River Forest zeroes in on traffic safety

Officials plan to add about 70 stop signs, 162 crosswalks to the village

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By Nona Tepper

A majority of River Forest trustees approved a plan to add nearly 70 stop signs and more to village streets at their board meeting on Jan. 28, although officials plan to wait until they hear back about a state grant before implementing the changes.

The engineering firm KLOA spent nearly a year researching and writing the Safe Routes to Schools traffic plan for River Forest, which recommended a variety of new traffic control measures.

Officials were compelled to create the survey after a third-grader was struck by a car on his way to Lincoln Elementary School in December 2017. 

"I think there's some places where it's going to be really worthwhile and some places where it's overkill," trustee Susan Conti said at the meeting, later voting against the proposal.

All other trustees voted in favor of implementing the recommended traffic measures, aside from Trustee Respicio Vazquez, who recused himself from the vote citing a conflict of interest because he works for the law firm that represents River Forest District 90 schools.

Under the new plan, the only intersections in the village that will lack some kind of traffic control measure – such as stop signs, yield signs, traffic signals or designated crosswalks -- are at Park Avenue and the Park Drive cutoff, and Bonnie Brae and Thomas Street.

Fourteen crossing guards will now be stationed around town, up from 12. Two new guards at the intersections of Lathrop Avenue and Lake Street and Division Street and Ashland Avenue. Two crossing guards will be removed from near Roosevelt Middle School.

"We've kind of recommended some other things we can do if we want to supplement them without a crossing guard," Jeff Loster, village engineer, said at the meeting. "None of this is set in stone, we can revisit it."

He also said crossing guards will be told to synchronize crossings with guards through visual cues, and that police will train guards to pool students at intersections before letting them cross.

"The idea is that they're close enough, there's no reason they couldn't just visually coordinate crossings at that area a little more efficiently than they currently do," Loster said at the meeting.

Loster said staff also worked up a few different options for how to designate railroad crossings, and would make sure residents understood they were active. He said they planned to go back to Canadian National Railway for their opinion on the designs, as well as to see if they could help pay for them.

"I saw six people just standing in the middle of the tracks the other day off Thatcher, they're just standing there, like 'Hello?'" trustee Mike Gibbs said at the meeting. "There's this misconception in town that those tracks are vacated, too many people think these tracks are not used anymore."

In addition to new signage and crossing guards, the plan also adds crosswalks to 162 intersections in the village that do not currently have any traffic controls. Trustee Conti disputed adding a crosswalk to the intersection of Thatcher and Oak avenues, saying that she didn't trust cars on Thatcher to stop.

"I think it would be a mistake to give anybody a false sense of security that cars might actually stop or would consider stopping," she said at the meeting. "The kids that walk there should be afraid, it's good for them, and it would make them wait longer before they cross."

Trustees debated adding additional measures like a flashing sign, along with a yellow diamond crosswalk, but Conti said she didn't believe anything could control that intersection.

"Isn't every traffic controlling option an assumption though?" Gibbs asked at the meeting. "Like how many people get whacked at a red light or a stop sign? I'd be more inclined to lean to the blinky lights than a ladder painted on the sidewalk. The bottom line is the kid has to pay attention to what's going on."

Village Administrator Eric Palm said the recommendations were based on residents' call to improve safety at the intersection.

"There was quite a call for improving safety at that crossing at Oak. A lot of parents were very concerned, a lot of kids are crossing there, but with the roadway in its current state, it's without any form of safety control," Palm said at the meeting.

Police Chief James O'Shea noted that the department does a lot of enforcement there because it receives calls from residents about cars speeding.

 "Thatcher and Oak, we do know there's some children that do cross there," O'Shea said at the meeting. "It's a unique spot because it's split in between a double block and a single block between Chicago Avenue and Lake Street. If any marking, signage, flashing lights are added, it would have to be combined with a lot of education from the police side of making sure people understood these new crossings there."

Village President Cathy Adduci said she believed something needed to be added to control the intersection, but trustees agreed to continue to discuss the issue.

"I think you need something there," Adduci said at the meeting. 

In terms of implementation, the village is waiting to hear back about an $187,500 grant from the state, which it expects in March, before deciding how to implement the plan.

If the state approves the grant, and the village decides to take advantage of the funding, Palm estimated the earliest it could implement the plan would be October.

If the village doesn't get the grant, or decided not to wait on the state to process funds, it could implement all the traffic control measures over the summer and notify students about the new routes before the next school year, Palm said.

He also noted that if the village chose not to go with the state's funding, he said it wouldn't have to do engineering drawings, which would bring the cost down about $43,000.

"We deal with the whole town, not just a piece," Gibbs said at the meeting. "We're proposing a comprehensive plan for the whole village, that's what we do. We don't think about individual neighbors, or blocks, or whatever, that's what traffic and safety does. This whole plan was made to address how does every kid in the village get to their school?"

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com

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