We’re looking hard for the upsides to the COVID-19 pandemic and we’ve found one in Oak Park’s nascent Slow Streets project. The pilot launched a week ago, covers five miles of an interior rectangle east to west, north to south. Cars, local traffic only, is allowed but their preeminence is diminished in favor of rollerbladers, skateboarders, joggers, kids on bikes and strollers.
The idea is to clear outdoor spaces across the neighborhoods where people can get some air, some exercise while maintaining essential social distancing. The notion has gained traction across the world as people came quickly to appreciate streets not clogged with cars as quarantine kept drivers home. A reclaiming of the crowded public way took hold across Europe and in some American cities.
In this village, an advocacy group called Bike Walk Oak Park advocated with the Transportation Commission to test the idea here. It was welcomed by the advisory commission, accepted by the village board as a test, and quickly implemented by an overworked public works department.
Not everyone is a fan. And no plan is perfect. During the Journal’s informal survey along a slow street in south Oak Park, a resident argued that its proximity to the commercial strip on the 800 block of South Oak Park Avenue would lead to a dangerous tangle with delivery trucks. We could see that happening. A happier camper out rollerblading with her daughter said they’d seen few cars and all of them moved slowly and carefully around fellow travelers.
We hope that when this pilot ends, as the weather turns, village officials will be in a mood to refine and expand Slow Streets next spring and not to just shut it down. We could all do with some reimagining of how we move through this town, the priorities we put on various means of transit.
Slow Streets is both simple and profound. Let it grow.