Accident at Austin and Augusta boulevards in 2021. (Photo by Michelle Follows)

I have grave concerns about the way people are driving in Oak Park and am afraid they will soon cause pedestrian fatalities in our village.

The number of people driving through stop signs is appalling. On Aug. 12, I was exiting by foot from the back of Rush Oak Park Hospital. I stepped into the crosswalk on Wisconsin Avenue, where a stop sign with twinkling red lights protects pedestrians from drivers exiting on Wisconsin. A car came from the south, and the driver cruised right past me through the stop sign, missing me by inches, never even hesitating. She was looking straight ahead without watching for pedestrians at all.

When I called the Oak Park police to report this incident, I was told that Wisconsin Avenue next to the hospital is not within the OPPD’s jurisdiction; that it belongs to the hospital. When I called the hospital, I was told by a security person that Wisconsin was under the jurisdiction of the OPPD. If no one is even able to say who is responsible for what, how are we to rectify these problems?

On another appointment at Rush, as I walked toward the back of the hospital, I watched as four cars in quick succession ran that very same stop sign. Does a stop sign not mean stop anymore?

When I spoke with the chief nursing officer, Angela Cooper, at the hospital about my concerns, she indicated that the actual land under Wisconsin Avenue is owned by the hospital but Wisconsin, as a village public street, is under the auspices of the Oak Park Police Department. The hospital has no right to issue citations.

Another time, I stopped at the four-way stop at Adams Street and Home Avenue. My car was the only one at the intersection, heading north. I looked to the east and west, saw no one coming and proceeded gently into the intersection. Suddenly one car came quickly from the east and one from the west side of the intersection and each ran the stop signs to cross right in front of my car.

As recently as Sunday, Aug. 28, I was parking at the Jewel grocery on Madison Street. As I put my right blinker on to indicate I was turning into a parking slot, a car sideswiped me on my right and turned into a parking slot a few paces away. I decided I could not let that one pass. I got out of my car after parking and approached the other car. I tapped on the closed window, the gentleman rolled it down, and I asked him if he knew what he had just done? A blank look on his face. He claimed to have no idea. I described to him what I had seen him do. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” I believe he knew exactly what he had done. I asked him to pay more attention to what he was doing while driving so that he wouldn’t kill someone or cause an accident that resulted in death.

I will no longer confront people as directly as that; it is not a safe thing to do. I will get license plate numbers and as soon as possible, call the police, and let them handle the violations.

I am a public health specialist and am deeply concerned. I have lived in Oak Park since 1987. When I first called the OPPD, I was told, “This is a big problem all over the United States and we do not have enough police to take care of it.” What kind of a response is that? When is someone in Oak Park going to address this emergency? Do we have to wait for people to get killed? How many?

We have already had children on bikes hit by cars. Many obvious actions can be taken: place speed bumps; use technology to warn drivers before they run stop signs; report every violation we see to the police instead of just shrugging them off. Yesterday on my way to a movie at the Lake Theatre, someone sideswiped me on the right just to be able to get one car ahead of me in a long line of cars. Just what was the big hurry?

The Chief Nursing Officer at Rush told me the hospital administration has long known about the problems and has tried several ways to mitigate them. Nothing so far has worked but she assured me they will be looking further to see what they can do to halt dangerous drivers.

Solutions like the ones provided above come at a cost, but are nothing compared to the costs of needlessly lost lives. We all need to take these violations seriously and do something about them. We do not have to depend entirely on the police; we citizens can also create change. We just need to have the collective will to do it.

Carrol Smith, PhD, RN, is an Oak Park resident.

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