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Half of school children walked or biked to school in 1969, but only 13 percent were doing it in 2009.

Examining the Des Plaines River Trail

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Active Transportation Alliance is embarking on a new advocacy project to mobilize local leaders and community members to push for improvements to the Des Plaines River Trail (DPRT) in central Cook County. 

The Des Plaines River Trail is one of the oldest and most popular bike and pedestrian trails in the region, extending from the heart of Cook County north to the Wisconsin border. While much of the trail provides a high-quality experience for people who use it, the southern end of the trail between Touhy Avenue and North Avenue has many connectivity and access problems.

There are as many as half a dozen wide, fast and busy roads that intersect this section of the trail. At many of these crossings, flooding and erosion, as well as other infrastructure issues, force trail users to walk and bike through unsafe tunnels or at on-street crossings, where waiting long periods before darting across busy roads is all too common.

Problems with accessing the trail abound as well, making it difficult for residents of immediately adjacent communities to bicycle, run or walk safely to the trail. 

To get the project rolling to address these problems, Active Trans convened a group of elected officials — including Cook County Commissioner Peter Silvestri, Mayor Barrett Pedersen of Franklin Park, and Mayor David Guerin of River Grove, as well as representatives of local and federal government agencies and members of regional planning bodies — to form an inter-governmental coalition to identify and address access and connectivity issues along the southern end of the DPRT.

At the recent meeting, government representatives and elected officials provided thoughtful observations on what this segment of the trail lacks in design and usage compared to other sections of the historic trail.

Mayor Pedersen gave a thorough and captivating presentation on the history of the trail and representatives of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County provided information on previous work along the trail and thoughts on opportunities for improvement.

Active Trans presented to the group on why having safe and accessible multi-use trails are such a crucial community, recreation and transportation asset. Data on health, environmental, economic and social benefits were presented to government representatives and local officials, who agreed on how important this segment of the trail was for adjacent communities and the region at-large.

This was the first in a series of meetings for this inter-governmental coalition. Future meetings will focus on more detailed analyses of the existing conditions along the trail and possible opportunities for local government to invest in improvements at crossings and access points.

In conjunction with efforts to gather feedback from governmental officials, Active Trans is also reaching out to community stakeholders and form a “friends of” group to ensure recommendations from the governmental coalition and community members are translated into new projects and improvements on the ground.

If you’re interested in learning more about Active Trans' efforts to improve the Des Plaines River Trail or have thoughts or questions on the trail, please contact Matt Gomez at matt@activetrans.org or (312) 216-0474.