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The village should listen to its own study

Opinion: Columns

December 11th, 2018 1:06 PM

By Jerry Bowman

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On Nov. 26, a sharply divided village board approved the Madison Road Diet. Three trustees voted against the proposal. Trustees Button, Taglia and Tucker and the mayor voted in favor.

Much of the debate among board members focused on a new 300-plus-page traffic study, commissioned by the village and finalized only a week before the meeting. Here are some of its key findings:

Under Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) guidelines, Madison is not a good candidate for a road diet because its traffic volume is too great. The FHWA places roads that are candidates for road diet into four categories, ranging from "great" to a very tepid category 4. That category applies to roads with an average daily traffic volume greater than 20,000. Madison's average is well above that at just under 25,000 (p. 25).

 The traffic study goes on to consider peak hour traffic volumes (p. 24). For roads with peak-hour traffic volumes above 875, "the feasibility of a road diet is less likely." According to the study, Madison traffic volumes range from 725 to 1,187, well above the "less likely" number.

So what will a slimmer Madison result in? Again, the village's own report provides an answer:

 Intersections on Madison will degrade. Intersections are graded on a scale of A to F (p. 28). Madison intersections are currently graded "D or better" (p. 29). After the road diet, numerous intersections will degrade to a grade of E or F. An F intersection is described as, "The volume-to-capacity ratio is very high, progression [i.e., traffic flow] is very poor, and the cycle length [to clear the intersection] is long. Most cycles fail to clear the queue" (p. 28). In other words, at "most" times, people will not be able to get through the intersection in a single red-green signal cycle.

 Key north-south streets like Ridgeland and Oak Park Avenue will also see delays at the Madison intersections (p. 30). The Oak Park Avenue intersection, for example, will move from a C intersection to "E/F" (p. 30). Lines on Madison at that intersection are projected to extend east past Wesley Avenue (p. 35).

The village's consultant and author of the report also conceded that he and the village had no data or projections on diversions from Madison along the residential north-south side streets. South of Madison, these streets are almost entirely residential, but the village and its consultant did not study how many drivers will turn down these streets to avoid the degraded intersections on Madison. One trustee noted this and said that he expected a parade of citizens coming to future board meetings seeking cul-de-sacs and other control measures. I am sure he is correct.

Equally alarming, the consultant conceded that "minor" accidents on Madison will actually increase with a road diet!

This brand new study has convinced me that we are moving ahead with a multimillion-dollar project unsupported by the data. Yes, we need action on Madison. Yes, we need to revitalize that business district. Yes, we need enhanced safety measures at Madison intersections. But all of this can be done without a road diet "less likely to succeed." And all of this can be done without diverting traffic past schools on Washington and Jackson or down residential streets filled with young children. As a dissenting trustee pointed out, we in Oak Park need to make data-based decisions. The village board failed that test.

Jerry Bowman is a lifelong resident of Oak Park.