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Only 24 percent of jobs in the region are accessible by transit in 90 minutes or less by a typical resident — and that number drops to 12 percent in the suburbs.

Oak Park advocates stay connected with local officials

A new group of advocates in Oak Park is committed to strengthening the village’s position as one of the best Chicago suburbs for walking, biking and public transit.

Formed less than a year ago, Bike Walk Oak Park (BWOP) has become a vocal presence in the community, calling for safer streets for people walking and biking in the village.

The Active Transportation Alliance provided BWOP with a Bike Walk Every Town mini-grant earlier this year and has provided strategic advice as the group started coming together and making waves locally (Bike Walk Every Town provides resources and guidance to suburban advocates working for better biking, walking and public transit in their communities).

Members of BWOP are currently advocating for the implementation of the village’s Greenways Network and Bike Plan, which maps out a network of family-friendly bikeways. Led by volunteer co-chairs Jenna Holzberg and Brian Crawford, the group envisions a multi-modal Oak Park where all residents -- including youth, the elderly and people with disabilities -- can safely and comfortably walk or bike throughout the community.

“As a first step, one of our goals is to see dedicated funds for walking and biking infrastructure,” says Brian Crawford.

Active Trans advises advocates who are frustrated with a lack of implementation of biking and walking plans in their village to fight for dedicated local funding. Financial resources are often the biggest obstacle to building new infrastructure.

Back in January when Village of Oak Park Trustees voted 4 to 3 to cancel its Divvy contract, BWOP advocates saw a potential silver lining to this disappointing decision. Jenna Holzberg explains, “We want the $200,000 saved annually from Divvy to be allocated as the minimum amount for a reccurring line item in the village budget for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

As part of their advocacy strategy, Jenna, Brian and other BWOP members have been building a base of community supporters through hosting regular meetings, attending community events, speaking up at village board meetings and managing an active Facebook Group. 

They have also been focused on building relationships with village trustees. According to Brian, “BWOP members have been communicating fairly regularly with trustees -- through in-person meetings, emails, calls, and social media. Dialogue is progressing, but no commitments have been made yet.”

He adds, “We do appreciate that the trustees have been very accessible and do want to hear and learn from us and their constituents.”

In September BWOP held a meeting attended by a village trustee and a member of the Oak Park Transportation Commission to discuss implementing the bike plan and using the monies saved from Divvy for walking and biking infrastructure improvements.

A key take-away from the meeting for Oak Park residents: Be the squeaky wheel -- village staff and your elected officials want to hear from you! Send them an email to let them know you care about walking and biking.

This is sound advice for any community wanting to see a connected bike network and a safe environment for pedestrians realized. These visions likely won’t happen unless you make your voice heard.

In addition to reaching out to your elected officials, Jenna has a few other tips for advocates: “Learn how your community government functions to get things done. This will help you better understand where you as an advocate fit into the process.”

She also stresses the importance of having a social media presence and getting clued into the online presence of community leaders.

BWOP serves as a model for other individuals and groups interested in activating community support, advocating for funding for walking and biking and pushing for the implementation of an active transportation plan.

We applaud what they have done so far and will keep you posted as progress is made. If you’d like to get in touch with them, visit the BWOP Facebook Group.

To learn more about advocating for transportation improvements in your community, we invite you to get involved in our Bike Walk Every Town suburban advocacy program or attend our next suburban advocacy summit and training on Saturday, October 27 in Elmhurst. Email Advocacy Manager Maggie Melin at maggie@activetrans.org with any questions.