January 8th, 2019 2:53 PM
By Nona Tepper
After nearly a year of research, an associate from KLOA engineering firm presented a draft of the Safe Walking Routes to Schools survey at a village board meeting last month, recommending to trustees the addition of new stop signs, subtraction of crossing guards and much more.
"The purpose of this study was to recommend a series of safe walking routes to school for students," Eric Russell, principal at KLOA, said at the meeting.
The engineering consultant studied the best routes for students to get to the three public schools in the village, the River Forest Community Center, and three parochial schools—Grace Lutheran School, St. Luke Parish School and St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Elementary School.
Russell met with River Forest District 90, parochial schools, village staff, police and parents to create the plan.
Trustees agreed to table approval of the study — which would put into motion introduction of an ordinance adding the traffic control measures recommended — until a future board meeting.
The village is also waiting to hear about the status of a $130,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) that would help fund the project, but likely won't hear back until March, Village Administrator Eric Palm said at the Dec. 10 meeting.
Then, the state will review and eventually approve the plan, which Palm said could take until October. The village aims to implement these traffic control measures before the next school year.
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.
KLOA recommended installing high-visibility, ladder-style crosswalks at 162 intersections in the village where cars currently do not have to come to a full stop, which means they are "uncontrolled"; installing a two-way stops at 14 uncontrolled intersections; one-way stop control at 21 intersections; and all-way stop control at the Vine Street and Gale Avenue intersection.
The traffic firm also recommended moving two-way stop signs to Park Avenue, from the Thomas Street intersection; introducing a four-way stop at five intersections; swapping a yield sign for a stop sign at Vine Street and Ashland Avenue; and adding an enhanced crosswalk at two intersections. KLOA also recommended updating the crosswalk at 61 intersections with a reflective ladder pattern.
"I think the trustees and myself are taking a hard look at how to make walking to school safer," Village President Cathy Adduci said at the meeting. "Yes, this is a lot of stop signs and I don't know if I'm against all that. I think it's probably the right thing to do. I hope that our parents and all the people who come through our town know not to roll through the stop."
Russell said he didn't see a downside to adding the new signs.
But resident Steve Lefko said KLOA didn't create a safe routes to school map, but just "blanketed the village with stop signs."
After the third-grader was struck by the car on his way to school, Lefko started volunteering as a crossing guard.
"If you add more stop signs, do people stop more or do they pay less attention?" Lefko asked at the meeting. "As it is, we have a lot of people not stopping at stop signs; maybe that's human behavior. Do you really stop more if you have more stop signs in town? Is there any data on that?"
Trustee Mike Gibbs replied that it was safe to assume that people would stop at the signs, since the village's consultant said they would.
"I'm fairly confident if we accept all this, with all the signage and everything else, our police department would be capable of performing the duties this new ordinance would now require," Gibbs said at the meeting. "If people don't stop at the stop signs, there's a negative ramification to their driving record."
In terms of crossing guards, KLOA recommended them at 14 locations—12 where there already are crossing guards, and new guards at the Lake Street and Lathrop Avenue intersection and the Division Street and Ashland Avenue intersection. Under this plan, two crossing guards would be removed from near Roosevelt Middle School. Parents indicated they would like nine new crossing guards added to the village.
"We recommend implementing other measures first and then monitoring the situation," Russell said of the crossing guards.
Street signs with LED flashers, convex mirrors, better lighting under railroad viaducts and more would be added first to problem intersections.
"In all cases, we recommend monitoring these improvements," Russell said at the meeting. "If they prove not to be as effective, additional measures can be installed. If those don't seem to work, crossing guards can be redeployed or new crossing guards can be installed. We recommend a stepped approach to these improvements."
Russell also recommended that guards be reminding that their only objective is to get children across the street safely -- not to direct traffic -- and to try and synchronize street crossings with other nearby guards. He said crossing guards would be able to see each other from the intersections and coordinate crossings that way.
"If they're not coordinated now, we need to come up with a better way to communicate with each other, maybe training, maybe walkie-talkies," Trustee Carmela Corsini said at the meeting.
Russell said that walkie-talkies do help guards communicate, particularly if a substitute guard was temporarily working in a new location.
Gibbs also called for the addition of warning signs to be posted near railroad tracks, particularly where the tracks curve into the forest preserve and cross sidewalks but not streets.
"I'm not talking about motorized gates, I'm saying a sign that says 'train crossing," he said. Palm said that was "something we'll add."
At the same time KLOA is studying traffic signals and controls, the village is also formulating a bike plan for River Forest, which will outline the safest routes for bicyclists. There is some overlap between the safest routes for both walkers and bikers, Russell said at the meeting, and "in general, most of these recommendations will improve safety and also help bicycles."
"We did hear a lot in the surveys that parents wanted to be able to bike on the sidewalk," he said.
Trustees did not decide whether bikes should be permitted on the sidewalk. The bike plan will remain separate from the Safe Routes to School plan.