Flossmoor officials settle on template for Central Business District improvements

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Flossmoor officials settle on template for Central Business District improvements

October 22, 2020 - 16:01
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Though questions remain, Flossmoor officials talked through narrow lanes, parking stalls, greenspace and a divisive mailbox to settle on a template for the future of the village’s central Business District.

The latest updates were presented Monday, Oct. 19, during a Flossmoor Board of Trustees discussion focused on changes to the district’s roadway, pedestrian paths and streetscape, prioritizing safety where Sterling Avenue and Park Drive meet.

According to John Brunke, the village’s director of public works, Phase 1 engineering began last year with an aim to analyze the geometry of the existing traffic circle, which looks similar to a teardrop, and consider alternate reconfigurations. A few of those alternatives were brought to the board by Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers for discussion in December.

Based on feedback received, Baxter & Woodman eliminated and revised options, and Dan Schug presented the board with four possibilities on Oct. 19.

Schug reminded the board from the outset that improving pedestrian and traffic safety, as well as improving traffic flow, is the focus of the project.

“That is our No. 1 priority,” Schug said.

The project also aims to revitalize the downtown streetscape, but first the board needed to come to a consensus on a general layout. Schug said officials like green space, wanted to keep the mailbox and were not interested in a traditional roundabout.

“We like the teardrop shape in Flossmoor,” he said.

The board ultimately settled on Option 1A, which Schug called “very similar to what’s we have now.” The plan would lose 1-2 parking spots in the area; the mailbox would move to Central Drive; a decorative truck apron would surround the main island; parking areas would be distinguished by decorative pavement; splitter islands would guide traffic into and out of the intersection; and there would be low-profile vegetation near the crosswalks.

Option 1A.1 for updating the downtown Flossmoor traffic flow as presented to the Board of Trustees by Baxter & Woodman engineers. (Provided image)

The major change taking place, as it concerns traffic, is that lanes would be deliberately narrowed.

“Part of what I want to do is slow traffic down at this intersection,” Schug said. “The greatest way of slowing traffic down is narrowing lanes.”

The apron around the island helps with that, he said, allowing trucks to get through the intersection but dissuading passenger vehicles from using that space. That teardrop would remain roughly the same size, Schug said.

“All traffic movements that you can do today you can do in this alternative,” he said.

Trustee Perry Hoag said he liked what he was seeing.

“If you put some green space in there with some nice curbing, I think that could be very attractive,” he said.

The other options included one that was similar to the first, but with a turnout for the mailbox and the elimination of a southbound-to-northbound movement with a raised curb there. Though officials have said they like the mailbox in the center island, Schug said the existing layout poses safety concerns.

Option 1A.2 for updating the downtown Flossmoor traffic flow as presented to the Board of Trustees by Baxter & Woodman engineers. (Provided image)

Option 1A.2 for updating the downtown Flossmoor traffic flow as presented to the Board of Trustees by Baxter & Woodman engineers. (Provided image)

“The problem with the mailbox where it is currently: When someone stops at the mailbox, the driver behind them cannot see a pedestrian in the crosswalk," Schug said.

This plan attempts to accommodate it by moving it to the other side of the teardrop and adding a pull-off to get people out of traffic when they stop at the box. But Schug said it relies a lot on “driver expectation,” in that it would be similar to parallel parking on the left side of a one-way street, which some find more difficult.

“My first preference would be to remove the mailbox from the intersection itself,” he said.

Schug said he likes the idea of removing the southbound-to-northbound turning option, noting plowing would be easier on staff by removing it. But Hoag said people would make the turn anyway because they are used to it.

Trustee James Mitros said he would rather have the mailbox moved to Central Drive and keep the turnaround.

“The turnaround is very important,” he said. “People use it all the time.”

Though, Schug noted the volume of traffic that makes that turn “very, very small.”

The third option on the table was a traffic circle that would have had stop controls on all approaches. But it also would have lost six parking spots, moved the mailbox, removed pedestrian traffic from the middle island and featured a combination loading zone/15-minute parking/”kiss and ride” area for the train.

“That’s a no,” Mayor Paul Braun told Schug before he started discussion of that option. 

“Save your breath, Dan. We looked at that before. I don’t think anybody wanted a circle.”

But Schug argued that it was not technically a roundabout, with the stops upon entering. And the idea was to take pedestrians out of an island in an intersection that is “inherently unsafe.”

“Pedestrian safety is our No. 1 concern here,” he said.

But officials, including Village Manager Bridget Wachtel, said parking is a consideration, too.

“It does lose a lot of parking spaces,” she said. “That’s another downside.”

That was among the reasons officials also dismissed the fourth plan, which would have lost eight parking spaces with an enlarged teardrop designed to maximize greenspace.

Officials ultimately decided moving forward without the mailbox and with a plan that more closely resembles the existing configuration was their best bet.

“That mailbox is going to cause havoc,” Hoag said. “Take out the mailbox and we can get this thing done.”

But Trustee Brian Driscoll pointed to one potential wrinkle in the plan in that three towns often use the roadway to drop off train riders there, with what are now wider lanes. He wondered what would happen when those lanes are narrowed, without dedicated space for a “kiss and ride.”

“People have gotten very used to that,” Hoag added of the practice.

Schug agreed that it has to be considered, but he said the village is something of an abnormality in allowing those types of drop-offs.

“Most Metra stations do not have live streets that people park on,” he said. “Flossmoor is unique in that respect.”

Driscoll said it would have to be addressed all the same.

“We have to provide an alternative,” he said. “Realistically, that’s going to be the choke point. It’s a major transportation hub. We have to account for it one way or another.”

Schug said that means either losing parking spaces for a drop-off lane to accommodate the train and deliveries to Flossmoor Station, or consider requiring people to pull into the Metra parking lot and setting up some kind of drop-off area there.

Wachtel noted “we’d be losing space” by creating the kiss and ride along the roadway. Mitros added that is space he would rather lose in the lot than in front of the brewery, but he wondered if people would even follow the new plan.

“Give all the direction you want,” he said. “People are still going to pull up in front of the station and drop their spouse off.”

Based on the board consensus, Baxter & Woodman is to begin preliminary design on an alternate, including the streetscape improvements around the intersection and in the project area, according to Brunke’s report. Schug said part of that process will be reaching out to local stakeholders and businesses to get more feedback.

Wachtel noted officials still need to identify funding opportunities. Flossmoor applied for Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program funding in the past and it was unsuccessful, but Wachtel said the village intends to try again. The hope is that being further along with Phase 1 engineering the village might be more successful the second time around at a “conservative” budget of $2 million for the project, $1.7 million of which would be ITEP eligible.

The project could begin as early as 2022 if Flossmoor finds money for it, she added.

Phase 2 engineering is expected to start in 2021. Wachtel said Flossmoor is expecting to secure some Surface Transportation Program funding for Phase 2 engineering of Sterling Avenue, pending its approval as a Federal Aid Designation route.