In a rare moment of efficiency and foregoing the usual angry discourse characteristic of this particular group of elected officials, the Oak Park village board of trustees moved forward on several agenda items during a July 6 remote meeting, including deciding to delay further Lake Street construction in the Hemingway District until after Labor Day to provide extended time for outdoor restaurant dining.
In a quick turnaround, the board took the recommendation of the Transportation Commission and voted 6-1 to implement the temporary “Slow Streets” plan in a pilot capacity; the commission heard the proposal first June 9.
“Slow Streets,” known as “Shared Streets” in Chicago and other communities, limits vehicular traffic with signage and barricades on certain streets to enable greater social distancing opportunities while walking, exercising and bicycling outdoors.
“The main benefit is we’re seeing so many more people biking and walking,” said Transportation Commission Chair Ron Burke. “People are home more and they’re looking for more opportunities to bike and walk more than they used to.”
The program is entirely transitory in nature, devised to give citizens greater outdoor recreational and exercise opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, and designed to be easily undone.
“If the board doesn’t like it, you can always take it away,” said Burke. “But we think it’s going to be quite popular.”
“Slow Streets” does not necessitate any full closures of streets. Rather, “Slow Streets” restricts automotive traffic in cordoned areas to people who live in the neighborhood, as well as delivery and emergency vehicles. Burke recommended using the honor system to enforce “Slow Streets.”
The Transportation Commission recommended a five-mile looped network of streets to serve as the pilot program; Burke suggested taking an incremental approach to “Slow Streets,” implementing one section of streets at a time.
“If it goes well, you can always extend it,” Burke told the board.
Village Engineer Bill McKenna had a laundry list of staff concerns, including safety and enforcement, as well as on street parking.
“We have a hard time enforcing partial street closures on roads to traffic,” said McKenna. “If we’re encouraging people to use those spaces, especially kids that may not be necessarily paying attention to cars, that then creates safety concerns.”
For police, McKenna said enforcement of the partially closed roads will be “problematic;” both Burke and Bike Walk Oak Park, the advocacy group that created the original proposal, want people to use the honor system instead of having police enforcement.
Staff also had concerns about maintaining signage, as well as street barricades, of which several hundred would be used for “Slow Streets,” McKenna said.
According to McKenna, barricades tend to get moved around and staff did not want people to use them to have unofficial block parties.
The cost of barricade rentals also concerned staff.
“We did get a quote from a traffic control company for the rental of the barricades and for fabricating some of those signs for the COVID-19 pandemic,” said McKenna. “It was just under $60,000.”
Finally, staff was concerned with how to balance adequately informing residents and the desire to quickly implement “Slow Streets” before the bad weather shuts down outdoor activity.
“We see the concerns, which are legitimate, that Bill outlined are not really coming to fruition in cities with these programs,” said Burke.
Several cities across the United States have implemented “Slow Streets” or a similar program, including Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Minneapolis and, of course, Chicago.
“Across the board, they’re popular with the public,” said Burke.
Burke also said McKenna’s quote was “really on the high side;” the Transportation Commission estimates it would cost $7,500 to $10,000 a month for the recommended five miles.
The village board was widely in support of “Slow Streets,” save Trustee Dan Moroney who was resoundingly against it and said it gave people a “false sense of security.”
Public Works Director John Wielebnicki told Wednesday Journal his department will be getting more price quotes from different companies.
According to Wielebnicki, the route will start on the south section of Madison Street on Kenilworth Avenue extend to Van Buren Street then to either Lombard or Harvey Avenues and loop north back to Madison Street.
“We’re going to look at either Lombard or Harvey as the eastern edge,” Wielebnicki said.
The village board also voted to implement a daytime residential parking permit program for both Oak Park and non-Oak Park businesses, as the enforcement of parking restrictions will go back into effect July 13. The measure passed 6-1, with Trustee Arti Walker-Peddkotla casting the dissenting vote.
Licensed Oak Park businesses, including contractors, can purchase a parking permit for $124 a year able to be used to park as many as five vehicles. The board voted to expand it to businesses outside of Oak Park but at a higher rate of $155 for five vehicles per year.