Simple initiative to make city walkable, bikable

Pam Monson

    A simple request got Frank Koehler thinking about making the city more walk and bike friendly.
    One of the aldermen asked interim city administrator Frank Koehler to see if some branches that were obstructing a sidewalk could be trimmed. He decided to take that effort a little further and work with the public works department to assess the sidewalks and the trees that create a canopy over them.
    Tree trimming and sidewalk assessment all part of one bigger vision, getting around town without having a vehicle, make it safer for kids and families.
    “The idea is, how do we make this a more walkable, livable community, and encourage the use of sidewalks, and make it safer for kids in doing so,” Koehler said.
    He knows much of the effort will be the responsibility of private property owners, but thinks the city can address trees on public property, including parkways, that are growing low-hanging branches. He’s hoping property owners will be willing to do the same.
    “Rather than taking an enforcement action against property owners, we’ll to try to encourage them to go out and take a look at the trees in their yard, to make sure that the canopy is raised enough so people can walk along [the sidewalk],” he explained.
    “I’m just kind of banging home the theme, come on guys, if we’re going to elevate Wilmington, let’s start with the canopy.”
    Ideally, no tree branches would hang less than 10 feet above a sidewalk.
    Koehler wants to carry the walkability theme into the downtown plan being developed with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). He’s asked CMAP if it has a program the city would qualify for, much as it did the downtown study, that will provide technical assistance for a bikeway study for Wilmington as a follow-up to the downtown plan, and possibly some funding when it’s time to pedal.
    It would be complimentary to the downtown plan but have a communitywide scope
    Koehler would also like to develop a strategy for improving sidewalks citywide with grant programs, including Safe Routes to School, and to change the bi-annual paving project mindset to a Complete Street point of view.
    “When you do a Complete Street design you look at everything, not just the blacktop — the curb, the gutters, the sidewalks,” he explained. Complete Streets are “streets for everyone,” according the organization Smart Growth America. They’re designed to provide safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
    “Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops and bicycle to work,” says the organization.
    Koehler will also meet with representatives of the Forest Preserve District of Will County to see if there’s a bike plan the city can coordinate with and where there is grant money for doing so.
    “We have all these great open spaces surrounding us; Forest Preserve, Kankakee State Park, Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area, the Midewin, the river. If the bicyclists can get to the outskirts of Wilmington, how do they get into Wilmington, and what type of bikeway [do we need]?” he asks.
    The Forest Preserve has the Wauponsee Glacial Trail, which runs south and east of Wilmington. The city would have to develop connecting paths to take advantage of what the trail has to offer. Koehler said public input would be essential to determining where those paths should be.