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District 90 has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring Roosevelt School's exterior in line with successful internal improvements completed last year. The plan is intended to address "student safety... limited... use and functionality" of the grounds and concerns that "way-finding is difficult for visitors, fencing and plantings are inappropriate for the setting, and play areas for students are less than optimal" (1/29/13 Roosevelt Letter to Neighbors). It calls for extensive landscaping and shifting drop-off and pick-up procedures to Jackson and Oak. More significantly, it calls for the removal of the trees and parkway on the south side of Oak, and installation of up to 39 angled parking spaces. The expected price tag is $1.2-$1.6 million.
Civic-minded people might debate spending such a sum of educational money largely on landscaping. As a former River Forest Public Library trustee, I also mourn the loss of parking for the 40% of library users in the under 10 and over 65 age ranges for whom close parking equates to access to this community gem. But mostly, as a community member and parent, I'm frightened by the potential risks to our children, ostensibly in the name of "safety." My concerns are:
- Parking density — Currently, 13 parallel parking spots are available during the school day on this stretch of Oak Street. Under D90's plan, this will increase to as many as 39 spots, trebling the number cars parking in a school zone. How can multiplying the number of cars increase safety?
- Parallel versus angle parking — D90 initially developed plans for 90-degree parking on Oak; that plan was scuttled at the 2/5/13 board meeting amid board safety reservations. Now it is back. Numerous studies have examined the risks of "angle parking" and the necessary "backing out" which accompanies this design and they conclude there is a higher risk with such a design. How can the inclusion of a design element known to include higher risk lead to more safety?
- Sidewalk protrusion — If 90-degree parking is implemented, parking spaces will abut the south sidewalk on Oak, allowing cars to protrude into the sidewalk. This street serves as a major thoroughfare for students walking to St. Luke and Lincoln schools and these children deserve a safe sidewalk. How can the abridgement of a sidewalk increase safety?
I applaud the district's proposal to change drop-off and pick-up procedures which will, in fact, increase safety for Roosevelt students. The proposal to improve the school aesthetics is laudable if accomplished at a reasonable cost. Neither proposal requires an Oak Street parking redesign to succeed and D90's parking plan adds risk to children and adults who must traverse Oak Street in cars, bikes and on foot. Simply put, adding angled parking is reckless.
I respectfully ask D90 to eliminate Oak Street angled parking from its plan and, if it does not, I ask the village board to reject the district's application to turn a village parkway into a parking lot.
Mark W. Coe is a former board member and president of the River Forest Public Library, which is a neighbor of Roosevelt Middle School; a current member and former president of the River Forest Tennis Club, another neighbor of Roosevelt School; a current member and former president of the River Forest Service Club, an organization in River Forest dedicated to civic discussion and intergovernmental cooperation. Married to a former District 90 school board member, they have four D90-educated children.