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Opinion: Skokie Needs A Safe Park Zone

With neighboring villages already having a safe park zone, why shouldn't Skokie? See what this reader has to say in this Letter to the Editor.

Editor's note - The following is an opinion and does not reflect Skokie Patch's view on said issue. If you'dl like to reply with a counter to this piece, please email me at georges@patch.com.

Dear Editor -

I agree wholeheartedly with you that park safety is one of the most important issues facing the Skokie community.  Although it may not be the most controversial topic in town, it certainly is one of the most pressing that demands a sense of urgency.  I wanted to reach out to the community to see what their thoughts are about park safety in Skokie. 

Allow me to offer some information on the Active Transportation Allianceas a proposal that we model a Safe Park Zone in the Oakton Park neighborhood community, or “streets that border Oakton Park prioritize safe access for children, seniors, the disabled, pedestrians and cyclists by changing street design and enforcement of slower traffic speeds.”  A more detailed guide for community implementation of municipal Safe Park Zones including developing a local policy, Illinois requirements regarding signage, and strategies for public outreach and involvement is available on the internet by clicking the following link: http://activetransportationpolicy.org/node/139

Safe Parks Zones have been implemented in Park Ridge, Lemont, Braidwood, Midlothian and Chicago.  “Infrastructure improvements to Safe Park Zones can be funded with revenue from traffic fines. All improvements should be made according to a plan set by the park district and the local transportation agency.”

Sincerely, Theodore James

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Safe Park Zone

Streets near and around parks that prioritize safe access for children, seniors, the disabled, pedestrians and cyclists by changing street design and enforcement of slower traffic speeds.

Safe Park Zones Campaign

The boulevards and streets around a park can be extensions of the park into the community.  If the walking and bicycling routes to parks are safe and convenient, more people will utilize that space. Plus, they will be traveling to parks in fun and active ways. A 2006 Illinois law provides the legal framework for Safe Park Zones, requiring a reduced speed limit for streets in and around parks as well as increased fines for traffic violations.

TRANSPORTATI0N AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Transportation has a tremendous impact on human health and the quality of life in every community/With rising obesity rates and increasingly sedentary lifestyles, the public health community is urging more people to get physical activity through active transportation, which means walking, bicycling and using public transit instead of driving private automobiles. Active transportation is the simplest way for people to get the activity they need to boost physical and mental health and to prevent obesity and related conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

When people have safe active transportation options, every trip taken becomes an opportunity for physical activity. But there are many physical and social barriers to walking and bicycling, which can be grouped into three major categories: long distances, lack of facilities and traffic safety concerns. These barriers are the product of engineering, zoning, land use and urban design trends prevalent in United States transportation systems for the last half century.

Eliminating these barriers means changing the way we think about transportation; a more inclusive and equitable approach 'requires shifting the paradigm from mobility to accessibility. This change begins with local transportation agencies, school districts and the policies that guide them.

Public parks are essential destinations for physical activity, but the transportation environment in many communities limits access to local parks.

When parks are made more accessible, more people use them for physical activity, and they use active transportation to get there. Illinois state law has provided a powerful new means for municipalities to address this issue, establishing Safe Park Zones where police can target dangerous driver behavior, and emphasize the presence and vulnerability of pedestrians in and around public parks and facilities.

National studies show that people who live near parks get more physical activity. Safe access to local parks is a public health priority.

CONTEXT AND IMPORTANCE

Public parks are a great benefit to any community. They provide spaces for residents to come together for outdoor recreation, their greenery improves local air quality and properties near parks are highly valued.

Seventy-five percent of Americans live within two miles of a park, and research shows that they are healthier for it, especially in minority communities. People who have access to parks are shown to get more physical activity, and not just within the parks themselves. Girls in the U.S. who live within half a mile of a park are twice as likely to walk to school, and boys are three times as likely.

As havens for physical activity and recreation, parks are priority destinations that should be accessible to all community members. Creating safe access to parks means ensuring that they can be reached on foot and by bike by everyone, including children and seniors. Barriers to walking and biking, such as high vehicle speeds and dangerous crossings, should be eliminated wherever possible. Doing so creates safer, more inviting parks that more people use and more people travel to using active transportation. Improving access to parks boosts the quality of life for all members of a community.

“Creating safe access to parks means ensuring that they can be reached on foot and by bike by everyone, including children and seniors."

Concerns about traffic safety are a major barrier to active transportation. These concerns are well founded. A pedestrian struck by a car traveling at 30 mph has a 45 percent probability of being killed. When vehicle travel is slowed to 20 mph, the risk of fatality is reduced to 5 percent. Establishing and enforcing slower speed limits on streets greatly decreases the potential for traffic fatalities.

 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day to stay healthy and prevent obesity.

Safe Park Zones are an integrated approach to boosting physical activity, improving pedestrian infrastructure and encouraging compliance with traffic laws. These elements combine to create better access to parks and safer, healthier communities.

 A new strategy for improving park safety and access is the creation of Safe Park Zones.

Similar to Safe School Zones, they are streets where traffic safety is prioritized with 20 mph speed limits and higher fines for speeding and disobeying traffic signals when children are present (see table). Under Illinois law, revenue from the higher fines issued can be used by park districts to establish and maintain safety infrastructure within the zone and to fund safety outreach programs.

This is an integrated approach to boosting physical activity in parks, improving pedestrian infrastructure and encouraging compliance with traffic laws.

Safe Park Zones Penalties in Illinois

Fines for speeding and disobeying traffic signs and signals in Safe Park Zones when children are present:

$250 = 1st offence

$500 = 2nd offence

$50 = Additional Safe Park Zone penalty

DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION

Process

A municipality adopts an ordinance that defines Safe Park Zones on specific streets adjacent to parks. The speed limits are then lowered to 20 mph in those locations and signs are posted to alert drivers entering the zones. Special fines are set for traffic violations in those zones, including an additional $50 Safe Park Zone penalty (see table on p. 2). This penalty is issued in addition to fines a driver would ordinarily pay for these violations. The revenue from Safe Park Zone penalties is then allocated to the park district for improving and maintaining signs and pavement markings in the zone, and for pedestrian safety programming.

Partnership

Build a strong relationship bet municipal planners, city council representatives, park district officials and law enforcement agencies. Every community is unique, and every park is different. Work as closely as possible with park management staff to identify safety concerns and strategize solutions for each individual park.

Planning

Safe Park Zones should include appropriate pedestrian safety infrastructure, such as crosswalks and signage. Partners should develop a clear plan for improvements and/or maintenance in each zone as revenues are generated from fines. The plan should prioritize high traffic and crash areas.

Enforcement

Enforcement of Safe Park Zone laws is the strongest way to address traffic safety and to promote safe choices by drivers; both community and police environment is key to advance park safety. 

Allocation of Revenue

Revenues from Safe Park Zone penalties are to be allocated to the local park district for improvement and maintenance in the zone, as well as to fund safety programming. This way, the zones pay for themselves. A process for transferring these funds from local or county traffic court to park districts may be different for each community and relies on a strong relationship between all partners.

Earl Weiss October 16, 2012 at 03:25 AM
The issue of Park Safety in the articles seemed to focus on crime. The issues had nothing to do with access, speed limits etc. The above summary seems to be a solution in search of a problem. 20 MPH speed limits except for school zones or where children are present is senseless as are exorbitant fines. Go 25 MPH and get whacked with a $300 -$550 fine borders on a "cruel and unusual" constitutional violation.
Leonard V. October 16, 2012 at 04:09 AM
I disagree Earl with your statement. I think the article is very clear and to the point on access and certain speed limits. Plus the article focuses on safe park zones, where children are constantly present in the park and around and the park and all vehicles need to be very cautious of children at play. Plus, Skokie has a large park on Oakton that also has constant traffic with a very high percentage of accidents that can occur. Great job on the article, we need more people with this kind of vision and passion.

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