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Margaret Laurino with constituent and Grid Chicago commenter Bob Kastigar.

Since Checkerboard City, my weekly column that runs in print in Newcity magazine, is limited to about 1,000 words, some good material from my recent interview with bike-friendly 39th Ward Alderman Margaret Laurino wound up on the cutting room floor. She had interesting things to say about bringing bike sharing to her district, as well as plans for extending the North Branch trail 4.2 miles south south to Foster Avenue. The latter will make it possible to bike roughly 25 miles from Belmont and the Chicago River in Lakeview to the Chicago Botanic Gardens in north suburban Glencoe on an almost entirely car-free route. We’ll get you more details on that exciting project in the near future.

Are there any transit improvement projects going on in your ward?

I think that any improvements that have happened have actually already happened. One of them that I happen to be interested in because of the current ward re-map – you know we’re picking up new areas that we hadn’t had before. The one that I’m going to focus on is that Forest Glenn Metra stop where once again I want it to be a little bit more bike-friendly. I want people to once again be able to bring their bicycles to that stop and then hop on the train and go downtown. I don’t know how many people in my community are actually hopping on a bike, getting on Elston Avenue and actually going all the way downtown. I don’t think that’s happening too much. But getting to the train station on your bicycle… what do we call it, the last mile?

Exactly, yeah.

The last mile, that’s something that I want to really concentrate on. So I’m going to hopefully do that with Metra in cooperation with the city of Chicago there. And then I’d very much like to see a bike share [rental kiosks] at our universities in our ward. The one that I’m really going to push is going to be at Northeastern Illinois University because it’s a commuter college. I’d like to see a bike share [kiosk] on, say, Bryn Mawr. Then they can just rent their bikes, hop on Kimball, which isn’t a bad street for biking and get to the Brown Line at Lawrence and Kimball.

Bike routes from Northeastern Illinois (blue) and North Park (red) universities to the Brown Line. View in a larger map

I don’t think that I’m going to recommend they go to Pulaki Road to get to the Blue Line at Irving Park. But I think that the short [one mile] trip from Kimball and Bryn Mawr to Kimball and Lawrence is perfect for a bike trip. I also have North Park University in the ward. So I’d like to see if we can pull something together for the Northeastern Illinois University students and if that works then we’ll go over and see if we can appropriate something for North Park University. They could ride on Kedzie from Foster Avenue and maybe get on the train at the Kedzie Brown Line station.

[Laurino’s assistant Manuel Galvan suggests we talk about the Sauganash Trail, a one-mile greenway in the ward.]

Yeah, it’s a beautiful trail that we developed starting at Bryn Mawr and going all the way to Devon. It’s a rails-to-trails project that was a long time in the making. But it is just so well-received by the community that we’re actually expanding it by working with the adjacent suburban mayors, Mayor [Gerald] Turry from Lincolnwood and George Van Dusen from Skokie, to bring it up even further north. And then the Weber Spur is going to be another trail [shows me on a map.] This will go right into Elston Avenue. We don’t expect to actually break ground on it until 2015 but we gotta start somewhere.

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The opening of the Sauganash Trail in 2008: Lincolnwood Mayor Gerald Turry (and his bike), Alderman Laurino and state representative John D’Amico (beige polo shirt) plus current and former Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Cook County Forest Preserve staff.

The North Branch Trail extension is going to be spectacular. It will run from the [existing] trailhead at Devon and Caldwell south to Foster. It’s going to go underneath Cicero Avenue at Forest Glenn. It’s going to go through the woods, through Edgebrook through a community called Indian Road Woods and they’re going to build a bridge over the Metra tracks.

Do they have a timeline for that yet?

[Pulls out a document about the trail.] We’re starting construction next year, 2013.

Really? Are they doing that whole segment?

Most of it.


View North Branch Trail Extension in a larger map

North Branch Trail extension (blue), Sauganash Trail (brown), sauganash Trail extension (purple) and Weber Spur (orange).

Wow, that’s going to be amazing. Do you know when that’s supposed to be completed?

We did Phase I [preliminary engineering] in 2010 and Phase II [final design work] in 2011. Phase III [construction], once again, we’re starting construction next year and I don’t know when it’s going to be completed.

It’s so strange, I don’t think they’ve been talking about this at the Mayor’s Bike Advisory Council meetings or anything.

You know what, it’s a [Cook County] Forest Preserve project. So it isn’t necessarily on [the city of Chicago’s] agenda. But it’s cool. You’re going to love this.

You know, we’ve got existing trails that almost meet up with what’s going to be the south end of the new segment. They’re also building a new river trail segment between Addison and Irving Park. So you’re going to be able to get from Belmont and the river to the start of the existing North Branch Trail, all the way to the Botanic Gardens. Wow, that’s really good news.

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  • madopal

    Wow, I had been hoping that North Branch connection was actually going to happen. It’s nice that they’re taking it down to Foster, but there’s really no rideability on Foster. The exciting part is that it’ll connect really nicely with Bryn Mawr, which can then be taken east to Lincoln or California, and then down into the city from there. There really is a lack of good E/W options that cross the river and the 94 up there, so connecting with the Lakefront trail is tough. If they were to do some sort of road diet on Foster from the end of the trail, that would go a LONG way towards getting people going back & forth.

    Either way, great news to hear they’re actively extending those trails. I love what little of the Sauganash trail there is. Right now, it’s just mostly useless, so that Skokie extension will be huge. As far as I can tell, that trail could conceivably be extended almost all the way to the Skokie Valley trail.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      The south end of the North Branch connection will be a couple blocks west of the existing bike path / on-street route along Carmen Street, a block south of Foster, which connects you to the river trails south of there.

    • duppie

      This little part between Bryn Mawr and Devon is part of the Skokie Valley right of way, so I expect that one it will indeed connected to the existing Skokie Valley trail.

      The hard part is that it goes through many different municipalities that each move at different speeds. Chicago and Skokie have built some parts of it. Other municipalities, like Lincolnwood sometimes are years behind.

  • duppie

    That is some amazing news.Especially the part west of Edens right now is convoluted and it requires crossing Caldwell (twice) and Devon. Not much fun to ride right now. East of Edens Bryn Mawr is already excellent to ride on.

    As far as the Weber Spur goes, it should make it easy to go from Elston to the Northshore Channel trail. Again a welcome addition to the network.

  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    Exciting news about the North Branch Trail connection. The forest preserve district doesn’t seem to communicate much with folks outside their system before stuff happens, but I have seen them doing some nice improvement projects in recent years after suggestions from community members and organizations.

    “I don’t think that I’m going to recommend they go to Pulaski Road to get to the Blue Line at Irving Park.” Laurino definitely has the right idea. Aside from the challenge of getting there safely, the Irving Park blue line station is not at all bike friendly. The station currently has stairs only – no escalator or elevator. To get a bike into the station, you have to go through a bypass gate beside the station attendant’s booth. The gate and the passage beyond it are very narrow, and it’s difficult to get a bike through unless you’ve got narrow handlebars. Then you have to carry the bike upstairs. For the blue line, either Addison or Jefferson Park is much better for bikes.

    To get downtown from Northeastern or North Park, Laurino’s suggestion of catching the brown line at Kimball is much easier.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      Thanks Anne. I’ll be sure to avoid the Irving Park stop next time I borrow the Taboo Tiki cruiser – the handlebars are about four feet wide!

      • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

        4 ft wide? You definitely wouldn’t get that through the passage at Irving Park.

  • http://twitter.com/aka60643 AKA60643

    Steve – I don’t know if you’ve got any station-specific notes in your bike map app. If you do, you may want to include one about the Irving Park blue line station, if you haven’t already.