Oak Park is known for its architecture, but those who spend much time in the village have come to know it even better for its traffic. The intersection of Austin Boulevard and Madison Street has the capability of making a person 10, even 15 minutes late to their destination, even if the commuter left with plenty of time to spare – all because the traffic lights lack a left turn signal.
Wednesday Journal reached out to Village Engineer Bill McKenna to discover why the village of Oak Park has denied drivers the opportunity to safely, and also legally, turn left. His answer was simple.
“The traffic signal at Austin and Madison is owned and under the City of Chicago’s jurisdiction,” said McKenna.
Even the earliest of birds are denied the worm when it comes to that intersection. At certain times of the day, drivers can sit through multiple cycles of red light, yellow light, green light and never find a window in the traffic allowing them time enough to make the otherwise basic left turn.
More often than not, drivers end up running the red as a last resort, basically within full view of the police department, conveniently located on Madison Street steps away from the intersection in question. Having a left turn signal would seem to make sense, but McKenna shared the reasoning behind not having one.
“Typically, this is to allow for more through traffic to flow through the intersection,” he said, noting that in Chicago lots of intersections do not have dedicated left turn signals.
While not under the control of the village of Oak Park, McKenna said the intersection, along with accident data, would be evaluated as part of its post-road diet traffic study of Madison Street later this fall and winter. If the study finds a left turn signal warranted, then the village would bring that determination to the city of Chicago for discussion, according to the village engineer.
“Adding a left turn signal here would require signal improvements and there currently are no funds budgeted for signal improvements at this intersection,” said McKenna.
The village engineer did not foresee the city of Chicago having any concerns about adding a left turn signal at the Madison Street and Austin Boulevard “if it was needed and should the village agree to pay for it.” He noted that the addition of a left turn signal is nothing as simple as flipping a switch.
“It would potentially require full replacement of the traffic signal at the intersection which could cost $400,000 so this would be a budgetary concern for the village and only be recommended if needed from a safety or traffic congestion standpoint,” said McKenna.
To date, the village has not received any complaints from drivers about the lack of a left turn signal, according to McKenna. However, complaints have been made verbally, at least by this reporter, while waiting for an opportunity to turn left onto Madison Street and then again upon entering the newsroom to find solace in the commiseration of colleagues.
To file a more formal complaint, drivers can swing by village hall, at 123 Madison St., on the off chance the traffic eases up to allow cars to make a left turn.