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Rock Island Greenway expansion makes way for future Peoria trail development plans

Peoria Park District Board of Trustees President Robert Johnson speaks at Tuesday morning's press conference celebrating the completion of the Rock Island Greenway expansion project.
Collin Schopp
Peoria Park District Board of Trustees President Robert Johnson speaks at Tuesday's news conference, celebrating completion of the Rock Island Greenway expansion project.

After completing a $2.2 million expansion of the Rock Island Greenway from Harvard Avenue to Park Avenue, city officials and advocates are setting their sights on the next steps for trail expansion in Peoria.

At a Tuesday news conference, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali confirmed the city is seeking funding to further expand the Greenway, adding $710,000 of the $2.2 million Greenway project came from the state of Illinois through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program.

“Our city manager, Mr. Patrick Urich is in the back there,” she said. “He’s working passionately to try to pursue additional funding so that we can get this trail extended to the riverfront.”

The riverfront expansion would bring the trail further into downtown Peoria and city officials said it represents an economic opportunity for businesses there. It would end around Spring Street.

Collin Schopp
The previous phase of the expansion project brough the Rock Island Greenway from Glen Oak Park to Park Avenue.

Mike Rucker, chairman of Trail Advocates for Central Illinois, sees the Greenway expansion as a crucial improvement.

“Previously, the bikers would have to go all the way through Springdale cemetery, which is an extra length and also very hilly, '' he said. “Now they can get further towards downtown.”

In Rucker’s view, the next opportunity for trail expansion in the Peoria area comes with getting pedestrians and cyclists safely across the city’s major bridges.

“With the McClugage bridge, and the renovation of the Bob Michel bridge, there will be a 14-foot safe passage for bikes to cross those bridges,” he said. “We're finding that the governmental bodies are very interested and doing all they can to enhance trails, and bike lanes. People, more and more, are beginning to use bicycles.”

After the bridges are pedestrian and cyclist accessible, Rucker hopes an in-development trail in East Peoria will link them together, creating a walkable loop. He said the trail could be developed and completed in a matter of years.

Eric Miller, executive director of the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, also supports plans for a loop through Peoria.

“We continue to work on that. But obviously, we need funding,” he said. “We need advocacy. There's still naysayers out there that say it's not a good idea. We need your support with those things.”

Miller pointed to the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, as a major engine behind improvements like the expansion of the Rock Island Greenway.

Brent Baker, president of Bike Peoria, sees rising public demand for bike- and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure as another reason to continue area trail projects. His organization installed a trail counter on the Greenway where it crosses Prospect Road in Peoria Heights, noting it has totaled 130,000 people passing by in two years.

“So you think about 130,000 people that are walking or riding their bike through the Heights, right? And then thinking about what the economic benefit of that is to the businesses that are there,” he said. “We know pragmatically, and we've seen in studies in similar markets like ours, that trail access actually lifts the property values around that trail, right. So it is a desirable net benefit for the community, while also offering people a way to explore their community in their neighborhood in a new way.”

While Baker said data like this is useful for explaining the purpose and advantages of a robust trail system, the best way to show their importance is to get outside and walk them.

“It's much easier than people think,” he said. “Just go out and enjoy the Greenway. Go and enjoy the other trails that we have in the region. And it will make our lives easier to get new trails in the future.”

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.