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Bus riders account for more than 20 percent of people using Lake Shore Drive every day while taking up a fraction of the space that cars do.

Millennium Reserve will fill the gap

This past Friday morning, I stood on the 11th floor of the USA Bank building, that icon of the Bishop Ford at 111th St.—with at least a 30-mile view of the patchy, sometimes flowering, sometimes festering, always fascinating Calumet region—and heard Governor Quinn pledge $17 million in jobs money toward conservation and multi-use trails.

Jobs money…all of us working on the Millennium Reserve plan wondered where the money to do what the governor wanted to do—to make a regional outdoor recreation destination out of southeast Chicagoland—was going to come from. I couldn't have been happier, as it both confirms and strengthens a trend we've seen coming: bicycling and trail infrastructure is being pursued as economic development.

In our region, the Calumet-Sag Trail pushed the idea of the Triple Bottom Line—environmental stewardship, economic development, quality of life—into communities' and environmental groups' consciousness. It's a cornerstone of the Millennium Reserve too; the governor's press packet lists three—count 'em, three—goals of the Millennium Reserve investments: 1. Improve the Environment; 2. Improve the Economy; 3. Improve the Community.

Essentially, the Triple Bottom Line defines how to achieve the best and highest use of public dollars, and right now our state needs to wring every drop of value out of every dollar on multiple bottom lines. I believe that for the first time, the state is pursuing environmental stewardship with an eye toward boosting economic activity and attracting new, sustainable development; for the first time, the state is pursuing trails from a tourism perspective as well as clean-air and healthy living.

Of course, the signature piece of the Millennium Reserve—for big trail fans like me—is closing the 2-mile gap Burnham Greenway. That flippin' gap, which forces you out to unfriendly Burnham Avenue, has stunted the Triple Bottom Line benefits to the Village of Burnham and downstream communities (which stretch south and west to the Mississippi River, mind you, via the Grand Illinois Trail) for nearly 15 years.

While the governor won't say how the $17 million is going to close the Burnham Greenway gap, I and most folks I talk to think that the Millennium Reserve is going to cover the local match portion of the $3 million-plus in federal funding awarded this fall for construction. Closing that gap uncorks a flow of commerce, non-motorized travel, healthy activity through a whole system that includes the Old Plank Road Trail, the Calumet-Sag Trail, the Grand Illinois Trail, even Northwest Indiana.

I know the funding source means that the state has to justify spending jobs money on conservation and multi-use trails. My hope is that the lesson learned through Millennium Reserve will bring the Triple Bottom Line into all public investments, whether business development, conservation, or community wellness. And I'm thrilled trails can lead the way.

Check out WBEZ's brief article about the project; WBEZ also posted a map of the project area.

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