The controversial plan to overhaul a section of Madison Street drew another big crowd this week at a public meeting held Monday by the Oak Park village board.
The meeting follows a contentious community meeting held in early June at the Oak Park Public Library, where dozens showed up to voice both support and opposition to a plan that would reduce the number of lanes on Madison to three, and add a bend in a portion of the road near Madison and Oak Park Avenue that would make room for a large-scale commercial development.
The long discussed road diet proposal was approved last year by the village board, but the road bend proposal is still in the works and hinges on the involvement of an unnamed developer the village has yet to reveal.
That developer, according to Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, already has contracts for two buildings known as the Foley-Rice buildings – named after the former car dealer formerly located at the buildings – in the 600 block of Madison. That developer also has a contract on the Car-X Tire & Auto building at 700 Madison, Abu-Taleb explained to dozens of residents who attended the meeting.
Abu-Taleb said the project has the potential to generate $2.7 million annually in sales and property tax revenue. The existing properties bring in about $150,000 a year. He said that “without the bend, the developer can’t attract that central retailer. The entire road project with the bend is projected to cost $11.7 million.
The idea for the so-called “road diet” to narrow Madison Street and add bike lanes has been around for years, but recently a group of concerned residents have been outspoken against the plan, largely because of the potential for such a proposal to divert traffic into nearby neighborhoods.
Jason Wulkowicz, who lives on the 700 block of S. East Avenue, near the corner of East and Jackson, said he’s been negatively impacted by traffic on both Madison and in the adjacent neighborhoods. Wulkowicz said has grandfather and aunt were hit by a car crossing Madison Street near the Jewel-Osco, 438 Madison St., “and that led to my grandfather’s early death.”
He further testified that he currently is driving a rental car because his car was hit by a driver near his home.
“The woman who hit my car flipped over and was fortunately able to crawl out of her window and she’s fine, but this is incredibly important what we’re talking about in terms of safety,” he said. “I understand this is an economic development issue that’s sparking all of this, but the side streets definitely need help.”
He said he hears accidents outside his home on a weekly basis. He supported the project, but encouraged public officials to consider how the plan would impact the neighborhoods.
Village Engineer Bill McKenna said staff is reviewing whether establishing cul-de-sacs on arterial streets near the road bend would discourage traffic from moving through the neighborhoods.
Village planners and their consultants have argued that narrowing Madison Street would have the dual effect of slowing down cars moving through and attracting more shoppers to the area.
John Mac Manus, of the urban design company Altamanu, which has provided research for the road diet project, said Monday that narrowing the road would improve the livability and quality of life for residents, making it easier to cross Madison for school kids and reducing the number of car crashes and collisions between vehicles and bicyclists.
He said a cyclist hit by a car driving 30 mph has a 50 percent chance of surviving – that number drops to 10 percent for a car at 40 mph. McKenna said a speed study conducted in 2012 showed that cars on Madison drive an average of 34 to 37 mph.
While the proposal for the road bend is conceptual, time is of the essence in retaining the yet-to-be-named developer that wants to build there, according to Abu-Taleb. He and other officials emphasized also that the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance District, which currently holds about $8 million, is scheduled to expire in the next two years.
Resident and local developer Paul Zimmerman has suggested the TIF, which would be used to fund the Madison rehab, should be extended to also help attract businesses to the area once the project is complete. He pointed to the success of a TIF district in Berwyn that helped revitalize Roosevelt Road by providing incentives for businesses to open.
While the Monday meeting was informational – no vote was taken on any agenda items – trustees said it’s not residents last chance to have input on the project.
“This is not your only bite at the apple,” said Trustee Colette Lueck. “As [the road bend proposal] goes through the planned development process there will be ample opportunity for folks to have their say in what gets approved and what doesn’t.”