Study Backs Creating Oakton 'Road Diet' -

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There are many opponents to creating a permanent "road diet" on Oakton Street in Skokie, but the way the situation seems to be developing, those opponents are going to have to beat back a major part of the village's hierarchy to keep Oakton Street the way it is.

At Tuesday's meeting at Skokie's Public Library, village staff announced that after analyzing the data collected from the road diet experiment earlier this year, they thought limiting Oakton to one lane would work better for businesses and pedestrians.

"The program actually works," said Pete Peyer, the village's director of community development. "It would be possible to narrow the roadway to two lanes."

Read more: Road Diet eats at patience of residents, business owners

Supporting the recommendation was the Skokie Chamber of Commerce, the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie and the District 69 school system.

The next step in the process is an Oct. 17 village board meeting during which residents will be able air their concerns.

It work is a continuation of the May 9-June 21 trial run, which had the village put up traffic barricades to narrow Oakton Street between Long and LaCrosse avenues to get an idea how a "road diet" would work. The idea behind a road diet is to ease traffic, improve pedestrian safety and create a more positive atmosphere for local businesses to entice more customers.

During the six-week test period, the Gewalt Hamilton engineering firm studied the patterns on Oakton Street as well as other neighboring corridors where temporary barricades were placed.

Highlights of its report include:

  • Traffic was reduced 10-17 percent on Oakton during the 5–6 p.m. peak period and 6-11 percent daily. Also, actual drive times on Oakton was about a minute longer under normal conditions.
  • Six fewer accidents occurred on Oakton as compared to the same period last year.
  • 67 additional parking spaces would be created.
  • Travel times on neighboring streets were not significantly increased.

A Gewalt Hamilton engineer said roughly 714,000 automobiles went through Oakton during the trial period.

However, Peyer said village received 96 calls about narrowed roadway, with only 4 percent being positive. In regards to the e-mails received on the issue, 21 percent of the 82 messages were in favor of the new traffic pattern.

Now the village has gone out and is getting the opinion of the people directly affected by the proposal, which would cost more than $6.2 million to implement using tax increment finance (TIF) revenue. Even if the new traffic pattern isn't adopted, Peyer said $4.6 million will be spent to repave Oakton and make other improvements, such as new landscaping and lighting.

Business owners for the plan

Among the proponents for the plan was Randy Miles, the owner of the Village Inn, which is just a couple of blocks away from the proposed road diet. He is also president of the Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie.

"I think a bold project is what is necessary for Oakton Street," Miles said, noting he has seen five redevelopment plans for Oakton come and go. "This will enhance the ability for our residents to get to our downtown via the bicycle and walking and parking in the downtown area."

Miles did acknowledge he was concerned about the additional parking spaces being too far west of Lincoln Avenue and would not add value to the road diet. He also had additional concerns about turning lanes to prevent backups.

To that end, Peyer said the proposal would have some tweaks if trustees were to move forward.

But detractors were out in force as they considered the proposal ill-advised.

"If this were 1980, this might be a great idea," said resident Jim DiMaria. "But we have to quit trying to fight yesterday's battles. Downtown Skokie is not where people shop from here forward. It is not going to happen. It is not coming back. People go online, they go to malls and they go to big box [stores]."

A different perspective

Another resident Gregg Schneider said the matter should be placed in front of voters via a referendum instead of basing a decision on the feedback the village had received.

"To base your assumptions on the 1 percent that are calling in is not a fair assumption," Schneider said.  "Businesses and residents have equal rights in the village.

"Certain concessions should be made to businesses but the residents are the lifeblood of this village. This will really inconvenience the entire village by doing this," he added. 

Village Manager Al Rigoni emphasized that officials did not put any pressure on Gewalt Hamilton to come up with certain findings.

"We wanted it to be completely objective," he said. "We suspected there was going to some degree of difference of opinion. So we said you are the experts and you have done this in other towns, and they understand the concept of the road diet. Tell us what data you need to give us the results."

Gewalt Hamilton could receive the contract if a road diet were to be implemented.

But as of now, the matter will head to the village board's Oct. 17 meeting in what is likely to be a spirited hearing. Expecting a large turnout, the session has been moved to the library to accommodate more people.

Whether the trustees will vote on the proposal that night remains up in the air. However, if they do decide to move forward, the program could go into place as soon as next summer.

Regardless of how trustees move forward, Rigoni was pleased to have the traffic data on hand.

"Having the data as fine tuned as they did is very helpful to get your mind around this whole matter," he said. "This is not a simple matter."

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29 Sep, 2011

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