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Duct tape and potted plants transform streets

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Making an impact with infrastructure improvements doesn’t necessarily require large capital investments and years of planning. 

With minimal financial resources and plenty of sweat equity, Active Trans recently proved this by temporarily transforming public spaces in Willow Springs and other communities into a safe, enjoyable street environments for people to walk, bike, drive and interact — giving residents and community leaders a glimpse into how low-cost solutions can enhance the quality of life. 

In Willow Springs, Active Trans repurposed the traffic roundabout in front of the village hall in a few hours, converting it into a plaza-like setting that drew more than 300 people. The village brought in a DJ and food vendors, and marketed the event on social media and by distributing flyers to students at local schools.

To slow traffic and encourage recreation and community interaction, the team tightened the roundabout by extending the curbs with traffic cones topped with flowers and they built parklets complete with artificial turf, picnic tables and plants. 

They also created a buffered bike lane out of duct tape and fashioned a crosswalk out of tar paper and white latex paint.

More recently in Skokie, Active Trans executed a similar project. The goal here was to create a safer environment for people crossing the street that separates Niles North High School and Old Orchard Mall. width=728

On this stretch of roadway, students and staff are faced with speeding drivers and drivers failing to stop for people in crosswalks.

Students from the high school’s engineering class, as well as staff from Skokie's municipal offices all helped in building the temporary design, which included an additional high-visibility crosswalk, signs telling drivers that pedestrians are present and a center median that serves as an island for pedestrians so they can cross the road safely. (See photos.)

After the installation, a crossing guard who regularly works on the street remarked: “This just solved all my problems!”

And the Village of Skokie has expressed a strong interest in adding these improvements in the next year or two, once funding is secured.

Willow Springs and Skokie are just two of six suburban communities Active Trans has been working with to create temporary Complete Streets projects during the summer and fall. The other communities are Steger, South Chicago Heights, Richton Park and Midlothian. 

The hope is that the projects will spur communities to move forward with similar types of permanent infrastructure. Due to the popularity of the buffered bicycle lane at the Willow Springs event, for instance, the community plans to create permanent bike lanes.

The pop-up projects are part of the Healthy HotSpot initiative led by the Cook County Department of Public Health that aims to build healthy places in suburban Cook County through community partnerships.

“No mission is more crucial than ensuring the safe passageways for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists,” said Willow Springs Mayor Alan Nowaczk. “We need to provide our youth and families the best opportunities available to promote a healthful lifestyle. In doing so, we create a more desirable community for residents and businesses to call home.”