RTC SpringSummer 2015 Issue_final - page 21

been an outspo-
ken supporter
of active trans-
portation, and
his office had
asked the Active
Transportation Alliance if any trail proj-
ects could use funding. “That seed money
was our incentive to apply for traditional
funding like CMAQ grants and Illinois
Transportation Enhancement Program
grants,” Buchtel says. The result: The trail is
now almost completely funded.
Bridging Cultural Divides
Buchtel says one of the challenges involved
in building a trail across the southland is
bridging the region’s cultural divides. “The
eastern portion, with towns like Dolton,
Riverdale and Blue Island, was domi-
nated by steel manufacturing, which has
dramatically declined in recent decades,
leaving behind low-income communities
and ruined landscapes,” explains Buchtel.
“To the west are more affluent bedroom
communities like Palos Heights and Palos
Hills, that had less industry and have fewer
minorities. These towns, moving east to
west, are as different as can be, but having
funding to build the trail unites people.”
Peter Taylor lives in Chicago’s Roseland
Heights neighborhood and helps lead the
Major Taylor Cycling Club of Chicago and
Friends of the Major Taylor Trail, a seven-
mile path on the city’s Southwest Side that
eventually will intersect with the Cal-Sag in
Riverdale. Taylor hopes his predominantly
African-American bike club can help drum
up more support for completing the eastern
portion of the trail—especially in Dolton, a
mostly black suburb; less local political sup-
ing a multiuse path
along the waterway.
The recent greenway
campaign began in
2004, according to
Steve Buchtel, execu-
tive director of the
nonprofit Trails for
Illinois (
), which has
spearheaded the effort.
Buchtel is a compact, wiry man with a
shaved head and a disarming grin. In 2004,
he was working as the south suburban
coordinator for the Chicago-based Active
Transportation Alliance (
Mike Leonard, parks and recreation direc-
tor for Palos Heights, a town on the western
end of the Cal-Sag, contacted him about
creating a safe way for pedestrians and
cyclists to access a new Metra station on the
south side of the canal.
“We looked at some maps, and it
seemed like it would be very tough to get
people across the water to the station,”
Buchtel recalls. “Then it occurred to us that
we could build a trail along the canal.” That
was when Leonard did something “remark-
able,” Buchtel says. He began inviting
people to discuss the trail idea at monthly,
city-funded pizza lunches held at Lake
Katherine Nature Center in Palos Heights.
The luncheons drew staff from city
agencies, Cook County commissioners,
state and federal legislators, and the general
public, with more than 30 people showing
up every month. They discussed potential
funding for the $21 million trail as well as
ways that towns could use the trail for eco-
nomic development.
“That led to [U.S. Senator] Dick Durbin
securing a $300,000 federal Transportation,
Community and System Preservation
Program grant,” Buchtel says. Durbin has
port and more physical barriers, such as fac-
tories, have made trail construction slower
on the eastern end of the corridor than on
the western end.
“We want to make sure people under-
stand the benefits of the trail,” he explains.
“I don’t know if it’s as much of a problem
with the residents themselves as with the
politicians and the bureaucrats. Our club
would have a comfort level in Dolton that
some other clubs might not, so we would
be some of the first people to step up to the
plate and lead rides there.”
Eli Rodriguez owns Tenochtitlan
Mexican restaurant in Blue Island. “The
Cal-Sag Trail is going to be an advantage
for the community,” he says. “The more
foot and bike traffic the city gets from the
trail, the more customers there will be for
businesses, including mine. The trail will
also give people an opportunity for exercise,
and it will give families something to do
I continue west until I reach Lake
Katherine, a lovely little body of water filled
with ducks. There, I come across Vincent
Juarez, hitching his four huskies, Honey,
Hannah, Shiloh and Arctic, to an old-
fashioned wooden dogsled. “This trail is
awesome,” he says. “You can already go for
miles without stopping. The dogs love it.”
He yells “Mush!” and the huskies take off at
what seems like 20 miles an hour.
Juarez and his team are moving just like
the people of Chicago as they strive to make
their new trails a reality: full speed ahead.
John Greenfield edits the transportation news
Streetsblog Chicago
and writes the
“Checkerboard City” transportation column for
Right: Cal-Sag Trail groundbreaking, June 2014;
below: Vincent Juarez and his team of huskies on
the Cal-Sag; bottom: Cal-Sag groundbreaking.
John Greenfield (3)
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