Editorial: 'Scenic parkways' might be the road extensions of the future

  • Barrington Hills village officials are pushing for a scenic parkway to be part of a proposed widening of Algonquin Road.

      Barrington Hills village officials are pushing for a scenic parkway to be part of a proposed widening of Algonquin Road. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

With an expansion of Algonquin Road through the Barrington area all be certain in the next few years, Barrington Hills is urging a different approach, and we hope the Illinois Department of Transportation continues to give it serious consideration.

As Bob Susnjara reported Monday, Barrington Hills is pitching the idea of turning Algonquin Road into a so-called scenic parkway, a roadway that would fit into, rather than obliterate, the bucolic, natural setting of northwest Cook County. Algonquin Road cuts through Spring Lake Forest Preserve on its way to the northern Fox Valley.

"It should kind of honor the open space, natural setting that the Cook County Forest Preserve is trying to maintain and what we're trying to maintain in our community," Barrington Hills Village President Martin McLaughlin told Susnjara.

This is a new approach, and one that reflects the increasing interest in preserving the environment of much of the suburban area -- hand in hand, of course, with finding better ways to move frustrating amounts of traffic on a daily basis.

Look at the proposed northern extension of Route 53, an idea first floated nearly 50 years ago which is now at a critical juncture. If the proposal loses steam or flatlines entirely, it will be in part because of environmental concerns that could not be addressed.

Generally speaking, no one is arguing that Algonquin Road should not be widened and upgraded. Safety alone would dictate it: Data from 2010 through 2016 reports there were 620 crashes with 136 injuries in that stretch of roadway; 45 percent of those were rear-end collisions. Likewise, in Lake County, both sides of the debate over Route 53 acknowledge the existing traffic gridlock and the need to ease it. But what McLaughlin and other suburban leaders are visualizing are roads that disturb the natural environment they exist in little or not at all and still do the job of moving traffic while offering a pleasing visual experience.

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IDOT appears interested, even exciting by the possibilities. Besides engaging its landscape architects to work with Barrington Hills on a plan to create the scenic parkway, the agency has dropped the idea of putting traffic signals at Bateman and Old Sutton roads, and is willing to consider a bicycle, pedestrian and bridal underpass connecting both sides of Spring Lake Forest Preserve.

The Algonquin Road project, well executed, could change how suburbs look at road extensions in the future. And McLaughlin's suggestion that Barrington-area volunteer organizations could sponsor sections of the road and its plantings, is another easily-portable idea.

Traffic is an inevitable part of suburban life, and mitigating it does a lot for the quality of that life. To mitigate it, however, without giving up what we love about living here, is the best of both worlds.

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