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City Breaks Ground On Big South Side Bike Park... But It's Dicey To Bike To

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jun 14, 2016 6:13PM

Courtesy Chicago Park District

This past weekend, the city broke ground on an ambitious, 40-acre bike park on a former industrial site on the far Southeast Side. The list of amenities planned for Big Marsh Bike Park is impressive: a bike trail, cyclo-cross terrain, a slalom run, dirt jumps, and a skills-competition space. Construction is expected to be complete by winter of this year.

"No bike park like this exists in the Midwest," Mayor Emanuel said. "We are transforming what was an industrial site to a place where families and children from across Chicago can experience nature."

Provided they can access the park, that is. In a piece for the Reader, Streetsblog Chicago Editor John Greenfield last month laid out the regrettable irony of a bicycle park that lacks safe bicycle access:

[M]y ride from the el station would have been traumatizing for novice cyclists. It was comfortable at first—a bike lane led south on State Street, then another took me east on 103rd. But after I passed under the Metra Electric tracks at Cottage Grove, the bike lane disappeared and 103rd ballooned into a four-lane highway with fast traffic, including several 18-wheelers.

Further along the way, Garfield shuddered at a fast-passing tanker, "even though I spent six years of my life working as a bike messenger on the mean streets of the Loop."

Luckily, local cycling advocacy organization Active Transportation Alliance has stepped in with a plan for safe bike access. It includes near-term priorities of improved signage and pavement maintenance, and medium-term priorities such as bike lanes, road diets, and a Diverging Diamond, which would create a center-located bike lane over the expressway. While we continue to monitor whether/how the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Park District implement those recommendations, you can check out some recent renderings, photos and a video overview of the park itself, released by Friends of Big Marsh in 2014.

Update, 5:00pm:
"Everyone understands the access question because of how remote the areas are," Jim Merrell, Advocacy Director at Active Transportation, told Chicagoist. "We want to make sure it continues to be prioritized; and the Chicago Department of Transit has been helpful and supportive. We shared the final report with the Park District, who is also doing their own studies, looking at alternatives and opportunities. We all want to make sure the ultimate improvements reflect the priorities."

As for the extended gap in time between Big Marsh's scheduled completion and the more vigorous accessibility proposals, Merrell highlights his organization's call for wayfinding signs and alerts to motorists as good stopgap measures. "There are a lot of technical challenges: railroad tracks, the expressway and waterways. It's going to take more robust infrastructure, and that means more time, especially considering the current funding landscape. It's important to look ahead to the immediate future."

Courtesy Chicago Park District

Courtesy Chicago Park District

Courtesy Chicago Park District