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Opposition voiced on lower La Grange Road speed limit

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By Joe Sinopoli, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
La Grange Suburban Life

La Grange, IL -  Is it prudent to lower the speed limit to 25 mph on La Grange Road? Derrick Knudsen does not think so.

Knudsen, who lives in the 600 block, raised the issue at the July 13 Village Board meeting following a report on pedestrian safety measures that have been implemented or are being planned for the village’s major arterial roads.

One proposal is to lower the limit from 35 to 25 mph on La Grange Road south of 47th Street.

Knudsen cited several state and federal studies conducted on the relevance of lowering speed limits to keep accidents from happening. It does not work, Knudsen said.

“If we lower it to 25, I think we are opening ourselves up to safety issues,” Knudsen said. “I live on La Grange Road, and I’m happy with 35.”

Lowering the limit would cause backups on the busy street that would make it nearly impossible, and dangerous, for him to exit his driveway, he added. According to the studies cited by Knudsen, the lowering of speed limits is generally motivated by political or community pressure.

A report on the Effects of Raising and Lowering Speed Limits by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that lowering speed limits by 5 to 20 mph at 100 study sites in 22 states had a minor effect on vehicle speeds.

La Grange Police Chief Michael Holub said he was familiar with the facts Knudsen reported. Police officers had previously attended a traffic class hosted by traffic engineers who said lowering the speed limit does not necessarily slow traffic down; it just creates a bigger gap of violations, and drivers will travel at the speed they are most comfortable.

“It’s kind of like water seeking its own level,” Holub said. “Cars are engineered much better, roadways are engineered much better and people will drive at the speed where they feel they are in control of their vehicles.”

The village has realigned curb cuts along 47th Street and improved crosswalks in response to a fatal accident May 19. Cari Cook of Countryside was crossing the busy four-lane road with a 2-year-old daughter in a stroller and a 4-month-old son strapped to her chest in a carrier.
Cook was attempting to lift the stroller over the curb when she was struck and killed by a car. Her son suffered a broken leg. The daughter was unharmed.

The village also has hired the services of Rosemont-based KLOA Inc., to conduct a safety survey in several parts of the village, among them, La Grange Road. Owner Luay Aboona said the group will be looking at pedestrian crossings, adjusting traffic signals to coincide with countdown signals, and speed limits.

Aboona declined to comment on whether lowering the speed limit would increase safety until the study is complete.

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More 47th Street safety measures in the works

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A traffic consultant for La Grange has recommended installing a flashing yellow traffic signal, rather than a red light device to improve pedestrian safety along 47th Street east of La Grange Road.

Consultants KLOA Inc., based in Rosemont, are expected to provide a report in August detailing the rationale behind that and other recommendations to boost safety along all major thoroughfares.

Pedestrian safety has been a top priority following the death of 30-year-old Cari Cook of Countryside, who was struck May 19 while crossing south on 47th Street at 8th Avenue.

"The flashing yellow light is thought to be the best balance for pedestrian safety and traffic flow," said Village Manager Bob Pilipiszyn. "There are a variety of technical factors."

In late June, crews cut openings on curbs of non-aligned streets crossing 47th Street between 6th and 10 avenues. Neighbors have complained about the curbs as barriers, and Cook was hit by an SUV as she lifted her daughter's stroller over the curb at 8th Avenue.

Visibility was increased at the 9th Avenue crosswalk with reflective paint striping the street and additional signs warning motorists of the crossing. In addition, signs were installed in the middle of the street warning motorists of a state law requiring them to stop for pedestrians.

"State law requires motorists to yield when pedestrians are more than half way into the crosswalk," said Police Chief Michael Holub. "Failure to yield is a moving violation, subject to a fine, not a minor offense."

While the signs are designed to have a calming effect on the traffic and make motorists more aware of the crosswalk, they're not intended to give pedestrians a false sense of security in striding across 47th Street.

"I hope it doesn't create unrealistic expectations by pedestrians. When I'm walking, I never think about my rights as a pedestrian," Holub said. "If it's between me and a car, the car will always win. We're in a very active urban area, and there's a shared responsibility between pedestrians and drivers."

Village Board member Mike Horvath agreed the pedestrian crossing signal isn't a guaranteed safe passage for pedestrians. Horvath he was struck as a 10-year-old by a car that didn't stop in a crosswalk despite a flashing yellow light. He received 800 stitches.

One neighborhood resident of southeastern La Grange said while the curb cuts are a welcome improvement, trees should be trimmed along 47th street to increase visibility, and the speed should be lowered with increased enforcement.

"I have to cross that street every day to get to the train, and the police need to pull people over," said David Herndon of the street's 35 mph limit. "Ogden is 30 mph, why isn't 47th Street?"

Pilipiszyn said consultants are preparing a proposal to conduct a speed study, the first step in petitioning to lower the limit to 25 from 35 mph. The Illinois Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over 47th Street, must approve the change.

Eric Knutson, who lives two blocks south of 47th Street on La Grange Road, said he opposes lowering the speed limit to 25 from 35 mph in front of his house, another stretch identified for a proposed reduction.

"I'm happy with 35 mph," Knutson said. "Studies show that less than one half the drivers comply when the speed limit is lowered and accidents actually increase."

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