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To Build or Not to Build? Some Western Spring Residents Oppose Bike Path

The trail would run along Flagg Creek (wooded area), between I-294 and a subdivision. Image: Google Street View

Western Springs officials are looking into the possibility of using a federal grant to build a roughly mile-long bike path along Flagg Creek between 55th Street and Plainfield road. But some residents of the affluent western suburbs are up in arms about the proposal, arguing that it would detract from their quality of life.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune's Carol Morency, the idea for the greenway has been around since the Bill Clinton era. Western Springs board president Alice Gallagher said at a village board meeting on Monday that it makes sense to reconsider the proposal since the Illinois Tollway will be rehabbing I-294, which runs just west of the project area.  In addition, the upcoming reconstruction of 55th Street could incorporate a new bike path that would link up with the Flagg Creek bikeway.

The project would have to be shovel-ready by September 2020 in order to be eligible for the grant, the Tribune reported. The path is estimated to cost $2.33 million, with Western Springs chipping in $700,000. The trail would be part of a larger plan for "linear park" that would run several miles from the confluence of Flagg Creek and the Des Plaines River, and 47th Street, the southern boarder of Spring Rock Park. A half-mile north of the park is a trailhead for the 26.7-mile Salt Creek Trail system.

The proposed one-mile stretch of bike path in Western Springs (red) and the possible future linear park (green). Image: Google Maps
The proposed one-mile stretch of bike path in Western Springs (red) and the possible future linear park (green). Image: Google Maps
The proposed one-mile stretch of bike path in Western Springs (red) and the possible future linear park (green). Image: Google Maps

Gallagher said the village is still trying to determine whether it makes sense to build the one-mile greenway. But some residents at Monday's meeting had already made up their minds to oppose the project. Sheila O’Malley gave the board a petition against the plan with 200-plus signatures. It stated “The future well-being and peace of mind of property owners in the neighborhoods of Forest Hill and Ridgewood demand that discussion of this bike path project along the creek be closed permanently.”

Arguments against the path included environmental concerns -- neighbors said the creek swells during heavy rains and could flood the path. But residents also voiced Not In My Back Yard-style worries about "privacy" and "safety" in the event that the segment becomes part of a regional-use trail, which seems to be coded language for fears of outsiders entering their community.

Neighbors did ask if the funding could instead be used for sidewalks --Ridgewood Drive, which parallels the creek, lacks them, the Tribune reported. Gallagher indicated that the money could only be used for a bike/ped path.

A village committee will determine whether it makes sense to move forward with a feasibility study for the project, and present their findings at an April 8 board meeting. The board would then vote on April 22 whether to proceed with the study.

It appears that Western Springs would be foolish to pass up this opportunity to use federal funds to create a safe place for residents to walk and bike. Studies show that bike/ped paths raise, not lower, property values. So NIMBY fears shouldn't stand in the way of a trail that would be a recreational amenity for locals in the short term, and a useful transportation corridor in the long term.

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