Bicycle boulevards, Greenways, whatever – the plan to have a network of streets made safer for pedestrians and cyclists has once again become a major topic of conversation for the Oak Park village board.
The Greenways Plan was the star of the village board’s Oct. 4 meeting, during the board’s overview of the recommended capital improvement plan (CIP). In Trustee Susan Buchanan’s absence, board members shared lots of opinions on the plan – from its funding, to its end goal and whether the Transportation Commission should get another crack at it.
“Bike lanes in our community take away parking, so we have to keep that in the back of our minds,” said Public Works Director John Wielebnicki.
The recommended CIP designated $165,000 from the sustainability fund and $35,000 from the main CIP fund to construct bicycle lanes, the first improvements to create a network of 18 streets in Oak Park, with the village implementing the entire plan in sections based on priority. Costs include paint, signage and striping.
The first area set to get the better bicycle treatment is near Oak Park and River Forest High School, as many students ride bikes to and from school. That first leg of the project will be implemented at Ontario Street from Kenilworth Avenue to Scoville Avenue, then Scoville Avenue to Lake Street to Chicago Avenue, according to Village Engineer Bill McKenna.
“That’s what that $200,000 budget amount represents,” said McKenna.
McKenna told the village board that staff first established a bike plan in 2008 that identified a bike boulevard network throughout the village. That original plan, which did not include designated bike lanes, was supplemented by the Greenways Plan in 2014. The identified street networks consist of mostly residential streets with relatively low volumes of auto traffic to promote bike traffic.
The proposed network of streets had a lot of options for improvements that were studied, resulting in a wide price range for implementing the whole 18-mile network, varying from about $750,000 to about $3.5 million, according to McKenna.
Echoing Wielebnicki, McKenna warned that protected bicycle lanes will limit parking.
“We just don’t have wide enough streets throughout town to allow for a bike lane, traffic lanes and on-street parking,” said McKenna.
Village staff recommended sending the bike plan back to the Transportation Commission for further review on the parking situation. The Transportation Commission would also be prevailed upon to identify where to implement the second tier of the project, which McKenna believes would be built in 2023.
Having recently joined the board and as such not been involved in the numerous discussions about bicycle boulevards and the Greenways Plan that have taken place over several years, Trustee Lucia Robinson found the purpose of the project unclear.
“Are we trying to reduce vehicular bicycle accidents? Are we trying to just establish these streets, these thoroughfares with bike lanes?” Robinson asked.
Robinson was curious to know if the village had given any consideration to whether the Greenways program would enhance bike safety by reducing the number of bike accidents.
“It seems to me that those dollars are better spent with that goal in mind,” she said. “So, if that could be woven into this, then I have a greater level of comfort in sending this back to the Transportation Commission.”
Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla asked the village to reframe, from a policy perspective, what the village board and staff define as critical, core infrastructure. Mentioning something called a “vision zero plan,” which is meant to reduce bicycle and pedestrian accidents to zero for an entire year, Walker-Peddakotla felt Oak Park should think about its roadways as complete streets. Not from a vehicle first perspective.
“Complete streets are streets that are thought holistically about, that are designed to be safe and accessible for pedestrians, for bicyclists, for people who need adapted infrastructure,” said Walker-Peddakotla, adding that complete streets also considered public transportation and accessibility, as well as vehicles.
The concept of a complete street was taken into account in the Greenways Plan, according to Walker-Peddakotla. For this reason, she asked the board to consider bumping up the project’s priority rating in the CIP. The Greenways Plan, under the name “Bicycle Boulevards” in the CIP, is currently rated “D.”
“I would ask that we up that priority rating so that it falls under the core infrastructure rating of ‘A’ and ‘B,’ so that we are thinking of bike and pedestrian safety,” said Walker-Peddakotla. “I agree with sending it back to the Transportation Commission.”
Believing parking an issue of equity, Trustee Ravi Parakkat cautioned the board to strike a balance between removing parking and creating bike lanes.
“I agree with that, which is why I think the Transportation Commission can do that hard thinking for us,” said Walker-Peddakotla, with a laugh.
The board agreed to send the plan back to the Transportation Commission for further review.
While advocating for the Greenways project, some trustees have expressed displeasure that village staff recommended using the sustainability fund to pay for it. Instead, they believe the village should use the main CIP fund to cover project costs, considering it a matter of transportation rather than sustainability. Sustainability funds, they believe, should be used on strictly environmental initiatives.
Village President Vicki Scaman felt otherwise as the sustainability fund, with some money from the main CIP fund, could cover this year’s costs. In future years, the main CIP fund will handle the rest of the Greenways costs.
Scaman was unable to sway the board, which preferred to take $200,000 total out of the main CIP fund for the project, foregoing the plan to use the sustainability fund.
The village board will vote to accept the entire CIP plan Oct. 18.