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Forest Park got a $113,906 state grant to help cover the costs of making the Desplaines Avenue and Harlem Avenue Blue Line el stations more bike-friendly by adding bike racks and improving lighting and sidewalks.

In late October 2020, the village applied for an Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) grant. The grant program helps municipalities, park districts and other taxing bodies build or improve biking, walking and other “alternate transportation” amenities. The grant covers 80 percent of the project’s cost, with the rest coming out of Forest Park’s pocket. 

One of the conditions of receiving the grant was that Forest Park had to bid for project engineering services using the Quality Based Selection process. Since the village didn’t have the process on the books, the village council voted unanimously to adopt one during its Aug. 9 meeting. 

Now that the policy is adopted, the village can go out to bid for the engineering services. Forest Park expects to finish the improvements in 2022.

The CTA station at 711 S. Desplaines Ave., is the Blue Line’s west suburban terminus, with the station serving as a transfer hub for most Pace routes serving the village and the suburbs further north, west and south. Bicyclists can also connect to the Illinois Prairie Path, a biking and walking trail that runs from Concordia Cemetery to Wheaton, with branches splitting off toward Aurora, Geneva and Elgin. 

The Harlem el station, 701 S. Harlem Ave., has entrances at Harlem and Circle avenues. Riders can transfer to Pace Route 307, which serves the Harlem Avenue corridor in Forest Park and Oak Park. 

Riders can bring bikes on the el trains during off-peak hours. Pace buses have pull-down bike racks on the front of the vehicle that can hold two bikes.  While the two stations have some features convenient for bicyclists – a ramp connects the Harlem station’s entrance to the platform, and bicyclists can use the escalators or the elevator at the Desplaines station – neither station has bike racks. The village wanted to remedy the situation.

“The project will improve safety by providing a centralized location for bike storage, as there is currently no bicycle facility and cyclists lock their bikes to any streetlight or post they can find,” the application stated.

The project also calls for improving lighting around the stations, fixing curbs, gutters and sidewalks, as well as providing clear crosswalk markings. At the Harlem station, there are currently no crosswalk markings at the intersections north of both entrances, while at Desplaines station, there are no crosswalk markers at the spot where the buses drive out onto Desplaines Avenue.

“By installing pedestrian lighting and improving crosswalks around the bike facility the users will be more visible to motorists,” the application stated.

According to the Illinois Department of Transportation press release, ITEP got 270 applications, and Forest Park’s request was one of the 99 that got awarded. The winners were announced June 9. 

The ordinance adopted during the Aug. 9 meeting ensures that the way the village selects engineering contracts for projects that use state and federal grants follow state and federal laws. Most notably, it requires a public notice detailing the scope of the project and how the village would choose a contractor to be published either on the village website or in a local newspaper at least 14 days before the bids are due. 

The village council adopted the policy unanimously and without discussion.