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Oak Park 3

Courtesy of Bill McKenna/Oak Park and Ferut Architect

Plans are in the works to add covered bike parking outside transit stations in Oak Park.(Planning illustration.)

These streets are made for walking - and biking

by Julie Davis
Apr 10, 2013

Oak Park

Julie Davis/MEDILL

Bike parking outside the a Chicago Transit Authority station in Oak Park allows commuters to leave the car at home.

Oak Park 2

Julie Davis/MEDILL

Wide and clearly marked crosswalks keep pedestrians safe.

If you want to bike or walk to work, Oak Park offers some of the safest streets in the country for your commute.

Oak Park ranks seventh in the nation for a policy that aims to protect the safety of all people who use the streets, whether they are walking, biking, driving or taking the bus.

The policy was rated in the top ranks by the National Complete Streets Coalitions based on strength in 10 selected areas. These include the use of the latest design guidelines, easy access for everyone who uses the roadway, and strategies for measuring success. Oak Park was then ranked alongside other communities who adopted polices in 2012. Some 125 communities initiated policies last year.

“We think about complete streets as an approach to making streets … basically and most fundamentally it’s a street that works for everybody who uses it,” said National Complete Streets Coalition representative Alex Dodds.

In order, the top seven Complete Streets Policies of 2012 were enacted by these communities:

1. Indianapolis, Ind.
2. Hermosa Beach, Calif. (tied)
2. Huntington Park, Calif. (tied)
4. Ocean Shores, Wash.
5. Northfield, Minn.
6. Portland, Maine
7. Oak Park, Ill.

Scores were weighted toward policies based on urban planning research.

This ranking is intended both to celebrate communities who have adopted Complete Streets and to provide examples to communities considering similar policies, according to coalition statement.

Oak Park enacted their Complete Streets policy in January 2012. Funding for drafting the policy came through a Model Communities grant from the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Oak Park’s policy calls for continuing progress on: new miles of on-street bicycle routes, new bicycle parking spaces and new or reconstructed accessible curb ramps among others. The town is already implementing the policies.

In all, seven suburban Chicago communities adopted Complete Streets Policies as a part of the grant program: Berwyn, Blue Island, Des Plaines, Forest Park, Hoffman Estates, Lemont, Oak Park. Oak Park received the highest score among them. But Oak Park was the only community included in the current ranking because the other communities enacted their policies before the cut-off date.  

The grant program provided workshops and guidance on policies for 38 communities.

The projects are all about giving suburban Cook County healthy choices, said Gina Massuda Barnett, with the Cook County Department of Public Health and director of the grant program. The program provided recipients a number of recommended policies to consider, among them Complete Streets.

“They were giving us support to make sure all of us were successful,” said Ellen McKenna, Oak Park's program manager for the project. “They showed us a lot of existing wordings from … other places that had success. You kinda got an idea of what was going to work for your community.”

Oak Park’s policy built on an existing bike lane plan the community put in place in 2008. McKenna said that the new policy fits well with Oak Park's existing plans.

Stefanie Seskin, national coalition deputy director said Complete Streets is all about "an incremental process. You think about the little things you can do every-time you touch a road and eventually the big projects catch up and you start to see bigger changes in the community.”

However tracking the effects of the policy on the health of the community will take more time.

Seskin said that recommending evaluation techniques is a challenge at the national level because there is so much variation in laws and governance structure from state to state.

“We’ve really focused in on trying to get the people who adopt policies to hold themselves accountable and to include their own kinds of performance measures that are important to them,” said Seskin. “Because ultimately Complete Streets is a local movement.”