the Tribune reported. However, last week the City Council was told that the cost estimate had grown to $280,000, for reasons that weren’t explained. Therefore, Park Ridge would be required to cover the additional $80,000 in order to move forward with the grant application. City manager Joe Gilmore recommended tabling the project until an alternate source for the extra cash is identified. Aldermen voted accordingly, with some saying they wouldn’t support using local money to cover the extra expense.
“Unfortunately, it’s often difficult for towns to stitch together funding for important biking and walking safety projects like this,” Active Transportation director Ron Burke said in a statement to Streetsblog Chicago. “That’s why we’re advocating for a new dedicated state fund to support walking and biking infrastructure projects like this one, and encouraging cities to set aside local funds for bike ped projects. We hope Park Ridge will be able to identify funding in the future to move this important project forward.”
The Tribune reported last month that some members of the District 64 Board of Education expressed concerns at an October 22 board meeting that the path, intended to create a direct, low-stress route, would actually pose a safety hazard. Oakton is a high-traffic, five-lane road with no stoplights or crosswalks on the stretch between Prospect and Milwaukee Avenue, nearly one mile east. Board member Tom Sotos argued that kids from Niles heading to the middle school on the sidewalk on the north side of Oakton might be tempted to make an unsignalized and unsafe crossing to join their Park Ridge classmates on the trail. “By giving them a path to walk, you are also giving them an enticement to cross at a non-intersection,” Sotos said. He added that a childhood friend of his was seriously injured while crossing Oakton. Board president Anthony Borrelli floated the idea of installing a fence along the north side of the trail to discourage crossings at intersections without stoplights.
Sotos’ concern isn’t unreasonable, but it reflects the problems associated with car-centric suburban planning. People shouldn’t have to walk up to a half-mile – about ten minutes for most able-bodied folks – in order to make a safe street crossing. And it’s especially unfortunate that, along with the funding snag, this issue may have been a factor in why kids in northeast Park Ridge won’t have a safe and convenient way to walk or bicycle to school anytime soon.