A car isn’t the only way to get around town, and Forest Park is working to accommodate the alternatives. Last month, the village council unanimously passed a resolution that will promote road safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transportation riders. The new policy, called Complete Streets, is part of a national initiative to make roads more usable for all transportation options.
The resolution is meant to serve as a guide for officials and contractors when they plan future road and transportation improvements, said Tom Mannix, commissioner of streets and public improvement.
The effort began as part of Forest Park’s Model Communities grant, an offshoot of the Cook County Department of Public Health’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work program. Funding for the project comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In addition to improving safety, the resolution aims to improve the health of the community by reducing air pollution from fossil fuels and encouraging physical activity by making active, healthy transportation choices safer and more convenient.
According to a report published last year by the Cook County Department of Public Health, obesity is rampant in suburban Cook County. It states that 40 percent of children and over 50 percent of adults in the area are overweight or obese, and predicts that obesity will soon pass tobacco as the leading cause of death. More days of school are missed by obese children than their slimmer peers, according to the report, and they risk an increased likelihood of developing diseases such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes.
One of the causes identified in the report is a sedentary lifestyle. It refers to a 2009 study that shows diabetes levels falling as much as 38 percent in communities with access to safe sidewalks, parks, and good public transportation. The antidote, the report suggests, is to support alternatives to driving and increase space for parks and playgrounds.
When asked how this resolution will help increase healthy activity, Mannix gave the example of biking to school. Parents don’t always let their kids ride to school because of safety, he said. With the Complete Streets resolution, there is more focus on the question, “How do we make this [streets] safe for young bicyclists to get to school?” Mannix said. In turn, he said, the focus won’t be entirely on accommodating travel for motor vehicle traffic.
According to the resolution, the policy’s success will largely be measured quantitatively. The number of miles of bike lanes and the amount of new curb ramps installed will be considered. What’s more, new crosswalks and bike parking will also be measures of success.
Not all roads will be governed by this resolution, however. Exempt, if recommended by the Village Administrator, will be projects on roadways such as interstate highways, where non-motorized traffic is prohibited, and projects where the cost of a Complete Street design would be excessive when considering the need.
Forest Park will join Blue Island as the second community in suburban Cook County to adopt the policy. However, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition, nearly 283 jurisdictions across the country have adopted Complete Streets policies or have made a written commitment to do so, including 26 state governments, 25 counties, 202 cities, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.