The village of Oak Park is gearing up for a major overhaul of Madison Street with the goal of rapidly increasing economic development in the commercial corridor.
Trustees voted in April to focus the village's attention on a stretch of Madison that runs from Oak Park to East avenues. The plan includes a so-called road diet that would reduce that stretch of Madison from five lanes of traffic to three and add a bike lane.
The road diet will slow down traffic, making it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross the street, and reduce automobile collisions.
Transportation safety advocates say the road diet should run the entire course of Madison Street.
Last month, Oak Parker Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a safe transportation consultant working with the village, recently invited residents and officials to tour the area to get a better idea of what pedestrians – many of them crossing from nearby schools such as Percy Julian Middle School and Fenwick High School – and motorists face on the busy street.
During the roughly hour-long tour, dozens of kids and other pedestrians were seen dodging their way through traffic on Madison as rush-hour traffic began to pick up.
Burke told a group of about a dozen residents that 18,000 vehicles roll down Madison Street in Oak Park every day, noting that the corridor has one of the highest crash rates in the region.
In a letter sent to village trustees and staff earlier this year, residents and Burke note that according to Oak Park Police Department Data from 2008 to 2011, roughly 235 crashes are reported every year on Madison.
"To put this in perspective, the Madison crash rate was roughly twice that of Lake Shore Drive, which (the Illinois Department of Transportation) says is one of the most crash-prone roads in the state," the letter states. "The vast majority of crashes on Madison are car-on-car, with rear-end collisions most common."
Rear-end crashes are particularly common in front of Walgreens at 6800 W. Madison because there is no dedicated turn lane to get into the store's parking lot, according to Burke.
Burke also notes in the letter that "People on foot and bike are the most vulnerable travelers, and they were hit by cars an average of seven times per year on Madison, often with tragic results. For example, 92-year-old Oak Park resident Suleyman Cetin was struck and killed while biking across Madison about a year ago."
The absence of a dedicated left turn lane throughout much of the street is one of the major culprits, he said. Most cross streets along Madison also do not go straight through but are offset slightly, also making them more prone to crashes, he said.
Denis McCauley, who heads capital improvements at Fenwick High School, which is a block away from Madison, said at the tour that traffic on Madison is a concern of school administrators.
The road diet planned by the village also includes expensive streetscaping and other improvements, but Burke argues that the cost of putting all of Madison on a diet could be reduced outside the economic development focus area. Reworking the lanes without streetscaping and additional construction could be a solution to reducing accidents and creating a safer street for pedestrians throughout the entire corridor, Burke said.
"We should restripe and narrow the [entire] street from the beginning," he said.