“I think it’s great,” said Sharon Newton, while out rollerblading Aug. 7 on Van Buren Street between Ridgeland and Gunderson avenues. Newton and her daughter were taking advantage of “Slow Streets,” a new Oak Park initiative to give walkers, runners, riders more space to be outdoors during the endless pandemic.
Oak Park implemented the pilot program Aug. 3 with the public works department putting up barricades and signage to limit vehicular traffic on certain street areas. The “Slow Streets” program was pushed by local advocacy group Bike Walk Oak Park.
The pilot program stretches about five miles with portions of Van Buren, Kenilworth Avenue, Harvey Avenue and Thomas Street serving as “Slow Streets” corridors.
There are, of course, critics.
Lisa Reed, who lives on the corner of Wesley Avenue and Van Buren Street, called the program a “recipe for someone to get hurt” in a Facebook post.
“On our part of Van Buren, it doesn’t make any sense because we have a commercial area,” said Reed.
The proximity of Carnival Grocery, Kettlestrings Tavern, Margaritas Oak Park and other Oak Park Avenue businesses makes that section of Van Buren highly trafficked by delivery trucks, according to Reed.
“There’s a very busy alley right behind there with trucks going in and out all the time,” Reed said.
Reed believes the village executed the “Slow Streets” pilot poorly by including that section of Van Buren as a part of the program.
“Maybe it makes sense in other parts of Oak Park,” said Reed.
She also expressed disappointment that the village had not informed neighbors of the program’s implementation.
“On Monday morning, the barricades showed up,” said Reed. “But there was no communication. There was no email. There was no letter.”
Newton, who lives in northwest Oak Park, drove down with her young daughter to rollerblade on the designated “slow streets.” She would like to see the village widen the program.
“I’m hoping they move it up by us, then we won’t have to drive,” Newton said.
While some, including Village Engineer Bill McKenna, have voiced safety concerns about cars driving on designated “slow” streets, Newton said she hadn’t encountered more than a few cars.
“There’s been a few,” she said. “Some have pulled over, but they’ve all been good.”
Others have expressed their distaste for “Slow Streets” in a less than elegant fashion by tagging the signage with spray paint. Vandals graffitied signs at Grove Avenue and Van Buren, as well as other intersections along Jackson Boulevard west of Oak Park Avenue.
Lindsay Ambrose, who lives off Harvey and Van Buren, really likes having a portion of “Slow Streets” in her neighborhood.
“It feels good, especially for young [bicycle] riders,” said Ambrose, while out biking with her small children. “It’s nice just to have more space.”
Ambrose’s children also like the program; while Ambrose stopped to talk to Wednesday Journal, her son made use of the extra space by riding his bicycle in wide circles.
According to Ambrose, drivers have respected the “Slow Street” designation, lowering their speed accordingly.
“The signs help, I think,” Ambrose said.
Dima Ali, a mother of two who lives on Harvey Avenue, said she “loves” the “Slow Streets” program.
“I wish other streets could have this experience because it’s really nice,” Ali said.
Her neighbors also have expressed their support for the program, according to Ali.
“So far, I know all my neighbors are happy with it,” she said. “Online though… Online is a different story, especially on Facebook. People are not happy about it.”
Ali said she understands why some people might not like “Slow Streets” or see it as an inconvenience, but she feels “Slow Streets” has made her neighborhood safer for socially distanced outdoor recreation and exercise.
“I wish they did it earlier,” Ali said.
Since the shelter-in-place order, Ali said that people have driven at higher speeds in the area.
“They’re zooming. They don’t stop at stop signs because the streets were empty,” she said. “I feel like people are feeling safer now, especially when walking.”
Ali also said that having street access makes social distancing easier because, even while outside, she tries to avoid people not wearing masks.
Ali’s friend and Berwyn resident Beth Dougherty expressed a desire to have a “Slow Streets” program implemented in her neighborhood.
“I wish Berwyn would do this,” said Dougherty, who stopped by Ali’s for a socially distanced chat. “It’s fabulous.”