Advocates Want A Bike Path To Connect The Chicago River's North And South Branches

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Mar 25, 2016 6:44PM

2016_riverfront.jpg
via CDOT

As the endless winter weather finally starts to flirt with spring temperatures, cyclists citywide are beginning to get excited. Transportation advocacy groups are mobilizing (no pun intended) around that enthusiasm, and are beginning talks with the city about building a potential bike path along the Chicago River.

Although a North Branch Chicago River path is in the very (very) early stages of development, advocates are optimistic the city can one day connect it to other sections of the River. The plan, being pushed by the local transportation group the Active Transportation Alliance, comes on the heels of a series of parks project announcements from the Mayor's Office, including a Bloomingdale Trail-like trail connecting Pilsen and Little Village.

Discussion about a trail along the Chicago River is of particular interest to Chicago residents. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has been working since spring 2015 with Friends of the Chicago River and others to reimagine the Calumet, Chicago, and Des Plaines rivers, MPC's Ryan Griffin-Stegink told Chicagoist.

"Thinking about a trail along the river has definitely been one of the the most popular things for people," Griffin-Stegink said. "I can say for right now that it's on a lot of people's minds, and it's something that a lot of people want to see happen." A final report on the MPC's findings will be released in June.

Jim Merrell, the campaign director at Active Transportation Alliance, told Chicagoist that a bike path along the river would greatly add to the dramatic improvements the city is aiming to put into place to make Chicago less car-reliant.

"In order to shift people away from having to rely on a car and moving them towards healthier, environmentally sustainable forms of transportation, like walking and biking and public transit, we need to look at options for low stress bike lanes and bike trails that will make people feel safe," Merrell said. One of the greatest barriers keeping people from riding their bikes is the concern about safety and having to ride in car traffic. Creating a dedicated space for walking and biking could encourage people to make alternative travel choices.

The Chicago Park District is currently undergoing plans to develop a trail that would cross the Chicago River, connecting Clark Park at 3400 N. Rockwell Ave. and California Park at 3843 N. California Ave. That path is expected to be completed by next year, opening up a conversation about further miles of trail that might connect to it.

The Active Transportation Alliance is hoping to see a completed a bike path along the river within the next several years. It is an idea that excites a lot of residents, and it long distance pedestrian-only trails make an enormous impact on the number of bikes on the road.

"While we're in the very early stages, we're going to be reaching out to our community partners and leaders up and down the river to really move the conversation to the next level," Merrell said.