The Cook County Forest Preserve District recently installed a multi-use trail in the Kickapoo Meadows forest preserve. This is at 144th and Halsted in Riverdale, Illinois.
This summer and fall I’ve been working with Active Transportation Alliance to develop bike parking plans for suburban schools and municipalities. This has given me a special opportunity to survey the conditions for walking and biking at numerous locations with a variety of environments unique to their geographies. This is the first article in a series that describes those visits. These plans are paid for by grants from Cook County and the Department of Health and Human Services called Communities Putting Prevention to Work. I’m calling this my “CPPW Series.”
I’m starting with the latest municipality I visited, Riverdale, Illinois. Riverdale is south of Chicago and shares a boundary with the Chicago neighborhoods of Altgeld Gardens, and West Pullman, separated by the Calumet River. You can drive to Riverdale on Halsted Street, or take the Metra Electric-University Park line to its two stations, Ivanhoe and Riverdale.
I met up with Leslie Phemister, Active Transportation Alliance’s Cook County Suburban Coordinator. We spent the next three hours walking around the entire city (she didn’t bring her bike). But the six miles we covered was enough to visit so much of the village. I wrote in the report that we identified over 25 locations that should get bike parking. The report also covered guidelines on how to select additional locations and what makes a good bike rack.
The Riverdale library had bike parking available in a good location between the street/sidewalk and the entrance. I’ve seen so many installations where the bike parking is hidden around a corner as if bikes needed to be stored out of sight. That’s the opposite of ideal.
I think that Riverdale, with a population of 13,549, and 4 square miles*, has the potential to become a bicycling and walking-friendly community, where residents choose to bike or walk to church, school, get groceries, and visit the park.
Here’s what I like, and what’s good, about Riverdale in this respect:
- The village seems to have extremely low automobile traffic volumes on nearly all streets. I was there from 11 AM to 2:30 PM and missed the traditional peak traffic periods so conditions could be different at those times. Low traffic volumes means few interactions that people bicycling have with people driving. This increases bicycling comfortability. It also means more opportunities to cross the street.
- Like Chicago, there’s a high availability of sidewalks. You can walk along any street to and from any destination. Also like Chicago, Riverdale follows the same grid pattern of streets (except for a few places where it’s broken by railroads).
- The widest street (the one with the most lanes) is 144th Street and has a central median. This cuts crossing into two segments: first from the sidewalk to the median, and the second from the median to the opposite sidewalk. Center medians reduce a pedestrian’s exposure to automobile traffic when crossing a street.
- There are many destinations ideal to bike to: There are multiple shopping areas, including one with CVS, Chase bank, the public library, Village Hall, currency exchange, cellphone store, and a barber. A second shopping area includes a restaurant and food and liquor store.
- All schools are in the neighborhoods, surrounded by homes and residents. This, along with the low volume streets, contributes to a safe route to school.
- By train, Riverdale is 31 minutes and $4 away from Grant Park or Millennium Station. There are two trains stations with three entrances.
- All residents live within 1 mile of a park. Parks are great places to bike to; none of the parks had parking lots.
A lot of people drive to the Ivanhoe Metra station, but no one biked there this day. It did rain for several hours.
Room for improvement
These are my observations on some less than ideal situations:
- The Metra parking lots, like many in the suburbs, appeared full. Two of the three station entrances had bike parking, yet not a single bike was parked. Bike parking is one of many elements that makes a community friendly to bicycling. On-street infrastructure as well as education and encouragement campaigns are also crucial.
- Halsted Street is also Illinois Route 1, a four-lane wide road with a sidewalk on one side. At the intersection with 144th Street (where Pace bus route 352 stops), there are no crosswalks and no sidewalk ramps (curb cuts).
- Riverdale lacks major barriers to in-town bicycling and walking like expressways, bridges, and trains. When I talk to Chicagoans who ride their bikes, this is a common concern I hear. One friend of mine lives in West Town and works in Old Town. But any route she takes is harried by crossing an expressway and riding on wide roads with fast moving automobile traffic (Division or Chicago).
- Riverdale does have some major barriers to bicycling and walking between towns. The Village has many railroads that separate it from adjoining municipalities. The crossings, like the diagonal three-track crossing at 13800 S Indiana, is awkward and confusing. There are only three places at which to cross the tracks at 140th and the crossing at Halsted Street is 0.28 miles long and tens of feet high.
Trains are an extremely common occurrence in Riverdale. And the Halsted overpass is one way to cross
I called Mayor Deyon Dean to get his perspective on the town.
Do you see walking and biking as part of the Riverdale transportation system?
There’s a lot of forest preserve that ties in well with a walk-bike type of atmosphere. We’re moving aggressively to bring in economic development and improve our housing stock. A good environment for biking and walking is an attractive bit for people who want to be close to the city but have a more suburban atmosphere.
What do you think is good about Riverdale for walking and biking?
The span of Riverdale is not so great, so you don’t need a car to get around. It’s very accessible to get from one side of the town to the other; this makes biking and walking more feasible to visit friends and family within town. We’ve done many road repairs. There’s a new grocery store coming – this will be a destination.
What do you think can be improved in Riverdale for walking and biking?
You have to have a very good public safety component to your city. You can’t stop things from happening, but you can get police officers out walking and biking; this creates a connection between the police and the community. People want to become familiar with the police officers, become more familiar with officers who are covering their area. And if you see police walking and riding, stopping inside the local businesses to chat, people will see that and follow their example.
St. Mary’s School is on the list of places recommended to get new bike parking. The current bike parking is far away from the entrance, of low quality, and doesn’t hold many bikes. This wide sidewalk in front of the school would be a great place for new bike parking.
View my walking in Riverdale in a larger map. This is our actual route; about 6.2 miles.
Other places I’ve visited (school locations included) are Schaumburg, Tinley Park, Midlothian, Wheaton, Berwyn, Cicero, Des Plaines, Oak Forest, Country Club Hills, Hoffman Estates, and Forest Park. Look for posts on some of these places in the coming months.
*Riverdale is essentially as wide as Halsted to Indiana (east-west, 1.8 miles) and 134th to 146th (north-south, 1.4 miles).
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011. We switched to writing at Streetsblog Chicago in January 2013.
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