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Neighborhood greenways & bike share station sites

It was our first Transportation Commission meeting in about 3 months last night and the topic was more of a Q&A session with planners rather than anything we were directly voting on to advise policy. We seven members gave feedback to staff as we move forward in the process of two bike-related items. The Village of Oak Park had the advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance (ATA) consult on a study for cycling in the community.

Neighborhood Greenways--
The first part of the presentation from ATA was a recommendation on how to implement neighborhood greenways. For those not familiar, these are different from bike lanes in that they try to appeal to more hesitant and vulnerable bicyclists. If the stated goal is to make streets appealing for cycling from ages 8-80, the target user here is someone who does not feel comfortable on a busier arterial street.

Neighborhood greenways take calmer, residential streets and reduce traffic volume/speed even further by giving priority to bikes. This can be done using pavement marking, signalizing intersections, signs, infrastructure improvements, etc.. So ATA laid out a designed network of roads that the village can then install as much or little as necessary to achieve our goals. It's essentially a toolbox of elements to create our unique system. That can be closing off entire roads to cars in the future. Or as simple as lowering the speed limit on greenway streets. The recommendations are specific by street and intersection...so, for instance, Oak Park has a few offset intersections where a bike-specific left turn lane (painted green) is suggested. Or a one-way street for autos is recommended to get a two-way cycletrack (against the one-way auto traffic) to allow the greenway to continue. In-pavement detectors can activate flashing beacons to warn motorists of bikes crossing. And green paint can guide bikes through busy intersections.

Overall, it was a very impressive and thorough presentation. I have very little to say in the negative about it. I'd like to see it done exactly as it was shown. It's awesome.

Divvy bike share stations-
The selection of Divvy bike stations is a bit of a different beast. Though the presentation was just as impressive and complete from Active Trans. They used community input, data from Chicago's ongoing bike share system, and analysis of Oak Park demographics to propose specific bike share station locations down to the exact spot. It was totally quant-driven, geeked out, and hard to argue against financially.

For those needing the backstory, the Chicago suburbs of Evanston and Oak Park received grant funding to expand Chicago's bike share (called Divvy). The rules of the grant are that it must help with "last mile" transit access. Evanston, I believe, is starting even smaller despite having a larger area...8 stations? Oak Park has decided to take 12 with the idea that we can support 80% of the funding comfortably to make them successful in the first phase before possible future phases.

The problem, as we discovered last night, is that when you put the numbers in the magic formula...the density required to support Divvy is mainly along already-served corridors in the downtown and transit-heavy rail areas. In light of current village talk about economic development to "ignored" neighborhood business districts, it pits financial feasibility against geographic fairness.

In my mind, it's hard to explain to already-under-served sections of our community why they need to be purposefully under-served for bike share station siting...because...they're too ignored? The whole topic brings up interesting discussions about who will use bike share, why, what the goals are, and how it fits into the larger network of village transportation. The easy answer is, of course, that whatever is viable is what is viable. Dollars rule. But that doesn't necessarily sit well with this commissioner when we're talking about a publicly-funded system that needs to have some equity to its distribution.

Don't get me wrong, Active Trans was right on target with their analysis of factors like racial and economic makeup and are leading the charge to get bike networks distributed to low income areas. They did nothing wrong other than state the obvious...money follows money. If we want bike share to be successful in Oak Park it only makes sense to guarantee that via stations near large groups of likely riders. My complaint with the plan is that maybe it's not forward-thinking enough in being too safe. 12 stations is such a small number. But asking for more is risking cold hard cash. Especially if the coverage from more stations would be in areas less likely to have high bike share turnover. What we really need is Phase II rolled into Phase I.

What I'd really like to see, possibly, is a long list of future sites so that as stations need to be moved or added we have a rolling list of "next." I hope Divvy ends up being as wildly successful here as it is in Chicago. And safe. But right now there are a lot of knowns and unknowns that make the whole thing difficult to predict.


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