The Community Room at River Forest Village Hall was packed March 15 as the Traffic and Safety Commission addressed concerns raised by residents about controversial changes to streets in the northeast section of the village.  

Most seats were filled and several others were standing at the back of the room and along the walls as commissioners heard from residents about the modifications.

Last October, the village board authorized the modifications to address concerns raised at meetings of the River Forest Traffic and Safety Commission and the village board over cut-through traffic from Harlem and North avenues. 

Implemented in late November and early December, the changes affected LeMoyne Street, Bonnie Brae Place, Clinton Place, William Street and Greenfield Street.

The vast majority of the more than 30 residents and business owners who spoke at the three-hour long meeting March 15 were against some or all of the changes, although several residents spoke in favored of the modifications. Most of those who spoke during the two-hour long public comment portion of the meeting identified themselves as longtime residents of the village. 

In his opening remarks, commission Chairman Doug Rees thanked those residents in attendance in person and via Zoom and said traffic issues in the northeast section of the village have been discussed “for at least 10 years.”

He defended the commission’s actions, saying feedback from “eight or 14 individuals who attended three meetings” were the basis of the recommendations to the village board.

“Now we have the other side,” Rees said. “We’re all neighbors here. Let’s try to find something that maybe works for the majority of the village.” 

Changes ranged from installing cul-de-sacs on Bonnie Brae and Clinton to adding and moving stop signs at several intersections. In addition, sections of Greenfield and LeMoyne were converted to a one-way eastbound streets with right-turn-only curb diverters to allow for only southbound turns onto Harlem Avenue. 

Concerns were raised about an upsurge in traffic in alleys, an overall increase in traffic, increased difficulty in driving to and from their homes, speeding cars and drivers ignoring stop signs and going around barriers designed to create cul-de-sacs. 

Several people suggested erecting additional stop signs and installing speed bumps or speed humps as alternatives to the modifications.

Owners of businesses on North Avenue said the changes are impacting access for their patients and customers, making it challenging to navigate streets and difficult to find legal parking.

In addition, many claimed proper notice of the changes was not provided and questioned the decision of the commissioners to not follow recommendations of a traffic study by Kenig, Lindgren, O’Hara and Aboona Inc. (KLOA) of the area bounded by North, Harlem, Greenfield Street and Lathrop Avenue.

“Ninety percent of the time we listen to what the consultants have to say,” Rees said in explaining why the commissioners did not follow the KLOA recommendations. “This time we did not, because a constituency in this room had opinions based on their specific experiences.

“As a commission, we decided to take a step further.”

Jeff Loster, director of public works and development services, defended the efforts by village staff to provide notice, saying postcards to residents had been mailed and numerous announcements were provided in the village website and through the village e-mailed newsletter.

Residents raised similar concerns during the public comment portion of both village board meetings in February and again at the March 13 meeting.

Although in the minority, several residents said they saw a decrease in traffic following implementation of the modifications.

Speakers on both sides of the debate stressed their desire for slower traffic and safer streets, with many citing concerns about their children playing in their front yards. 

During discussion following the close of the resident comment portion, commissioners March 15 debated possible changes they might recommend to the village board, but they ultimately decided to refrain from making most. 

The exception was a 4-1 vote to support Rees’ motion to recommend to the village board that two-way traffic be reinstated on Greenfield Street and LeMoyne Parkway between Harlem Avenue and the alley, and that southbound traffic on Harlem Avenue be allowed to make right turns onto those two streets. John Osga cast the dissenting vote.

In response to comments from several residents indicating confusion over whether the modifications made in November and December were permanent or temporary, commissioners agreed to communicate to the village board their belief that the changes are temporary and that no decision will be made until after the village-wide traffic study currently underway is complete and a report issued. 

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