Are 'Bike Boulevards' in Oak Park's future?

Also considered: worker compensation programs, village bike fleet

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By MARTY STEMPNIAK

Oak Park is considering adding "bicycle boulevards"-streets using traffic calming methods like speed bumps and diverters-to create avenues catering to cyclists instead of motorists.

The boulevards also could turn stop signs to create continuous travel, use oversized stampings on roads to mark bicycle paths, install special signs discouraging non-local traffic, and possibly feature some sort of continuous loop around Oak Park for bikers.

The ideas are part of the village's biking master plan, said Nick Jackson, deputy director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (CBF), which held a bike planning "open house" last week.

Bike boulevards would mimic those in Palo Alto and Davis, Calif. The League of American Bicyclists ranked Davis as "platinum" in terms of bicycle friendliness-the only city in the nation with such a ranking-based on its engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation of biking in the community. Oak Park will incorporate all five of those elements into its plan.

The boulevards, also known as "bicycle priority streets," permit all types of traffic. They're meant to relieve traffic and encourage the sharing of roads between motorists and cyclists-not prohibit cars from driving on certain roads.

Paul Aeschleman, a cyclist and member of the Village Transportation Commission, feels bike boulevards would be "feasible" and "realistic" in Oak Park.

He doesn't think they'd work in high-density areas of the village, however, and suggested Home Avenue, Marion Street to downtown Oak Park and East Avenue north of OPRF High School as possible paths for installing bike boulevards.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," said Gail Moran-a member of both the Oak Park Cycle Club and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation Board-about bike boulevards. "It would encourage people [to bike more]. Some think it's dangerous with all the traffic congestion."

Oak Park is a leader in certain bicycle areas, Jackson said, like installing cut-throughs in cul-de-sacs, but the CBF is exploring other possibilities to increase its bicycle friendliness quotient-like instituting incentive programs, encouraging village workers to bike to work.

Jackson also mentioned setting up a village bike fleet and stockpiling a trove of bicycles for government employees to use around Oak Park.

Public Works Director John Wielebnicki said seasonal village employees could possibly use the bike fleet for small tasks that don't require a lot of equipment, like painting fire hydrants. They could also use the fleet to get back and forth between village hall on Madison Street and the public works building on South Boulevard.

Utilizing the village's proximity to public transit is also essential to any bike plan.

"Oak Park has great access to public transit," Jackson said, pointing out the fact that those in the village can bring their bikes onto any Pace, CTA and Metra transportation. "One of our questions is how can we enhance that bike/transit connection?"

The CBF will analyze the information gathered at last week's bike planning open house and workshop and work with the village to draft a master biking plan. They haven't designated any streets or areas as bike boulevards yet. It all depends on what studies result from discussions with businesses, village departments, and the community.

They hope to have the plan completed by Spring of 2008, when another public meeting is scheduled. Those involved will then compose a final report for recommendation by the village board later that spring.

"We really want to move ahead and continue to work toward a sustainable village, and bike planning is such an important part of that," Wielebnicki said.

Oak Park cyclists got the chance to speak their mind last Wednesday at a bike plan open house and workshop at the Oak Park Public Library.

Nick Jackson, deputy director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, separated the 50 or so bike enthusiasts in attendance into groups and gave them a blown-up map of the village to decorate with colorful stickers marking their favorite locations and routes to traverse by bike.

Group leaders then stood in front of the crowd to share some of their best ideas to strengthen Oak Park's bicycle friendliness in terms of safety, encouragement, and environment.

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