In my role as active transportation planner for NIRPC, I am reminded often of the importance of making our streets safe and accessible for nonmotorized users. Although most of my work does focus on bicycle and able-bodied pedestrian access, attention still must be afforded to people with disabilities.
A brief history is helpful here. In 1990, the American with Disabilities Act was signed into law. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. It prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services.
To aid with accommodating the disabled community, regulations titled Standards for Accessible Design were crafted in 1991 and have been updated regularly since. These standards have been crucial in ensuring safe and accessible movement for people with disabilities throughout our infrastructure.
On the nonmotorized level, these ADA design standards have proved vital in creating a network of improvements that aid in disabled travel. A simple walk in your community will more than likely reveal a number of ADA design improvements. Most notable are curb ramps at street corners for wheelchair users.
Also evident at these corners are “truncated domes” or textured ground surface indicators which assist pedestrians who are blind or visually impaired. You will also find these on stairs and at train station platforms.
Other improvements to aid travel include accessible pedestrian signals, which are placed at intersections to alert the visually impaired when to cross, as well as keeping sidewalks clear of impediments such as streetlights that block access.
Taken together, these improvements have dramatically improved the quality of life for those with limited to zero ability to drive. As our population continues to age, an increasing percentage of the population will be thankful for these improvements by lessening their dependence on the automobile.
For more information about the ADA, please visit www.ada.gov. As always, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 763-6060, ext. 133. For information on obtaining our free trails map, please visit www.nirpc.org.
Whoever is done with this winter weather, please raise your hand.
I trust I’d see many lifted high in agreement this year. For lifelong region residents like myself, it’s been a real character-builder of a season, and like you, I’m longing desperately for warmer days ahead.
Thankfully they will arrive, and to help us all focus on better weather, I’d like to turn our attention to the Le Tour de Shore bicycle ride in June, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Le Tour de Shore is a two-day recreational charity bike ride from Millennium Park in Chicago to the Indiana Dunes. On Day 2 the ride continues to City Beach in New Buffalo, Mich. In all, the event covers about 100 miles from start to finish.
Proceeds from the ride benefit Maywood Fine Arts in Maywood, Ill., a nonprofit organization providing programs in art, dance, drama, music, tumbling and voice to children in the Chicago area.
The route itself takes advantage of both road and trail. Major off-road facilities include the Chicago Lakefront Trail, Burnham Greenway, Erie-Lackawanna Trail, Oak-Savannah Trail and Prairie-Duneland Trail.
This year, the ride will divert into Indiana at 112th Street and use the new trail around Wolf Lake and the recently completed 1,000-foot bridge over the lake. Hammond will be working with ride organizers on a rest stop at the Wolf Lake Pavilion.
Roadways chosen for the route are bicycle-friendly, which means they're low in traffic volume for the most part. They also represent routes that are high in scenic quality, including lakeshore access along roadways in Beverly Shores and Long Beach just east of Michigan City.
There are also plenty of overnight accommodations provided, both indoors and out. A select number of campsites are reserved at the Indiana Dunes State Park, and a number of hotels are used between Chesterton and Michigan City.
At the end of the ride, in New Buffalo, a barbecue cookout is provided. For an extra fee, a chartered bus ride back to Chicago is available for you and your bike.
The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission is proud to partner with the Le Tour de Shore in 2014 as it celebrates its 10th annual ride, helping folks enjoy the beauty of our region.
For more information about tour or online registration, which is now open, visit www.letourdeshore.org.
For more information about our trails, including details on obtaining a free map, visit www.nirpc.org.
In the meantime, stay warm — and think spring!
Yet again another year has passed into history, so no better time to assess the progress our region has made for nonmotorized (or active) transportation — and what lies ahead in 2014.
The past year witnessed the continuing growth of our regional trail network. In all, about five miles of new off-road paved trail was opened to the public in 2013. The largest of these segments was more than two miles on the west side of Wolf Lake in Hammond, nearly completing a five-mile loop route around the Indiana side of the lake. What remains now is the opening of a 1,000-foot bridge, which is slated to open in early spring.
The Wolf Lake Trail represents a significant investment by the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority over the last few years. The latest section of trail leaves a connection into Illinois at 112th Street, which will connect to the nearby Burnham Greenway later in the year or early 2015.
Hammond will see the development of three major bridge facilities as well in 2014. The first is for the Erie-Lackawanna Trail over 167th Street and Columbia Avenue. The second and third are on the Monon Trail, one at 165th Street and another over the Little Calumet River. Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. has spearheaded these projects from the start.
The most notable trail development in 2013 was the long-awaited connection of the Pennsy Greenway between Munster and Lansing. This event was celebrated at a “Golden Spoke” ceremony held in October right on the state line. This marks the first bistate trail connection between Indiana and Illinois, and in 2014 Munster plans to finish its portion of the Pennsy from Fisher Street to Calumet Avenue.
In Porter, a landmark project was completed between the Dune Park South Shore station, and the entrance to the Indiana Dunes State Park. Now visitors by train have a direct access to the front door of our natural treasure. This mile-long segment is also part of Dunes-Kankakee Trail network, which is developing through central Porter County.
In 2014, work is scheduled to be completed on a trail connecting Indiana Dunes State Park to its visitors center at U.S. 20 and Ind. 49. Porter is also scheduled to open its Orchard Way Path, which is nearing completion on the town's east side down Waverly Avenue.
To keep up with all the trail news in our region, please visit the Northwest Indiana Greenways and Blueways Facebook page, or www.nirpc.org.
Today in Northwest Indiana, we proudly boast more than 130 miles of off-road, multi-use trail in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.
Every year, on average, there are at least five to 10 additional miles of trail added to this growing list, and the demand for additional miles remains strong.
Communities such as Cedar Lake, Lowell, Winfield, Hebron and Wanatah have actively pursued plans to develop trail networks. Clearly, we are living in a venerable “golden age” of trail development in our region, boosting our quality of life in the process.
Getting to this point, however, took pioneering spirit in the midst of some of our darkest economic days.
Some 30 years ago, in the early 1980s, Northwest Indiana was witnessing the downturn in our steel economy, which had sustained our regional standard of living for nearly 80 years. At the same time, on a national scale, railroads were going bankrupt, leaving thousands of miles of abandoned corridors to decay throughout our communities.
Although the “rails to trails” movement was emerging, our region had yet to catch on, leaving us with only the nine-mile Calumet Trail along the Indiana Dunes, which in itself was little used and becoming overgrown with vegetation.
As the 1990s dawned, two individuals took command to launch our trail movement. In Hammond, a dedicated community activist named Kathy Kazmierczak, championed the first few miles of the Erie-Lackawanna Trail. This was an arduous affair, and was approved by only one vote of the City Council.
Because of Kathy’s dogged determination, the Erie-Lackawanna Trail grew, and now represents the largest continuous trail in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties at 17 miles in length, traversing six communities.
Meanwhile, Portage Park Superintendent Carl Fisher began to lobby his community to convert the abandoned EJ&E Railroad corridor into a multi-use trail. Using new federal money exclusively available for trail construction, Carl was able to secure funding to open up seven miles of the Prairie-Duneland Trail in Portage in 1996. The trail was eventually completed into Chesterton for a total of nine miles in Porter County.
Taken together, it is safe to say that Kathy and Carl are the “mother” and “father” of our regional trail network, and are owed a tremendous amount of gratitude for their vision to launch our golden age of trails that we so richly enjoy today.
For more information about our trails, including details on obtaining a free map of our regional trails, please visit the NIRPC website at www.nirpc.org. You are always welcome to contact me as well at email@example.com or (219) 763-6060 ext. 133.
Leaders and advocates from Northwest Indiana and the neighboring Chicago Southland came together on the state line between Munster and Lansing recently to officially open the Pennsy Greenway.
The event was called the Golden Spoke Celebration, which echoed the famous Golden Spike ceremony in 1869. Like the Golden Spike, which heralded the first transcontinental railroad connection, the Golden Spoke celebrates the first nonmotorized trail between our two regions.
On hand for the event were representatives who have championed this long-awaited connection. Chief among those were Lan-Oak Park District Superintendent John Wilson, who has been a staunch supporter of the Pennsy Greenway from its inception more than a decade ago. Wilson was the prime mover toward getting the Pennsy built in Lansing in 2007, and continued to push for increased trail miles.
In Indiana, Munster Town Manager Tom DeGuilio has been on the forefront of trail development for his community since the 1990s. DeGuilio has successfully guided his town with the development of Centennial Park, where the Pennsy runs alongside the northern boundary. Thanks to his vision, the Pennsy will be complete in Munster by 2014.
Beyond the state line work, plenty of activity will create a 50-plus mile trail between Crown Point and Chicago via their Lakefront Trail — with the Pennsy Greenway being a main link in this corridor.
In Indiana, Schererville has been actively moving toward completing its section of the Pennsy. In 2011, Schererville opened a two-mile segment in the heart of the community, which has proved abundantly popular. Schererville's next goal is connecting to Munster, and earlier this year the town secured funding to make this happen. Schererville is aiming to open this segment in 2015.
In Illinois, the Pennsy connects to the long-established Burnham Greenway, which runs from Calumet City to the Skyway. However, a three-plus-mile gap has existed for years, forcing riders to use congested side roads. Funding is just about secure to finish this gap, which will include a 1,000-foot bridge over several railroad tracks. The project is expected to be finished by summer 2015, with the portion in Chicago done by next year.
The final link is in Chicago, where a gap remains from Calumet Park north to the South Shore Country Club. Recently a new stretch of Lake Shore Drive opened up with a sidepath alongside, and connections remain north and south of this new segment. However, the completion of a separated route still remains a long-term vision because of financial constraints.
However, there are bike lanes to guide users to the Lakefront Path, and then downtown. In the end residents of both states can look forward to the development of the Pennsy as a major step forward toward unifying our regions.
For more information about this and other regional trails, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (219) 763-6060.
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