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Towards a quantitative petition process

A bit of backstory. There has been an ongoing debate in Oak Park that is older than me living here about speed bumps. Love them or hate them, they are sometimes an appropriate treatment for a street. The Transportation Commission I'm on has, in fact, recommended them previously within the village (prior to me serving). But the Village Trustees have voted against allowing that particular tool for a variety of reasons. 

But this post isn't about speed bumps, per se. It's about a collection of engineering tools we're not currently using in our community...but could. Oak Park has traditionally stuck to certain items and certain procedures for residents to get those items on their block. As other cities around the nation/world get much more experimental with their traffic planning, we now have data to use about what works and doesn't work so that Oak Park could expand our options. 

The desire to develop a "Traffic Calming Toolbox" has also given the Transportation Commission the opportunity to examine what other cities do for scoring how residents can ask their municipality for traffic control devices. In Oak Park, this currently involves using a petition signature requirement based on the percentage of frontage-feet owned for a given area. Once you meet the threshold number of signatures, the matter is studied, and the issue comes before the 7-person Transportation Commission for debate. If you want a stop sign, for instance, you get the names, public works collects traffic data for us, and we've been "eyeballing" whether it's a good idea using a combination of the data and public testimony. 

What we've been working on, however, is trying to be a bit more quantitative about the information we receive. We've always looked at speeding, traffic volume, and crash history to make our determination. But we're trying to develop those three categories into firmer observations about how much over the baseline those indicators are. For instance, it tells you little to know that an intersection had 3 crashes last year if you don't know how many crashes and cars the average village street sees. And that 2 of those crashes, perhaps, involved a bike or a child pedestrian. So we're developing a points system that also includes information on whether or not the street is a bike route, what kind of pedestrian traffic generators are in the area (schools, parks, business) and how much support the request is receiving from the community. (Does the petition come only/primarily from one block? Did the petitioners get signatures from the surrounding neighborhood? Are community groups backing the proposal?) 

Of course, much like we found when my job was scoring graduation tests for high school social sciences, it's nearly impossible for an issue to get 100%. To score highly on speeding, crashes, volume, have huge community support, be on a bike route...it would already be a traffic issue we would have noticed and taken care of! It would have to be the perfect storm of "traffic calming needed." And some of the most-obvious traffic calming situations of the recent past only scored, say, a 34 on our new system. So it's a work in progress. 

What several of us came away from last night feeling is that having a scorecard for petitions is perhaps more useful in targeting certain treatments to certain high scores in certain situations. The new Toolbox is probably going to be less useful as a simple threshold to achieve attention. It shouldn't be impossible to bring matters before the commission. On the other side, it should also be obvious to the customer--the residents--how they can go about getting the desired traffic calming measures. You want a stop sign? Here's how you'd go about it and what kind of situation we'd need to see before we would approve it; e.g., here's what your speeding situation will need to look like to get x or y on your block.

One final note...we're not looking, at the moment, at the petition itself for anything more than numbers of signatures. There are obvious shortcomings with the process in my opinion. Not the least of which is that home owners with larger lots need fewer signatures from neighbors to meet the signature minimum. If you live in an area with many large, single family homes it is a vastly different situation for you than multifamily dwellings or smaller homes on smaller lots. 

In the end, my hope is that we come away from creating the Traffic Calming Toolbox with some new and cutting edge tools. A few features that other cities use are obviously not a great fit here. We're not going to have large roundabouts in Oak Park. But there are some creative options that we could use to really be at the front of the pack...a place I don't feel like we're at today. 

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