As advocates for the fair and safe use of friendly streets by all our neighbors who walk, roll, ride, and drive, Bike Walk Oak Park supports the Redevelopment of the Madison Street Public Infrastructure Plan, also known as the Madison Street Road Diet. Extending from Harlem to Austin, the plan would narrow Madison to three lanes (two lanes plus a left turn lane), improve parkways and crosswalks, and add bike lanes.

As a volunteer citizen group focused on safety for all on our streets, we would like to address specific points regarding this project.

Safety: Something we all can agree on. The data is unequivocal when it comes to safety: Road diets reduce crashes between 19 and 47 percent — 2015-17 police data shows nearly one crash per day on Madison in Oak Park. One of the primary ways road-narrowing projects make streets safer is by reducing average speeds. With four schools and two senior residences within one block of Madison, the safety of vulnerable pedestrians is at stake.

Potential traffic diversion into local side streets: This does indeed occur when there is too much average daily traffic on a street for a narrowing project to function, but that is not the case for Madison. The Federal Highway Administration has found that road-narrowing projects are appropriate for streets with Madison’s level of traffic. Some traffic diversion will happen, but other streets would be less convenient detours for most Madison drivers. Ridgeland handles similar traffic volumes without strong diversion patterns. 

Narrowing Madison to three lanes might cause traffic backups: Project traffic engineers say narrowing Madison would not significantly add time to the drive between Austin and Harlem. The Federal Highway Administration found that narrowing four lane streets with traffic volumes like Madison’s has little effect on travel times; in fact, clearing clogged travel lanes of left-turning traffic actually improves traffic flow.

Positive effects on local businesses: Road-narrowing projects help business districts succeed by making streets safer and more appealing. When paired with streetscape improvements (as the Madison Street project would be), road-narrowing projects create environments that people enjoy and are likely to attract new businesses. Businesses on Madison have consistently been in favor of such a plan during many years of study and community input.

Transparency and outreach: This plan has been in the making for more than eight years, and the village has held numerous public meetings and outreach events in relation to the activities of the Madison Streetscape Steering Committee (2010-2011), the preliminary traffic plan (2011), and the development and refinement of the plan currently under consideration (2012-2018).

A plan that makes Madison safer, more economically viable, and welcoming to walkers, cyclists, and drivers will benefit nearby residents and neighborhoods. Livable streets like the one proposed in the plan for Madison are one of the reasons why people choose to visit, live in, and invest in communities like Oak Park.

Brian Crawford and Jenna Holzberg are co-chairs and Rachel Poretzky is a member of Bike Walk Oak Park.

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