Forest Park business owners, still basking in the success of Madison Street’s redevelopment, are anticipating another boost upon the opening of a new bridge connecting the Forest Park Blue Line station to the Illinois Prairie Path.
Local entrepreneurs hope that bikers who pass through town to access the Prairie Path may stop for a snack or take note of the town’s shopping and dining options and make Forest Park a destination point.
“It’ll help give a healthful, active, young appearance to the area,” said Cecilia Hardacker, co-owner of Two Fish Art Glass and member of the Madison Merchants (M2) Association. The members of M2 are taking aim at new customers with a massive joint-marketing campaign.
Though Hardacker said her bicycle is gathering dust due to the demands of running her business, she was once an avid biker and “would always check out new areas” she passed through.
Run Chicago co-owner Greg Domontay has a direct interest in attracting a more athletic crowd to Forest Park. His store, which sells running shoes and other athletic apparel, helped do just that when its owners helped make Forest Park the new home of the annual Golden Apple 5K Run.
Domontay hopes the bridge will provide even more reason for athletically-minded people to check out Forest Park.
“Any new avenue that leads to us being a new place to explore is great,” Domontay said. “This is going to be a boom for cyclists and for everyone else, even the public who just want to get from the Blue Line to the Maybrook courthouse.”
Business owners hope the bridge will attract city dwellers traveling west to use the Prairie Path as well as west suburban bikers who will now be able to take the Prairie Path to the El station and continue biking on downtown paths.
The main Prairie Path runs from Maywood to Wheaton, and it includes branches leading to Elgin and Aurora.
The bridge crosses the Des Plaines River from Forest Park to Maywood and connects the Blue Line station with both the Prairie Path and the courthouse.
It has been in the planning stages for about seven years, but was placed on the backburner until Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-7) managed to secure more than $500,000 in funding from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Operation Green Light Grant Program earlier this year.
The grant comes more than five years after 28th Ward Alderman Ed Smith issued a resolution before the Chicago City Council calling for the bridge’s construction in February, 2001.
Currently, accessing the courthouse via public transportation requires riders to depend on infrequent PACE bus service. The bridge will allow the Blue Line train to drop riders off virtually at the courthouse steps. Accessing the Prairie Path from Forest Park or Chicago currently involves a similarly complicated combination of side streets.
The bridge is expected to open in the coming months after some finishing touches including added security measures, according to a Chicago Tribune report dated August 24. Construction on the bridge began in April.
Forest Park and Maywood have agreed to share maintenance responsibilities for the bridge.