By Nona Tepper
On Dec. 12, a car struck George Summy as he crossed the street to Lincoln Elementary School.
Summy, a third-grader, was hit by the vehicle at the intersection of Oak and Park avenues, even though there is a four-way stop at that intersection on school days. Summy had surgery and classmates sent get-well iMovies. His accident caused two other organizations to take notice, too: River Forest trustees and Steve Lefko, neighbor, father of two and longtime crossing-guard champion.
"I think crossing guards are the gold standard," Lefko said at a village Traffic and Safety Commission meeting in November.
Lefko has long been campaigning for more crossing guards around Lincoln Elementary School.
In September 2016, he emailed River Forest District 90 Supt. Ed Condon about the possibility of getting guards at the Oak and Park and Franklin and Oak intersections, the perimeter corners surrounding Lincoln Elementary School. Then, Lefko said Condon told him that crossing guards were a village responsibility. "It was completely misleading," Lefko told trustees at a Jan. 22 village board meeting.
But at the time, Lefko said he believed Condon. He hounded Village Administrator Eric Palm about what could be done about the intersections, and learned how to become a crossing guard at Citizen Corps, River Forest's volunteer response team.
Lefko also met with River Forest police about the intersections and persuaded them to do a study at Franklin and Oak. The study found that car volume and traffic patterns did not warrant additional control measures. But police noted that confusion between polite motorists and overzealous children was an accident waiting to happen.
After Summy's accident, Lefko knew what to do. He put on his visibility vest, picked up his stop sign and stepped into the intersection although he lacks credentials from Andy Frain Services, the company the school and village use to certify patrols. Lefko also organized a volunteer signup for wannabe crossing guards at the Oak and Park and Franklin and Oak intersections, and corralled other uncertified neighbors to stand at those intersections between 7:45 and 8:30 a.m. and 3 to 3:40 p.m. most school days.
"Steve and many other parents have volunteered to work as crossing guards and it's made a difference in my kids' life. They feel more comfortable going to school," Joel Summy, father of George, said at a Jan. 22 village meeting.
After Summy's accident, River Forest officials responded in the best way they knew how: By commissioning another study.
"We're obviously concerned about the safety of all of our students and pedestrians and, in order to do that, we thought it would be best to bring in a professional traffic consultant engineer who has studied safe routes previously for [Oak Park] School District 97," Palm said.
Village officials talked with D90 and agreed to split the cost for KOLA Engineering researchers to study the village, recommend traffic control measures and identify the safest routes for getting to local schools. Titled "Safe Routes," the proposed study will ring in about $17,000 and recommendations should be complete by the summer, so the village and schools have time to implement them before the next school year, although implementation is not mandatory. Trustees are expected to approve the study at the next village board meeting.
"Do we need a formal study to tell us that we need a crossing guard there?" Trustee Susan Conti asked at a Jan. 22 village meeting, later adding: "I think we need to go ahead and respond to the natural routes the children take, rather than try and direct them."
Palm admitted there's no protocol for adding crossing guards. The village said it was the school's responsibility. D90 pointed to an August 2012 agreement between the village and schools that says crossing guards are a joint charge. The district said it splits the cost of its 10 crossing guards — about $6,100 per guard — with the village.
"The process to determine the location of crossing guards results from many factors, including established precedent, the evolution of traffic patterns and student walking routes, and changes to traffic laws that affect adult pedestrians and students," Dawne Simmons, D90 communications and community outreach coordinator, said in a statement.
But Carrie Summy, mother of George, said she just wants a crossing guard at the intersection where her son was hit.
"Safety is not just how many cars are travelling and what the data says because the data can say what we want it to say," she said at a Jan. 22 village meeting. "It's my son there, feeling safe to walk across the street because there's an adult there with a sign. He is scared now, and so am I, and it is difficult to have your child afraid all the time."
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