02 October 2007

North Shore Channel Trail: City politics, suburban policy

I pedaled the channel on Saturday, which would have been a thoughtful enough excursion without the existential angst. The North Shore Channel Trail (part of the GIT alternate route) is one of those trails that's actually a series of trails through different municipalities and that hence falls under several different jurisdictions. I'm quite amazed and pleased at how well the different communities have been able to connect their segments together (although different segments within the same community are another matter, see below). This is exactly what the Grand Illinois Trail is all about. It also means that one segment of the North Shore Channel Trail has a completely different look and feel compared to another segment in another community.

In Chicago, the trail follows a greenway along the North Shore Channel that links a few individual Chicago Park District facilities. I'm not sure what specific entity manages the trail itself, but it is a city thing. Unfortunately, that means you can make certain assumptions about the trailway if you're familiar enough with Chicago politics.

First, the good news: If you take it at face value (and most people do; I'm just a notorious cynic) it's a perfectly lovely urban trail, with underpasses to avoid all major street intersections--except one, but there's every indication that it's only temporary. I accessed the main trail from a signed path that follows the North Branch up from Lawrence.

Sorry, I didn't bother to check out what that interesting structure is; I was too busy being a little jealous of that person in the kayak.

Someday I'll get around to doing that too.

More interesting architecture. Anyone know what that thing is? It looks newish.

Prairie project! Always good to see.

Pretty flower alert: asters make early autumn bearable.

And now the bad news:

That "detour" has been there for years and will likely be there for more years to come. It's the alderman's fault. Really, it is. And wouldn't you know, he was reelected again after all, albeit in a runoff election, which never even happens in some wards. "The city that works" indeed.

Thing is, it's not just a detour, it's an embarrassment. And it's not just a political embarrassment, either, it's also a painful, inexcusable disgrace to Chicago's otherwise laudable Complete Streets Policy. Observe:

No sidewalk, car stopped in the bike lane.

So you're riding up busy Lincoln Ave., following the shared land markings, and you see where the trail picks back up, but there's a curb (and grass, even!) in the way. (WHO PLANNED THAT?!?!)

Therefore, you must continue riding past the trail pickup all the way to the shopping plaza entrance, then double back onto the sidewalk. (You really can't blame that guy for just, you know, riding on the sidewalk here.)

Alderman Stone claims that there's no room for a pedestrian bridge because there's a senior apartment complex going up in that location. And you see that sign standing in an empty lot and you think, okay, that sort of makes sense...

But no, it doesn't make sense! You know why?

Here's another view of that empty lot. See that reddish brick building in the background? That's the apartment building! As you can see, there's plenty of room for a pedestrian bridge! So why no bridge? Politics. Dirty, rotten, Chicago politics. That's all I can tell you. (Sorry, mine's the ward where I can't afford a condo because--get this--I'm not poor enough. Sigh.)

This is the view south from behind the apartment building. You can just barely see Lincoln Ave. in the background; that's how far away the street is. And Stone insists there just isn't enough room for a bridge. Bastard.

Finally, if you don't build it, they'll still come anyway: Nobody bothered to build any designated trail access path from the shopping plaza parking lot, but despite the "visual deterrent" offered by the guardrail (probably meant for cars anyway, in another sad example of car head), people are clearly trampling the grass between the guardrail and the rape fence* in order to get to the trail. Really, they just didn't do anything at all right here. It's pathetic.

*The Bradley University campus is entirely surrounded by a sturdy wrought-iron-style fence that's something like eight feet high and has only a few entrances. I heard from a friend of a friend there once that everyone calls it "the rape fence" because first of all, it's clearly meant to keep out the shady characters allegedly comprising most of the population in that part of Peoria, and second of all, every once in a while some poor woman is attacked just outside the fence because she's too far from an entrance to get inside and get help. Ever since I heard that story I've considered "rape fence" to be a good term to describe any wrought-iron-style fence serving that or similar purpose, such as seen pretty much everywhere in Chicago thanks to His Royal Highness. "Defensible space" my ass.

So after that ridiculousness, the trail continues through a smidgen of Chicago up to Devon, and then the scene changes abruptly. Now you're in Lincolnwood. Instead of a nice, urban greenway with playgrounds, playing fields, and prairie projects, you're in a gussied-up suburban waterfront park with really dull landscaping, inexplicable "decorative" brick pavement, and traffic roaring along a busy highway ten or twenty yards away. Now instead of underpasses there are crosswalks and signs directing bicyclists to obey the pedestrian signals, supposedly activated by pushing buttons that couldn't be more inconveniently located and probably don't do shit anyway.

No, I'm not a fan of most suburban "bike trails." But at least they do exist, and where they do exist they get the job done. And I suppose they're less susceptible to crazy aldermanic antics.

At some point you find yourself riding among a bunch of weird art. And then a bunch more. And more, and more. What's going on? There's weird art everywhere! It just keeps going and going and going! Fear not: now you're in Skokie, following the trail through the amazing Northshore Sculpture Park. Even if you're not into public art, you still have to admit that it is pretty amazing. How did a relatively small suburb pull off a project like this? Who's idea was it? How do the residents feel? I can glean a few hints from the Web site, but not enough to satisfy my curiosity.

Edit: My bad--Lincolnwood has a sculpture park too! According to this page on the official village Web site, the parkway west of the channel between Devon and Touhy is Lincolnwood's Channel Runne Park, "a passive park featuring sculptures, and walking/jogging paths" (as well as poor comma usage). So you actually find yourself riding among a bunch of weird art as soon as you cross into the suburbs. Maybe Skokie's art is more obviously weird, or maybe they do a better job of promoting their sculpture park.

Oh well, here are eight photos:

So on the same trail you see both a small suburbtwo small suburbs that can afford to build a large public art park and a large city that pretends it can't afford to build a small pedestrian bridge. The mind boggles. And that's only roughly half of the North Shore Channel Trail, and it was only half of my adventure.


At 03 October, 2007 17:56, Blogger David Johnsen said...

Nice post. The structure near the kayaker is a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District building -- I think it's the North Branch Pump Station. The newish building is Northside College Preparatory High School. A lovely, new bike path goes past, but it dead-ends before Foster (another path on the west side of the channel goes north from Bryn Mawr to Peterson). I noticed that many of the sculptures have changed this year -- most of your photos show objects that weren't there when I took pictures for my page in 2005.

At 03 October, 2007 18:22, Blogger Jennifer said...

Apparently the pieces south of Touhy are part of a different collection in a different park. I can't find half of the sculptures I bothered to photograph in the self-guided tour guide (PDF). Now I have to wonder if Lincolnwood built a sculpture park of their own, and suddenly the idea of Lincolnwood and Skokie engaging in a public art fight is really, really funny...

At 03 October, 2007 18:48, Blogger Jennifer said...

Woohoo, art fight! Okay, probably not a "fight," but I definitely smell some friendly competition between neighboring municipalities eager to exploit their proximity to the same water body (see the I&M Canal). According to Figure 7-3 of this most interesting PDF on the DNR's Web site, the strip west of the channel between Devon and Touhy is the "Lincolnwood Sculpture Park." A page on Lincolnwood's own Web site calls it the Channel Runne Park, "A mile long park adjacent to McCormick Blvd. and extending from Touhy Ave. south to Devon along the North Shore Channel. A passive park featuring sculptures, and walking/jogging paths that extend the length of the park."

Once again, I should've done more research before I went there. Sorry about that.

At 03 October, 2007 19:36, Blogger David Johnsen said...

I know the one with the street signs (my favorite) is in Lincolnwood. As for what the park is called, if the name isn't posted on a sign anywhere in the park, then what's the point? Channel Runne Park? If I came up with a name that lame, I wouldn't post it, either.

At 03 October, 2007 19:44, Blogger Jennifer said...

Wait... "Channel Runne"? Are they pulling the extra-consonant-and-silent-e gag? Oh, you silly suburbs...

At 16 August, 2010 14:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The maintainece man at the 6057 N. Lincoln Ave, regulatly sets up the sprinkler and soaker hoses to water the Bicycle Path. Good luck on getting the asphalt to sprout. I brought the situation to his attention, but he walked away, and I think he flipped me off.


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