The Forest Park village council voted Monday to spend $10,000 in grant money from the Cook County Healthy Communities Grant to install bicycle route signage on village roadways.
Denise Murray, coordinator of Live Healthy Forest Park, said consultants from Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance (Active Trans) helped the village identify potential bike routes and more than 215 potential locations for the green signs. Murray is a part-time village government employee.
“Not all streets can take a bike lane,” she said, adding that the village cannot afford to put signage everywhere Active Trans recommends. “But we are focusing on safe routes to school, a bike signage plan and making streets safer for pedestrians and bicycles.”
Forest Park’s grant of $145,000 was the second highest amount awarded by Cook County, says Murray. The grant takes the form of a rebate of funds spent by the village, she says. “If we don’t spend it, we don’t get it.”
The bicycle signs are “not cheap,” said Murray, adding that they begin at $35 each but many poles require more than one sign. For example a sign post may contain a pictogram of a bicycle, a destination name, and a mileage sign. “The poles are even more expensive,” she added. Public Works department employees will attach the signs to existing street poles to cut costs whenever they can, she said.
The village is making spot improvements to handicapped accessibility, and bicycle-friendly streets, said Murray. Curbs near the park along Harrison from Harlem Avenue to Des Plaines Avenue have been replaced to smooth out bumps for wheelchair traffic. The streets are also striped for bike and pedestrian awareness. Work has also been done on Jackson Boulevard behind the CTA station, said Murray. Madison Street is next on the plan, said Murray. Some roads are maintained by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), she added and it will take longer to coordinate signage with the state.
Mayor Anthony Calderone says he personally no longer owns a bicycle. “Mine got stolen six years ago and I haven’t purchased another one yet.” He also says that he is an “unlikely candidate” for local bike riding, “because I do so much outside of Forest Park.” But he praises the Healthy Communities Grant for bringing together different agencies around Forest Park. “It’s an exciting opportunity for collaboration,” he says. These partners include District 91, the Community Center, the Forest Park Library, the village, the Park District, the Chamber of Commerce, the Farmers’ Market and the Forest Park Community Garden.
Forest Park has already come to the attention of Walk Score, a real estate-driven international measure of walkability, bike-friendliness, healthy food choices and access to public transportation. Forest Park received the highest Walk Score points of any community in Illinois, including the City of Chicago last year, Murray says. According to their website, addresses in Forest Park score between 60 and 80 points in walkability. The website claims that every point of Walk Score is worth up to $3,000 of added property value.
Healthy Living Forest Park held community meetings to get input about “making traffic flow and non-motorized traffic flow work for everybody,” says Murray. “We realized how many people [from out of town] use our community to cut through to other communities.” Chicago Active Trans helps the village with engineering and consulting “as part of the grant,” says Murray. “They’re engineering geniuses.”