703,461:1 - Cyclists Wait for One Man to Win His Lottery

703,461:1 - Cyclists Wait for One Man to Win His Lottery
Sign informing northbound riders that a detour is necessary to continue riding the DPRT

Bicycling in the ‘burbs is quite different than cycling in the city.

It’s quite challenging to be a transportation cyclist throughout most of Chicagoland.  The distances are greater between residential and commercial districts.  The speed limits on major arterial roads are much higher, making it dangerous to share the road.  Paved shoulders, let alone dedicated bike lanes, are virtually non-existent.  Bike paths are either paved in continuous loops through recreational land or they end abruptly at the outskirts of subdivisions.

The suburbs suffer from incomplete infrastructure.

It’s no secret that the primary mode of transportation in the suburbs is the personal automobile.  The assumption was made long ago that suburbanites had no desire to get around by mass transit, let alone by bicycle or on foot.  Bicycling has been relegated to a recreational activity and any facilities for cyclists (runners, pedestrians, etc) are considered optional amenities that add to a resident’s quality of life.  Multi-use trails are nice to have, but they’re not considered a necessity.

For better or worse, suburban cyclists have learned to live with this situation.

In the early spring, I decided to explore the Lake County portion of the Des Plaines River Trail.  I had ridden the Cook County portion – which is really nothing more than a packed dirt double-track mountain bike trail – about ten years ago and was curious to investigate any improvements that had been made since then.  I resumed my trek where it had ended – at the Des Plaines River just north of the Lake-Cook Road overpass.

At that time, the overpass led you to the river bank where you were forced to turn back or wade to the other side.  By 2012, I found a very nice bridge that welcomed me to the well-groomed, crushed limestone path laid down by Lake County.  I rode two miles north before I found another obstacle; the Par King Skill Golf Course.

I had two choices to skirt this void in the trail system; ride the 1,500-foot, rutted trail between Milwaukee Avenue and the Par King’s chain link fence or cross four lanes of busy traffic (without a crosswalk), ride the sidewalk on the west side of Milwaukee, and wait for two lights at the Aptakisic and Milwaukee intersection before rejoining the trail just north of the mini golf’s entrance.

Looking at Par King’s grounds as I rode past, I couldn’t tell if the place was even in use anymore.  There was a lot of open land with a narrow gauge railroad line running through the lawn, but no signs of recent activity.  Not being a local resident, I had no idea whether this was a summertime hot spot or just another shuttered Kiddie Kingdom or Adventureland.

Although agitated at the time, I quickly forgot about this inconvenience and filed both my pictures and story idea away until I had the opportunity to ride the rest of the trail.  Yesterday’s article in the Daily Herald, Sliver of land holds up Des Plaines River Trail, encouraged me to revisit my notes.

According to the article, an 85 year-old landowner is the lone holdout for the completion of the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County.  The trail has been planned for the past 50 years with land being acquired over the last 40 years and construction taking place section-by-section for more than 30 years.  This man’s single, 1,500 linear foot parcel is all that remains as an obstacle to the completion of this 31-mile continuous, multi-use trail.

The Lake County Forest Preserve District trustees seem perfectly content in waiting out this man and his heirs.  After all, they’ve been diligently working on this trail for over 50 years – what’s another 10 or 20?  Why shouldn’t the needs of the county’s 703, 461 other residents take a backseat to the desires of this single landholder?

Trustees have spent the past ten years appeasing this man, refusing to invoke or even threaten eminent domain.  They meet with him annually and listen to him rationalize his pie-in-the-sky selling price, continually reassuring him that his parcel is highly desired and the district is willing to wait forever for him.  Someone should give these trustees a little advice on the art of negotiation…

Several of the readers commenting on the story suggested either a sidewalk along the right-of-way on Milwaukee Avenue fronting the disputed parcel or two bridges and a 1-mile path through the Ryerson Conservation area which the district already owns on the opposite side of the river.  Both seem like simple compromises that would save the taxpayers money and finally complete the project.

Instead, residents of Lake County are waiting for this man – or his heirs – to determine how big of a lottery winning they’re willing to accept.

As with every item of monetary value, its only real worth is derived from the price another is willing to pay for it.  If a developer wants this parcel, he or she will make an offer.  If there is no offer, the LCFPD is this family’s buyer of last resort.  In the real world, buyers of last resort don’t pay a premium price.

The fact that the district has refused to invoke eminent domain for an easement or play hardball with an ultimatum only emboldens this individual to hold out for more money.  If the district builds a sidewalk in front of it, a path behind it, or two bridges around it, the landowner’s big payout at the expense of the taxpayers is put in jeopardy.  The district doesn’t have to buy his land to complete the trail – it only wants to.  Why not force the landowner’s hand by taking the ever escalating offer off the table?

Stated plainly, if the goal is to complete the trail for the benefit of all 703,462 Lake County residents, then it’s time to implement some new plans and complete the trail.

If the goal is to overpay the owner and his heirs for their miniature golf course, then it’s time to elect new trustees.

In negotiations, there’s a difference between being heavy handed and fair.  The trustees have been more than fair in not resorting to heavy-handed tactics.  The landowner, not so much.  His bluff needs to be called.

It seems ridiculous that a single individual is holding up the completion of a 51-year project.

A single, delusional man is holding his fellow residents hostage over money he feels he is entitled to, even when no one else is willing to pay his price.  A patriotic resident would accept fair market value and carve off a portion of his land.  A patriotic resident would grant an easement the way Marriot’s Lincolnshire Resort did.  No one is asking him to donate his land or devalue it by allowing a bike path to pass through it.  He’s just being asked to negotiate in good faith and be fair to the community that enabled him to operate a successful business.

Think about that the next time you’re considering playing mini golf at the Par King or when you’re on your bike trying to cross four lanes of traffic on Milwaukee to skirt this man’s mega-millions mini golf empire.  He can demand all the money he wants, but you don’t have to give him a penny of yours…

Completing this missing link in Lincolnshire is more than just improving an amenity for cyclists, runners, and outdoor enthusiasts of the region.  It's a step toward legitimizing cycling infrastructure in the suburbs.

If you are a Lake County resident, let your trustees know that it's time for another option.  If you are a suburban cycling advocate like me, inform your friends about the significance of this situation.

In the meantime, keep riding and be safe!

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