Building a Grassroots Coalition to Improve the Des Plaines River Trail - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Building a Grassroots Coalition to Improve the Des Plaines River Trail

The Des Plaines River Trail now has a Friends group, brought together by the Active Transportation Alliance.

Active Transportation Alliance

Members of the Friends of the Des Plaines River Trail at their kickoff event in Summer 2018

Imagine a seamlessly connected network of Chicagoland trails that allows you to hop from one trail to another without confronting hectic intersections or traveling several miles on a busy street with traffic whipping by.

That’s the vision of the Active Transportation Alliance’s new Trail Connect Chicagoland campaign, which includes a focus on improving and extending the Des Plaines River Trail.

Launched in early 2018, Trail Connect Chicagoland mobilizes residents and provides them with the tools and resources needed to successfully push for improving trails in their communities.

A seamlessly-connected, low-stress, and equitable regional trail network would mean that every Chicagoland resident can walk and bike for transportation and recreation.

The Des Plaines River Trail is a popular multi-use trail extending from the Illinois and Wisconsin border south into central Cook County. While the trail is a great community asset, the south end, between Touhy Avenue and North Avenue, presents a laundry list of barriers that prevent people from accessing and enjoying it.   

Many of the problems are caused by flooding and erosion from the Des Plaines River, which the trail follows. But other issues exist as well. People are frequently forced to cross four-or-more-lane arterial streets as they’re following the trail and they face a lack of amenities along the trail like restrooms, drinking fountains, signage, and benches.

And accessing the trail from nearby communities means navigating a treacherous obstacle course of busy streets and hairy intersections with little in the way of sidewalks, crosswalks and bike trails.

Jeremy Riel (flickr)

Along the Des Plaines River Trail

The good news is that engineering efforts are currently underway exploring improvements. Solutions could include providing better striping at intersections and midblock crossings, as well as improving tunnels and bridges or creating new ones. There’s also a need to improve the trail’s amenities, as well as create bike lanes/side paths and improve the sidewalk infrastructure that allows people from local communities to access the trail.  

To fight for these improvements and others, Active Trans brought together local trail advocates to launch a Friends of the Des Plaines River & Trail group.

This group has several aims:

  • Raise awareness of the trail and the needed improvements to neighbors and elected officials.
  • Host community events near the trail to gather input and raise funds.
  • Monitor conditions of the trail and river.
  • Inform people of recent improvements and activities.

The group also may create reports and planning documents showcasing the benefits the trail could bring to surrounding communities.

Since its first meeting late last summer, the group has been active on social media, making fellow community members aware of the wonderful amenity in their own backyard, organizing community events and laying the foundation for a successful organization moving forward.

Please contact Matt Gomez or visit the Friends of the Des Plaines River Trail’s Facebook page to learn more about how you can help improve the Des Plaines River Trail.


Matt Gomez is a Trail Advocacy Manager at Active Transportation Alliance. He can be reached at or (312) 216-0474


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