Skokie homeowner signs off on making neighborhood safer
Michael Humphries-Dolnick displays the sign he purchased in mass and helped distribute in the area after a fatal car crash at Main Street and St. Louis Avenue took the life of an 8-year-old boy. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
SIGNS OF A SOLUTION
Who: Michael Humphries-Dolnick
Skokie resident: 20 years, 11 at current address
Career: Information-technology engineer
What: Spearheaded effort to install yard signs warning drivers to slow down after tragic accident.
Contact: To order signs or make donations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: October 30, 2012 12:56PM
SKOKIE — Drivers who travel though the east end of Main Street in Skokie may have noticed in the past couple of months lawn signs asking them to slow down to “save a child.”
Michael Humphries-Dolnick with help from others in his neighborhood near Middleton School is responsible. A tragic spring accident at nearby Main and St. Louis Avenue saw the neighborhood’s worst fears come true.
A driver was involved in a car crash and then traveled out of control, striking and killing 8-year-old Carter Vo, who was on the sidewalk with his bike. Though she was charged with a felony and misdemeanor for allegedly being under the influence of drugs at the time, Middleton School neighbors had long been concerned about speeding and dangerous conditions on Main.
Shortly after the tragedy, Humphries-Dolnick said, an e-mail thread circulated among the neighbors.
“People were saying this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, that we need to go to village hall and talk about the safety of our kids because cars just speed down the streets,” he said.
As the group exchanged ideas, one e-mailer noted a website where a community in Michigan having trouble with speeders made its own signs asking drivers to slow down.
But getting the community together to make elaborate, 5-foot-high yard signs, Humphries-Dolnick said, might be time-consuming and result in fewer signs.
“It occurred to me that you see yard signs all the time and somebody has to make these,” he said.
He found a business that did just that and informed the neighborhood.
Humphries-Dolnick laid out $260 for 100 signs after collaborating on what the signs should say. He distributed them and accepted donations, but the money he collected was saved for another batch of signs.
The Skokie homeowner ordered a second 100 signs using the donated money from the neighborhood; the first batch was on him. And he currently has about $150 in donations so a third 100 signs is likely not far away.
One reason Humphries-Dolnick, 49, sprung into action was because the tragedy hit so close to home — both figuratively and literally.
Humphries-Dolnick’s youngest son, Justin, was friends with Carter Vo when they were first-graders at Middleton. The loss had an impact on Justin, who spent time at a makeshift memorial near the accident to process the loss.
“He thought about the friendship he had with Carter and left a train at the memorial, a toy they played with,” Humphries-Dolnick said. “It was rough.”
Humphries-Dolnick and his wife moved to Skokie 20 years ago, the past 11 at their current home, blocks from the accident scene. He works as an information-technology engineer — technology being something he was interested in since childhood.
As a technology specialist, Humphries-Dolnick is used to taking on complex problems. He did just that in his own neighborhood to try to prevent the events of May 22 from ever happening again.
The village responded to the tragedy just as quickly, assembling a task force to recommend ways to make the area safer. Task-force members, including village officials, acknowledged this month that Humphries-Dolnick’s signs have anecdotally had the effect of slowing down Main Street traffic.
Assembling the signs has become a family project of sorts. When a new batch comes in, his wife and three children — two of them Middleton students and one a former Middleton student — lend a hand.
“I set out doing this not to attract attention,” Humphries-Dolnick said. “But I’m really happy that I’m being told it does make a difference. I love driving around and seeing my signs up everywhere.”
He is even seeing them in neighborhoods where he didn’t distribute them. The project has gone viral — to use an Internet term — as neighbors take several and pass some on to others.
“There seems to be this distribution network and it’s really kind of cool,” Humphries-Dolnick said. “And people are telling me they see traffic slowing down on their own streets. That by far makes me the proudest about this whole thing.”