The North Branch Trail, which has been planned for over 10 years, will finally be opening this week (well, Phase I anyway. Phase II is under construction until next year). Extending the existing eastern trailhead from Caldwell Avenue and Devon Avenue in Edgebrook is essential to making the trail easier to access by bike, as Caldwell and Devon are very difficult terrain for on-street bike riders. So while I am ecstatic about the trail’s southeastward extension, I am still a bit troubled with the connectivity to the trail by bike, at least for those riders who are using Central Avenue to connect to the trail. Let’s go to the maps.
Right now, the Phase I trail head will be in the Forest Glen Woods, adjacent to Forest Glen Avenue, which is a small side-street that can take a rider to Elston Avenue, which has buffer protected bike lanes all the way to downtown. But if you live west of the trail head, you’ll likely want to use Central Avenue to access the trail, as it crosses Central at a stop light in Edgebrook Woods. But getting there is dicey. While Central Avenue is a “signed bike route” according to the City of Chicago’s official map, I can find no evidence of a sign, not to mention any sort of road markings indicating Central as a bike route. The image below shows Central Avenue between Bryn Mawr and Elston Avenues, a typical cross-section of Central Avenue on the far northwest side.
Now, Central is actually a decent road to bike on, as it is generally only one lane in each direction and traffic volumes are fairly low. However, Central widens after the curve just north of Elston Avenue on the approach to Edgebrook Woods (background and on left) and the road is very forgiving for drivers that want to exceed the speed limit.
It is precisely this section of Central that is simultaneously closest to the crossing of the North Branch Trail and also the most dangerous approach to the trail itself. The City should prioritize the improvement of access to the trail, as specifically called for in the City’s bike plan.
As such improvements come to the fore, I would recommend we carefully study a road diet for Central Avenue. I envision a road diet to do the following:
- Reduce the number of through lanes from two lanes in each direction to one.
- Install a barrier protected bike lane in the southbound direction between Edgebrook Woods and Leonard Avenue.
- Install a buffer protected bike lane in the northbound direction between Central Avenue and Edgebrook Woods.
Ideally, I could see a road diet on Central through Edgebrook Woods entirely up to Lehigh Avenue or Caldwell, but congestion issues around the railroad tracks may negate this. A barrier protected bike lane would provide the safest path between the trail crossing and Elston Avenue. However, on the northbound side, there are driveways that access Central Avenue which would necessitate a more porous bike lane.
This is my back of the envelope thinking for accessing the new extension of the North Branch Trail. How would you make the trail easier to access?