Being a good green Oak Parker, I was riding my bike recently to complete a short shopping trip, when I came across a scarce and disappearing species planted firmly in pairs at the corner of Monroe and Kenilworth avenues, and down the block at Adams and Kenilworth. Not the endangered northern grape fern (Botrychium multifidum) or the delicate moccasin flower (Cypripedium acaule), but something even more threatened. It was a rare find in our traffic-controlled village; I had discovered a truly vanishing breed, the yieldus signus, more commonly known as a yield sign.
As our village is being overrun with the increasingly popular invasive species known as stopus signus (the dreaded stop sign that can pop up overnight), I was quite excited to see that yield signs still exist in Oak Park, and wondered why the inverted triangle signs, urging drivers to give way to others, are not used more extensively in traffic control.
The satire of all this hit me as I scraped off my old green Renew Reuse Recycle 2009-10 village sticker from the window of my car and replaced it with the new red 2010-11 sticker that proclaimed “Idling Gets You Nowhere” … ironically in the shape of a stop sign. If the village was truly concerned with the environment, we would be working to reduce unnecessary traffic stops. Idling certainly wastes fuel (this was the impetus behind expanded right-turn-on-red privileges in the 1970s), but the excessive use of stop signs certainly wastes more. Every time you touch your brakes, you are diminishing your vehicle’s fuel economy. Coming to a full and complete stop and then accelerating to speed again is inherently inefficient and wasteful. At many lightly traveled intersections in the village, a yield sign would provide the necessary safety while diminishing needless stops and the resultant waste of fuel.
I grew up in another leafy Chicago suburb with numerous 90-degree cross-street intersections, many of which were … gasp … uncontrolled. That’s right, no stop signs, just a driver’s common sense was used to prevent accidents. Approaching an open intersection, you ease up on the gas or take your foot off the pedal completely. As you roll forward, look left, look right and then left again, and if clear, then proceed through the intersection without stopping. If two cars are approaching simultaneously, you yield to the vehicle on your right, slowing or stopping as needed, to let the other car pass by. Of course, any pedestrians have the right-of-way if they are in the crosswalk. Other cross-street intersections in my village were guarded on two sides by a pair of the friendly inverted triangle, the yield sign.
There are intersections on more heavily traveled Oak Park streets that do require some traffic-control measures, but before placing stop signs indiscriminately on every other block, consider the use of a yield sign. Cars approaching a yield sign do not have to stop if there is no cross traffic. Drivers should be prepared to stop, foot over the brake pedal as their car approaches the intersection, but if there is no traffic, the vehicle proceeds without a wasteful halt. Bicyclists, who technically are violating the law each time they roll through a stop sign, would also appreciate the flexibility of yield signs at non-busy intersections. Many T-shaped intersections would benefit from the use of a single yield sign, rather than three stops signs, as at Grove and Adams.
In addition to paring the number of stop signs, I’d also like to see some of the growing number of traffic lights revert to yield signs in off hours. For instance, the stoplights at Harvard and Oak Park Avenue and Harvard and Ridgeland perform vital daytime safety functions for nearby Lincoln and Irving school students, and for kids using the playgrounds and nearby parks after school hours. But after 9 or 10 p.m., perhaps these lights could flash yellow for north and southbound traffic on Oak Park and Ridgeland, with cross traffic regulated by a flashing red stop. This prevents needless stopping later at night when there is little or no cross traffic or pedestrians.
With a concerted effort, we’ve brought other species back after they teetered on the brink of extinction. Working together, we can stamp out the invasive stop sign species. Help restore natural balance and order by instead planting yield signs at intersections around Oak Park.
Jerry Ostergaard has lived in Oak Park since 1992 and conservatively estimates he has halted at more than 50,000 stop signs in his travels around the village.