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Roughly 30 people showed up to a meeting, last week, to talk about the possibility of shrinking Madison Street in Oak Park down to two lanes. Reactions to the idea seemed mostly positive, and the village board is prepared to weigh in on the proposal in July.
Oak Park has between $4 and $6 million to spend on Madison, which it needs to allocate before the end of this year, so village hall hired a consultant in November to come up with a plan. Altamanu is suggesting that Madison go on a "road diet," which would mean losing two lanes of traffic in order to add bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks.
Altamanu hosted a public meeting at Percy Julian Middle School on Wednesday, June 1, looking to gauge the public's perception of the project.
Meredith Morris, 46, told Wednesday Journal she is in favor of anything that improves the aesthetics and commercial viability of Madison. But she hopes the village also has an economic plan to help attract businesses to the street.
"I have concerns about a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality," said Morris, who lives a block north of Madison on Lombard. "I very much hope that the village has an economic development plan to go hand-in-hand with this proposal, rather than assuming commercial enterprises will be attracted because of the beautiful streetscape."
Ron Burke, who lives a couple of blocks south of Madison on Wenonah, thinks the proposal has "many, many upsides." He likes the idea of adding bike lanes to the street, but thinks it's important that cyclists have at least 3 feet of clearance on each side.
He believes narrowing Madison will make it safer for all travelers and more viable for businesses.
"By slowing cars down, the drivers in those cars tend to notice the businesses along that roadway more so," said Burke, who is also head of the Active Transportation Alliance. "If you go zipping by at 40 mph, you don't really notice that there's a new chicken place that went in on Madison."
Gerald Lordan, director of personnel development for Fenwick, said for years the Catholic high school has been hoping to see more green space, parking and safer pedestrian crossings for its students. He, too, mentioned that "new chicken place," Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles, saying he'd like to see more eateries on Madison where Friars and their fans could walk to grab a bite after events. Lordan thinks shrinking the street could help with that.
But the plan doesn't do much to help the parking problem, at least not in a traditional way, Lordan said.
"If we're truly going to get business onto Madison Street, I think we have to make it bicycle accessible," he said. "More and more people are riding bicycles. And those of us who live in town know there's no sense driving anywhere because there's no place to park."
Oak Parker Brian Keyes, who is considering opening a microbrewery in town, said the plan would make Madison more attractive for businesses. He wonders, though, if it does lead to revitalizing the street, what happens to the cars?
"Let's say this is a success and we redevelop Madison Street," he said. "Now what do you do? Where does all this parking go? Does it go into the neighborhoods? There's just not a lot of space."
Of the dozen or so people whom Wednesday Journal spoke with, Vikki Peterson was the only one who seemed outright against the proposal. She thinks Oak Park should focus its spending on the residential alleys and streets littered with potholes.
Peterson questioned whether cutting out two lanes of traffic would improve the business climate on Madison.
"They think if they make it inconvenient enough, people are going to stop and shop," she said. "That's what they said. They want to eliminate traffic that just drives through. Is that really what we want?"
Oak Parkers still have until June 17 to comment on the plan, whether through email (email@example.com) or snail mail (123 Madison, Oak Park, IL 60302). Village Planner Craig Failor plans to gather the comments, along with preliminary cost figures, to present to the village board in July. He declined to share early cost estimates before trustees see them.