I want to summarize a few highlights of the IDOT-Village Board meeting of June 11. On one hand, it was great to see the room packed with Oak Parkers, despite the lack of air conditioning. On the other, the two dozen villagers who spoke all lived within a few blocks of the Eisenhower.
I would like to remind north Oak Parkers — in fact, anyone who commutes on the Ike into Chicago — that the inbound Ike from Austin eastward will not be expanded. Just the corridor that brings cars from the western suburbs through Oak Park will be expanded. This means that inbound traffic from Oak Park to Chicago will be worse than ever, because the volume of eastbound vehicles will increase.
Bottom line: IDOT says they have progressed through earlier planning stages and have narrowed the options down to five, each of which includes adding a new lane to the Ike in each direction from Austin to Mannheim. It is a fundamental problem that the definition of “success” for IDOT is to increase the number of vehicles driving in and out of Chicago. There was no discussion by IDOT about the environmental impact of increasing vehicle traffic through Oak Park, but the answer is pretty obvious. Air quality will be degraded and noise pollution will be worse. Seriously, does Chicago really need more vehicle traffic? Where will these cars park? The private corporation that owns Chicago’s extortionary parking meters must be thrilled by IDOT’s philosophy.
IDOT generates bogus statistics to “prove” that we need more lanes on the Ike. For example, they say the Blue Line operates at only 58 percent capacity. This is a bad thing? Obviously the Blue Line is packed (SRO) at rush-hour, but sure, at 2 a.m. the cars are pretty empty. This is like saying the Eisenhower only operates at 40 percent capacity because you could squeeze a lot more cars onto the road, although they would not move very fast.
The most outrageous statistical fabrication of the evening was the claim that IDOT had considered Blue Line extension but concluded that this would not decrease traffic on the Eisenhower! I know a lot of people with nightmare commutes on the Ike who would be very glad to have the option of an extended Blue Line. Not to mention that the Blue Line from the west could bring tourists into Oak Park for Wright/Hemingway/sushi, etc.
It is clear that public mass transit is the solution. Unfortunately, there is no political will to solve this problem. Travel to any of hundreds of cities around the U.S. and the world, and you will see what good mass transit looks like, and how much better it is than massive traffic congestion. In Osaka, Japan, we took the underground to a sumo wrestling match then realized we had left the camera at the hotel. We “rushed” back to get it, taking a taxi, but soon realized that the train would have been much faster!
Make mass transit safe, fast, efficient, clean, and reasonably priced, and this will become the overwhelming choice.
Tom DeCoursey is an Oak Park resident who lives near the Eisenhower and commutes to Chicago for work.