Having already gone through a sizeable chunk of the 228-page, 5-year recommended Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) during its Sept. 15 meeting, the Oak Park Finance Committee met Sept. 27, with some village trustees in attendance, to tackle the remainder of the CIP, such as water, parking, sustainability, and community development block grants (CDBG) funds.
During discussions of the sustainability fund, Trustee Susan Buchanan, who attended the meeting but is not a member of the Finance Committee, shared her frustration that the long-awaited and pushed-for Greenways Plan, which is listed as “Bicycle Boulevards” in the CIP document, was not closer to being implemented.
“I’m feeling impatient about it,” Buchanan said. “The Greenways program is now 6 years old.”
The plan was created in 2015 by the Active Transportation Alliance and backed by Bike Walk Oak Park, a community organization advocating safe spaces for cycling and pedestrians. Bike Walk is in the process of becoming a registered 501c3 nonprofit.
For several years, the project has been placed on the backburner, relegated to low priority status within the CIP. This year, the recommended CIP plan has listed its priority status as “D,” meaning the project is “optional but beneficial to the village in social, cultural or aesthetic ways.” A “D” designation is the second lowest priority ranking.
As a bicyclist herself, Buchanan told the board she would really like to have a safe route to ride up to downtown Oak Park and to village board meetings. She wanted the village board to consider a pilot program of protected bike lanes — with one going north to south and the other going east to west.
She said the village has not made enough progress to create safer spaces for cyclists, other than the bicycle lanes put on the Madison Street, but she hasn’t seen any other byways to ride in the village.
“I would really like to push on this for climate change, for safety,” she said.
Trustee Ravi Parakkat, misunderstanding Buchanan, initially disagreed with his fellow trustee’s desire to make bicycle paths a higher priority, given that the costs of implementing them would come out of the revenue accrued by the single-use bag fee, which supports the sustainability fund.
“I’d like to push back on that,” Parakkat told Buchanan. “We would probably have to find funds elsewhere.”
Buchanan said she did not mean to sound like she was in favor of using the sustainability fund. She has maintained that stance since November of 2020 when she voted against utilizing the plastic bag tax revenue to fund Greenways, believing the program should fall under the umbrella of transportation instead of sustainability.
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, also not a member of the Finance Committee, agreed with Buchanan but did not care where the funds came from.
“We urgently need this,” said Walker-Peddakotla, adding it should be included in the discussions of the Transportation Commission work plan. “We need to get Greenways implemented in Oak Park and it shouldn’t be a matter of we’re still in the planning process on this.”
The village board will meet virtually this Thursday with the Finance Committee, wherein it will present a shortened review of the CIP components and the associated funding recommendations to board members. No vote will be taken, but direction will be provided to staff.