Runner to protest at Riverside walkway opening

Runner to protest at Riverside walkway opening

By Shellie Berg

By Shellie Berg

Staff Reporter

As local officials celebrate the advent of the Rock River Recreation Path at Riverside Boulevard Bridge on Saturday, April 21, one runner will protest what he maintains is a lack of consideration for safety.

The pedestrian bridge is 12 feet wide and 800 feet long. It starts with a ramp in Martin Park, goes across the river on the west bank and then extends up to the stoplight at the Riverside Boulevard Bridge.

Jeff Havens is a 17-year member of the Rockford Road Runners, a group formed in the 1960s to sponsor running events for charity. Havens will demonstrate and rally against the project to coincide with the morning inauguration.

Park District and Loves Park officials maintain Havens merely is against the project because he seeks a path to accommodate him.

He wanted the Park District to retain sidewalks from the Riverside Boulevard Bridge until an underpass is completed on the west side of the Rock River for safety reasons. But he noted the Park District was removing the sidewalks last week.

Havens ascertained that the removal of the sidewalks would force individuals to cross busy Riverside Boulevard on the west side of the river minus the option of using the Danny Vickery Memorial Underpass—named for the runner killed crossing the bridge in the mid-1970s—on the east side.

“Members use the path frequently, and we feel that it’s a danger for not only members but the people who use the path,” Havens stated. “The north and south ends can’t be safely crossed without having to cross Riverside Boulevard. I feel that it’s just a matter of time that someone is hurt. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

“My plan is to walk with those officials that were responsible for this bridge, to let them know we need a safe passage of the north to the south or the south to the north.”

Havens pointed out the rally’s theme is circus/carnival/cartoon. “I will be dressed as the sad clown since this fiasco is a tragic comedy of errors,” he said.

Havens’ ambitions are to expedite the construction of an underpass on the west side of the Rock River to connect the north-south ends of the bike path; retain the north sidewalk on the Riverside Boulevard Bridge until an underpass is installed; and take out the south sidewalk and use the additional space to add space to the north sidewalk on the bridge for an alternative.

He will picket in front of Cliffbreakers from 7:15 to 8:30 a.m. At 8:30, the ribbon-cutting for the opening of the bridge will occur while the Road Runners have a demonstration march that will begin on the west side of the new bridge and stop at the end of Martin Park.

At 8:40, the rally will entail a demonstration run/walk at the south end of Martin Park at the 3-mile marker. The demonstration run/walk is voluntary, and Havens said he will use the underpass to safely cross Riverside Boulevard to the north end of the bike path to the Sportscore as part of his daily run.

Bob Sharp, president of Road Runners, supports the project and the protest.

“As far as the bridge situation, I think the sidewalks were Haven’s concern. Now, I think, the swift completion of Phase II is going to be his focus,” said Sharp.

Local officials respond

Webbs Norman, executive director of the Rockford Park District, said Phase II of the project, the underpass, will be completed with the next funding cycle.

“We give high priority to the project. In the interim, we are making the crossing at Trillium Road as safe as possible,” said Norman, adding that wide, pedestrian crossing lines have been added to the stoplight facility.

Loves Park Mayor Darryl Lindberg said that Havens’ motive is to be able to run straight through, versus having to stop. “One of the reasons the bridge was built was because of the unsafe conditions of the sidewalks and the bridge,” Lindberg stated. The four-foot wide sidewalks adjacent to the road lack a railing.

“There’s just no way that we’re going to keep unsafe conditions,” the mayor said. “It’s not something that I would be in favor of at all. The sidewalks are narrow and are next to the traffic lane. It’s very unsafe.”

Jim Reid, Park District senior manager, noted the Park District, which obtained all funds, didn’t have enough money to complete Phase II, which would be an underpass. Instead, path users must cross Riverside and go to the stoplights at Cliffbreakers or Trillium Road. “Serious runners and bikers don’t like to stop. Period,” Reid stated.

He added that sidewalks needed to be

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removed because Loves Park will renovate the Riverside Bridge, and two requirements were that in order to obtain state money, four traffic lanes must be widened from 11 to 12 feet and a barrier is necessary. “The bottom line is the renovation is not doable to put in even a sidewalk in the north.”

But Reid stated that the Park District can’t build Phase II without 80 percent grant money. “We don’t have that much local money,” he remarked. “And the next round of money isn’t available until 2003.”

He said the money comes from the TEA-21 (Transportation Enhancement Act-21st Century). The construction could be completed by 2004. “They’re going to have a little inconvenience,” he said.

Reid also noted the bridge wound up costing more than expected. The idea was conceived in 1993. Because several changes were made to ensure safety requirements were met, the project was delayed and cost more. Reid said Illinois Dept. of Transportation changed engineers over the years, who accordingly changed safety requirements. Civil Contractors, Inc., of Freeport built the project. The bridge was initially bid at $750,000, but the final cost was $1.7 million.

Reid noted the bridge is beneficial to path users. “It is the missing link to complete a rec path of the YMCA up to Machesney Mall,” he stated.

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