The Oak Park Transportation Commission will meet for the first time in months on June 9 to hear a proposal for the implementation of “Slow Streets” within the village. “Slow Streets” is a temporary program intended to enable greater social distancing opportunities while outside walking, biking and exercising by allowing only local automotive traffic, emergency vehicles and deliveries on certain streets.

Full closure of streets is not required, nor advocated for, in the “Slow Streets” proposal, which was created by the advocacy group Bike Walk Oak Park [BWOP].

“Slow Streets is not intended to be a permanent thing,” said BWOP member Jenna Holzberg. “This is a temporary thing that’s really in response to COVID and opening up space for people to have more room to get exercise and be outside comfortably among each other without congregation.”

BWOP recommends the commission designate all village greenspaces as “Slow Streets” until Oak Park enters phase five of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan, created to safely reopen the state after COVID-19 prompted widespread closures.

With the village already in phase three, BWOP would like to see “Slow Streets” implemented in Oak Park with celerity.

“This is a very time-sensitive initiative,” said Holzberg. “This is an initiative that has the potential to have a positive effect on the community between spring and early fall. After that you’re going to get crappy weather where people aren’t going to want to be outside.”

The “Slow Streets” proposal includes two suggested street networks mapped out by BWOP members and Franny C. Ritchie, assistant urban development director at University of Illinois at Chicago.

The execution of “Slow Streets” poses no real threat to the village of Oak Park’s financial state, nor does it require any additional policing.

“It’s very low to no cost to actually implement this – some temporary signage, some traffic horses, maybe some signs that say, ‘Yield to pedestrian traffic,'” Holzberg said.

She believes the Public Works Department may have traffic horses and signs in storage, making the implementation of “Slow Streets” easier.

“There’s going to be absolutely no policing of this. Nor should there. We’re not advocating for that in any way,” Holzberg said. “We want to make sure people feel comfortable using the streets.”

Despite the uncomplicated nature of the program, Holzberg fears government bureaucracy will inhibit the progress of putting “Slow Streets” into effect.

“If the project unfolds according to the typical timelines within the village, this could take several months for this to get approved,” she said.

According to Holzberg, village staff have expressed hesitation in moving forward with “Slow Streets.”

“Village staff are nervous. This is through email communication that I’ve received from commissioners,” she said. “I haven’t necessarily spoken directly with village staff members. There’s hesitation to do this.”

Holzberg thinks staff will do a pilot program on a weekend, when people spend the most time outdoors.

Reluctance to move forward with the project, she believes, boils down to a potential lack of understanding.

“There needs to be greater understanding of what Slow Streets actually is, what it entails and how easy you can put it into effect and also to take it away,” she said. “We’re not asking for permanent infrastructure.”

Many countries and U.S. cities, including Dallas and San Francisco, have already put “Slow Streets” into effect. The Oak Park proposal contains information regarding the methods other communities have used to implement “Slow Streets.”

While not included in the proposal, BWOP members do not oppose using the program to broaden outdoor dining opportunities in addition to giving residents more space to safely exercise outdoors.

“We are fully in support of that,” Holzberg said.

Holzberg sees only benefits and no drawbacks to implementing “Slow Streets.”

“This is an opportunity to create more positivity within the community.”


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