An Indiana agency blocking an Illinois trail?

(Above: crossing the tracks in Hegewisch)

Yeah, that's been the story for a year and a half, now: the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transit District (NICTD), which operates the South Shore commuter rail, has formally opposed the planned, engineered & paid for Burnham Greenway gap connection from crossing railroad tracks the South Shore uses near Hegewisch in Chicago.

Busy Burnham Avenue and its sidewalks cross the tracks now, as do more than 12,000 vehicles a day, residents walking and biking to the South Shore's own Hegewisch train station, and Burnham Greenway users navigating the street and sidewalk across the 2-mile gap to make the Chicago lakefront to Lansing, Illinois connection. The planned trail reconstructs the existing sidewalk into a 10' wide paved trail, and adds trail crossing gates and safety bollards at the tracks (currently there are no safety precautions for sidewalk users crossing the tracks).

The gap segment received more than $5 million in construction funding in 2014 that should have employed people and resulted in a completed, contiguous Burnham Greenway by now. But NICTD, which recently has received a bounty of accolades for its new (and to be fair very, very cool) South Shore bike service, filed opposition with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on the grounds of safety.

NICTD's attorney, Ed Gower, argues that the project must include an $8 million trail bridge over the tracks to protect trail users from the temptation to crawl under the trains frequently parked at the crossing. In Gower's own petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission, he cites data showing that the Burnham Avenue crossing is blocked by parked trains on average for over three hours a day. Nearly 11% of the trains blocking traffic are parked for 10 minutes or more; many of these block all traffic—cars & sidewalk traffic—for 30 minutes or more.

He says the only reasonable option is to add a bridge (and another 5-7 years for planning & engineering, let alone the $8+ million) to the project that NICTD—the I is for Indiana—has already delayed for over a year.

The ICC's own planning and engineering staff have rejected Gower's claim, as has IDOT who has jurisdiction of Burnham Avenue (and a Complete Streets policy of bicycle and pedestrian accommodation). An ICC judge will rule on NICTD's petition soon.

We're cautiously optimistic. Bridges aren't always an answer—people hate hills, and they hate taking a longer route to their destination; even if the bridge were built, residents—who make up most of the foot and bike traffic in the area—would take the existing, unimproved street and the sidewalk. The planned Burnham Greenway crossing makes that crossing safer for everybody.

And Gower's wrong about a bridge being the only option: trains could also not park there as much.