Lake Street

between Harlem Ave. and Forest Ave.
Oak Park, IL

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

Once a well-intentioned pedestrian mall, bringing back traffic to Lake Street also restored the old-fashioned bustle that characterizes American main streets.

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Why It Works

As was done in many downtowns in the early 1970s, Oak Park city planners decided to close the city's main shopping street to vehicular traffic by creating a pedestrian-only mall. The planners hoped to gain renewed interest in their downtown and increase retail use and revenues. And even though the mall was pleasant and attractive, by the late '80s retail sales had been declining for years and stores had closed.

Reopening the "Oak Park Pedestrian Mall" to traffic allowed the street to be infused with bustle, the quality that characterizes American main streets. Traditional street uses foster an urban energy more compatible with downtown locations, and are much more conducive to retail than the former walking street's well-intentioned park-like qualities. The downtown is now a destination for the city's residents. Children play in the nearby park, and participate in special family events in the city center. Couples and elderly residents sit on the pedestrian mall or at cafe tables off Lake Street, and watch life unfold around them.

What Makes Lake Street a Great Place?

For those who do not walk to the downtown, the city built two parking garages, well-designed and unobtrusive.

Unlike many other suburban downtowns, Oak Park's surrounding neighborhoods draw upon the city center for most of their primary needs. There are a wide variety of retail services, ranging from clothes to restaurants to food and hardware stores.

History & Background

In 1988, PPS evaluated the design and use of the Oak Park Pedestrian Mall and its impact on business. Working with the Oak Park Mall Commission, property owners, and city officials, PPS conducted surveys of merchants and pedestrians and conducted time-lapse filming of pedestrian activity to determine people's perceptions and use of the mall. After discussing the results with members of the local community, a series of design and management recommendations were developed.

The community eventually decided to re-open the main street to vehicular traffic and to implement a management approach to coordinate retail leasing and store operations, as well as supplement promotional, maintenance, and security activities. PPS prepared the final design schemes and helped define the retail management program and public space plan. Construction was completed in 1989. Between 1988 and 1989, positive changes were noted, including a decline in vacancy rates from 25% to 19%; increased revenues from parking fees; and a 100% increase in inquiries from potential tenants.

Contact Info:

Contact Downtown Commission (708) 383-4145

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