Skokie task force mulls Middleton School safety recommendations
The view from Middleton School shows Main Street and St. Louis Avenue where a tragic car crash this spring caused the vllage to focus in on safety conditions around the school. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
• Installation of traffic light at Main Street and Central Park Avenue.
• Improved pavement markings.
• Better sign visibility including making sings more reflective.
• Improving sight lines including better defining parking lanes and limits
• Maintaining landscaping in the area.
Updated: August 28, 2012 12:01PM
SKOKIE — The installation of a new traffic light at Main Street and Central Park Avenue could make traffic conditions around Middleton School safer, according to a new safety report released on Thursday.
The recommendation for a traffic light along with several other improvements at the intersection comes about two months after a tragedy two blocks east on Main at St. Louis Avenue.
Carter Vo, 8, was out for a bicycle ride on the sidewalk May 21 when a car making a turn crashed into another vehicle before striking Vo and dragging him until the runaway car struck another parked vehicle.
The driver was charged with felony aggravated driving under the influence resulting in death and a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of drugs.
“We don’t want to forget why we’re here,” said Village Trustee Randy Roberts, who heads a safety task force assembled by the mayor in the wake of the crash. “We had a little boy who was tragically killed and I’m going to do everything in my powers to see that it never happens again.”
The 10-member committee, charged with creating an action plan, met Thursday to review the traffic analysis report produced by Vernon Hills-based Gewalt Hamilton Associates, Inc.
Members of the committee, which includes representatives of Skokie School District 73.5, the Skokie Village Board, Skokie police, the village manager, the village’s director of engineering and two parents, toured Middleton School and the surrounding area earlier in the month for a firsthand look at conditions.
A new traffic light appears to be central to the committee’s action plan, along with better sign visibility, improved parking lanes and limits, and better landscaping maintenance.
Long before the May accident, residents and school officials raised safety concerns about Main Street traffic. Central Park Avenue was deemed the best location for a new light because the traffic pattern begins there, officials said.
The action committee’s recommendations — with pros and cons for each one — will be circulated and posted on the village’s website to provide the public with a chance to weigh in. Residents also will have an opportunity to speak about the recommendations at the Village Board’s Aug. 6 meeting, but they can register opinions in writing as well.
Installation of a new traffic light takes at least six months in most cases, officials said. The committee said that police would be stationed near Central Park Avenue at the start of school as an in interim measure until the light is installed.
The Village Board could vote on the traffic light, which is not a minor expense, at its Aug. 20 meeting. A traffic light, Village Manager Al Rigoni estimated, costs about $250,000, which would have to come from the village’s general fund.
“I’ll have to find the money,” he said.
Most of the time, a traffic light is installed in Skokie as the result of new development such as the Illinois Holocaust Museum or the forthcoming Walmart on Touhy Avenue or the new downtown CTA station.
It’s more rare for the village to install a new traffic light without such development.
Noticeably absent from the list of recommendations was a call for any new stop signs.
“There’s one thing that comes up just about every time you talk about school and traffic and what feels like a local neighborhood street,” said Dan Brinkman, a senior transportation engineer at Gewalt Hamilton. “The gut reaction is put up a stop sign because that’s what people want. Everyone thinks a stop sign is the answer for a number of things.”
But Brinkman said there are standards for when a new stop sign is appropriate.
“Really, an all-way stop sign on a road like Main Street isn’t appropriate,” he said. “The volume isn’t there to justify it.”
The action committee considered other safety measures including speed bumps and a “high intensity activated crosswalk,” a beacon intended to draw the motorist’s attention to where pedestrians would be crossing.
The crosswalk is activated by pushing a button but is generally not recommended for intersections, Brinkman said. Kids would cross mid-street.
Some also advocated for an electronic sign that measures and flashes a driver’s speed as he or she passes key points. The committee debated how effective a speed sign can be.
Brinkman said that there have been 21 crashes reported on or near Main Street close to Middleton School during the last five years. They occurred at or near three intersections — nine at St. Louis, eight at Central Park and the rest at Drake Avenue.
Those crash counts do not include the May 21 tragedy, which was the first fatal crash. Only one of the 21 previous crashes were considered serious, Brinkman said.
Although Gewalt Hamilton’s study revolved around Middleton School, the village is determined to study traffic conditions near all Skokie schools.
District 73.5 Superintendent Kate Donegan, a member of the committee, stressed that she wanted to make sure other schools are scrutinized closely as well.
The committee will meet Aug. 8 and take up safety conditions around McCracken Middle School at Oakton Street and East Prairie Road.