Bicycling enthusiasts in Highland Park can look forward to trail and sidewalk improvements this summer, as the city continues working on its 18-year plan to improve biking and walking paths.
Eventually, Highland Park is hoping to be considered a "bicycle-friendly community," a national recognition established by the Washington-based League of American Bicyclists. Highland Park recently announced it received an "honorable mention" in its first attempt at the distinction – a sign of both progress made and the work still to do, said Highland Park senior planner Lee Smith.
"Just doing the application, we learned a lot about what more needs to be done," Smith said.
This summer, the city will undertake the relocation of the Robert McClory bike trail at the Ravinia parking lot north of Roger Williams Avenue, said Ramesh Kanapareddy, the city's public works director.
It will be moved within the lot to separate trail-users from cars. The project will be funded mostly with federal grant money – about $87,000 – and the city will chip in $30,000, according to city figures.
There will also be various sidewalk improvements throughout town, Kanapareddy said, included on the east side of Oak Street between Walker Avenue and Bloom Street, and at three different spots along Sheridan Road.
In September 2012, the Highland Park City Council approved "Bike-Walk HP 2030," a plan to make biking and walking throughout town easier and more prevalent over an 18-year period. The plan outlines policy recommendations, as well as specific improvements to roads, trails and sidewalks.
Last summer, sidewalks were improved along Green Bay Road and Sheridan Road in Highland Park, Smith said.
In the city's five-year capital improvement plan, more than $400,000 is designated this year for improvements pertaining to sidewalks and the bike-walk plan.
"It enhances safety, health, quality of life, the environment, the economy and provides improvements to infrastructure," said Councilman Dan Kaufman, who helped develop the city's bike plan.
Kaufman said he once stood before the City Council as an earnest eighth-grader, and then student council president for Northwood Junior High, as he requested a new bike trail.
Now, at 53, he's an avid recreational cyclist who remains passionate about the issue.
"Hopefully we can get beyond 'honorable mention' as we make further progress," Kaufman said.
According to the League of American Bicyclists' website, there are exactly eight bicycle-friendly in communities in Illinois: Chicago, Naperville, Evanston, Schaumburg, Urbana, Batavia, Elmhurst and Champaign. Businesses and universities also can apply for the designation, which lasts for four years.
Earning the moniker could in turn help leverage grant money for more capital improvements, Kaufman said.
The season also promises other biking-related changes. By late summer, there will be a new bike trail for riding on the south side of town.
The Chicago Botanic Garden, in Glencoe, is partnering with the Forest Preserves of Cook County to build a .8 mile extension of the North Branch Trail that will connect to the Green Bay Trail in Highland Park.
The new 10-foot-wide asphalt path is being built on the south side of Lake Cook Road, said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development for the Chicago Botanic Garden.
By connecting the two popular trails, Resnick said, the garden hopes to attract more visitors on bike or foot. Drivers must pay for parking at the garden, which is otherwise free to access.
"We wanted to increase our usage of the garden – and our free usage," Resnick said.
The forest preserve owns the botanic garden's land and buildings as part of a longtime public-private partnership. The two entities will together pay for about $350,000 of the $2 million project, Resnick said. The majority of the remainder will be paid for with federal grant money.
The trail will meander through the garden's woods and wetlands, and east of Green Bay Road, it will travel through the forest preserve's Turnbull Woods before connecting with the Green Bay Trail at the Braeside Metra station.
Construction began last month, Resnick said, and is expected to be complete by mid-August.
As in the past, bicyclists traveling from the North Branch Trail have had to ride alongside busy Lake Cook Road and up a relatively steep grade before eventually connecting to the Green Bay Trail. The new extension of the North Branch Trail will make their journey safer and more enjoyable, said Don Parker, spokesman for the Forest Preserves of Cook County.
All told this summer, the Forest Preserves of Cook County will be building about 20 miles of bike paths, Parker said.
"We need to provide safe options for people," Parker said. "They're going to try to connect the dots. If we can do it for them, it's better for everyone."