In the game where the squeakiest wheel gets the grease, Glenview residents are trying to improve their chances that the Illinois Department of Transportation's two-year design study of Willow Road will end in their favor: expanding the road to at least four lanes.
Feeling its residents' voices were initially not loud enough on the study's Community Advisory Group – where 13 Northfield village and community representatives sit across from four representatives from Glenview, four from Northbrook and two from Winnetka – the Village of Glenview hired public affairs firm Jasculca Terman and Associates, Inc. in August to help organize the community. And since the firm launched the Move Willow Forward website, village officials believe its impact has made a dent in the debate.
"Our side was not being heard; that's one of the reasons we decided to invest a few resources," said Janet Spector-Bishop, the village's communications director. "The idea was to give concerned citizens a portal. We have a good story to tell."
Glenview Pushes for More Lanes
That story has been publicly promulgated by 18-year Glenview resident John Nicolau, who has said the bottleneck on Willow from Waukegan Road to the Interstate Highway 94 has for years forced cut-through traffic onto residential streets in Glenview such as Wagner Road (where he lives) and Sunset Ridge Road, which presents a safety hazard. He said Northfield's preferred three-lane plan is not going to help move traffic on Willow.
"All the traffic information I've seen shows that [three lanes] is not sufficient to handle the volume on Willow Road," Nicolau said. "I think we can widen Willow Road to four lanes if done in a thoughtful, common-sense way."
Spector-Bishop said Glenview is paying Jasculca Terman $10,000 for a 12-month contract, which ends in August 2011, just before IDOT is scheduled to finalize its design decision. For now the site features video surveys of residents' thoughts, information, and ways to speak out.
And that's the village's primary strategy: speaking out.
Nicolau said the "rancor" and "lack of civility" on the Northfield side of the project's advisory group, particularly perpetuated by CAG member Robert Hayward, has prevented a balanced discussion at the meetings.
"When I see this rancor and one-sidedness of his perspective, I'm trying to get the word out of another side, another perspective," Nicolau said.
Northfield Residents Feel Pressure, Many Don't Want Expansion
Hayward has asserted his opinions at each meeting, often accusing IDOT of presenting misleading traffic data.
"I certainly don't mean to cause tension," Hayward said in an e-mail. "I'm just passionate about my kids and the other children who cross Willow Road for school and park activity everyday. We just want this process to be as productive and meaningful as it can be, and to date, many of us feel this has not been a good investment of time.
"We respect all of the volunteer participants in the process and hope that we will reach a consensus on a wider, safer and better Willow Road."
Like Hayward, many Northfielders feel the state has not been listening to them.
Ted Greene, a former Northfield trustee who sits on the CAG, is president of the citizen-funded nonprofit North Suburban Awareness Group, which formed in 2007 after state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg (9th District) had halted a Northfield-supported shovel-ready project to expand the road to three lanes and instead commissioned further study.
"We felt like we were being railroaded by neighboring villages," Greene said.
The group – which has received information but no money from the Village of Northfield, according to Village Manager Stacy Sigman, started a frequently trafficked Facebook page My Kids Cross Willow Road, but once the CAG started meeting in November 2009, the group quieted down, Greene said. He said it's time to start organizing more actively again.
Glenview's argument for a four-lane road is misleading, Greene said, because if two extra lanes were added, there would likely need to be a middle turning lane. It would only make sense in that event to expand the road to five lanes, he added.
"We're not talking about quaint little four-lane road," Greene said. "It will significantly bisect the community. We're already cut in half by the Edens."
And because two schools and three parks exist on the road, residents are concerned that four lanes would create a safety hazard for crossing pedestrians and school children. There are currently no school speed-limit zones in Northfield, and at the most recent CAG meeting, IDOT's Pete Harmet said the village does not qualify for them.
Glenview has honed its counter-safety argument, saying that an underpass would allow for safe crossing.
Meanwhile, Northfielders have argued that the road is on a floodplain, and building an underpass there would be unrealistic.
Greene, like many other Northfielders, has argued that expanding the road even to five lanes will not ameliorate the traffic congestion and that a better solution would be to add interchanges along I-94 at Lake and Dundee avenues.
But he fears Northfield's small population will be overtaken by the other villages. And that's what Nicolau is counting on.
"As Spock [from Star Trek] said, 'The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.' There are 5,500 people in Northfield; there are 85,000 in Glenview, Northbrook and Winnetka. It's a strategic road; Northfield doesn't own it."
He said he's constantly e-mailing residents to get them involved and hopes to elicit support from Glenview teachers to speak out about safety at future CAG meetings.
"At this stage, I'll take anyone I can get," Nicolau said. "It's just like that Breck Shampoo commercial – you tell two friends, they tell five more people. There really has to be a change."
And while many Northfielders believe that, in the end, the state will decide on a wider-than-three-lanes solution, they haven't given up hope.
"There's always the hope you can change the process," Greene said. "I firmly believe once in a while it happens. You can raise your hand."