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CHICAGO — Chicago is planning to connect and expand its trail and “corridor” system with a dozen pedestrian- and bike-friendly projects that could get underway in years to come, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials said on Thursday.
The potential addition of 48 miles of new trails and parks under the “citywide vision of trails and open spaces” is expected to “contribute to a network of community-led green infrastructure projects that promote the health and well-being of Chicago residents and visitors,” according to a news release from Lightfoot.
Several of the projects, including plans to convert an old railroad into a trail in Englewood, are still in the planning and design phases. Others, like Sterling Bay’s planned extension of the 606 Bloomingdale Trail into Lincoln Yards, are set to come to fruition through private partnerships.
“An expansion of trails and open spaces is sorely needed across our neighborhoods to benefit existing residents and for the city to achieve health, economic, climate, and transportation goals,” Lightfoot said in the news release. “This vision and investment also positions Chicago very well to receive federal funding to complete many of these projects over the coming years.”
The news release lists 12 projects, including several that had been previously announced, that are set to be funded with a $15 million “commitment to jumpstart” the “key projects citywide.” The $15 million comes from a combination of “federal, state and local sources, including general obligation bonds, Tax Increment Financing, and Open Space Impact Fees,” according to a spokesperson for the city’s planning department.
The so-called Englewood Nature Trail being planned for a 1.5-mile abandoned railway along 59th Street was included in the city’s “vision” plan.
City officials are expected to work with “local stakeholders” on the framework plan and design plans for the elevated trail. The work will be “funded in part by $6 million in local funds and pending federal assistance,” according to the news release.
City officials are also planning to work with the community on the city’s Far South Side to “leverage $1.5 million in Climate Recovery bond funding” for trail work along a 2-mile corridor of the African American Heritage Trail, according to the news release.
Additionally, the city’s transportation department is planning in the second half of this year to launch the first design phase to extend the Chicago Riverwalk south along a 2-mile corridor to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown.
City leaders and the Chicago Park District are also planning to improve trails and connectivity on the city’s Far South and Southeast sides in Indian Ridge Marsh, Big Marsh and Hegewisch Marsh, according to the news release.
Notably missing from the list of upcoming trail developments was the Paseo Trail proposed for an approximately four-mile stretch through Pilsen and Little Village.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25) told The Daily Line there was a “federal grant [to analyze]… the feasibility of the trail.” But the alderman charged Lightfoot’s administration with continuing to “fast-track heavy Industry along the same pathway where we’re going to propose a bike lane.”
The alderman said he thinks “that these contradictions have gotten to the point that the Paseo project seems to be on hold” so community leaders are now proposing that the city consider 16th Street in Pilsen as an “alternative for a pedestrian and bike friendly area.”
Improving walkability and bringing protected bike lanes along 16th Street would “bring awareness and protect the murals that we have in the area as well as create an amenity [for] the neighborhood that seems to be welcomed by residents,” Sigcho-Lopez said.
Chicago Department of Transportation Comm. Gia Biagi touted the city’s work on trails and connectivity during her address to the Chicago City Club on Thursday, saying “we know we can make mobility in our city work for everyone, especially in neighborhoods with the longest commute times and [those] spending the largest percentage of their income on transportation.”
But that work can’t just happen at “30,000-foot level…we need action on the ground,” which is what plans to extend and connect local trails do, she said.
Bikes lane progress, bike giveaway
Additionally, on the same day Lightfoot announced plans to give away $150 gas cards and $50 CTA cards to Chicago residents, Biagi touted expected progress on new bike lanes.
“By the end of this year, we will have added more than 125 miles of new bikeways to our system since 2020,” Biagi said. “This surpasses the mayor’s goal of 100 miles in her first term.”
The city has historically not met its goals in adding protected and unprotected bike lanes to its network.
Related: Chicago’s bike lane efforts have fallen short for decades. Can Lightfoot help the city catch up?
Biagi also announced on Thursday that the city is planning to give away 5,000 “free bikes, and a helmet and a bike lock” to Chicago residents. The bikes will not be Divvy bikes. “You can’t have those, they’re very fancy,” Biagi said.
While officials initially did not announce a funding source for the bike giveaway, transportation department spokesperson Susan Hofer confirmed reporting from the Sun-Times that the program would be funded by a “Climate Recovery Bond.”
The city plans to give away the bikes, helmets and locks during the next year and plans to work with community organizations to identify where bikes are needed the most, Hofer told The Daily Line. It is not yet known how the bikes will be given away or how the city will acquire them.