One September morning, Pamela Barnes was driving down Madison Street on her daily route to work when she witnessed the terrible car accident that took the life of 39-year-old Forest Park resident, Lovie Sanders.
Sanders, a dedicated teacher, was trying to cross traffic on foot, seemingly headed for Starbucks, when a car struck and killed her. The vehicle had swerved into the oncoming lane as a shortcut to make a left turn on Elgin. Barnes said it was a maneuver that she sees almost daily.
“They want to do it quickly before a car starts coming in their direction,” she said. “They just whip around, that’s what’s so dangerous about it.”
Though fatal accidents are rare, Barnes, 52, said Madison Street in particular has become increasingly dangerous for pedestrians over the last 15 years that she has lived in Forest Park. Other residents have echoed her concerns, not just for Madison, but for numerous village streets. The Review decided to take a look at car crashes in Forest Park to find the intersections that are the most accident-prone.
Deputy Chief Tom Aftanas said there are approximately 1,100 reported car accidents each year, which includes crashes on the streets, parking lots and alleys. To rank the top intersections, the police department, at the Review’s request, selected what they believed to be the most frequented spots, and then the Illinois Department of Transportation ran the numbers for accident reports based on 2009 data. Two intersections tied at the top, each with 16 car crashes last year: Roosevelt Road at Harlem Avenue and Roosevelt Road at Desplaines Avenue.
“They are the main arteries through town,” said Mark Hosty, commissioner of streets and public improvements. “People drive on them like highways.”
At Harlem and Roosevelt, 12 of the crashes caused property damage. Five people were injured, but no one was killed. At Roosevelt and Desplaines, 14 of the crashes left property damage. Twelve people were injured, and no one died.
Hosty said red-light cameras were installed at those two intersections a few years ago to try to get drivers to slow down and pay attention to the intersection.
Even still, “people don’t always obey the lights and the cameras,” Aftanas said. “They are trying to beat the lights.”
Ranking third on the list was Harlem and Madison with eight reported crashes and three injured people. Nearby at Madison and Circle, there were five accidents and two people injured. Police singled out Madison and Circle in particular as a trouble spot because of the traffic that builds up on the street during rush hour.
“A lot of vehicles block the light when it changes from green to red,” Aftanas said. “It causes a lot of angry drivers.”
He said a few years ago IDOT denied the village’s request to make the east-west green light at Harlem and Madison last longer so as to ease traffic. (IDOT representatives could not be immediately reached.) Aftanas also said they’ve had officers along Madison to help direct traffic, but they cannot do that everyday.
Placing at the bottom of the list with one accident last year was Harlem and the ramp for Interstate 290. With all nine intersections combined, there were 65 total crashes – mainly rear end hits – and 29 people injured. The vast majority of accidents occurred in daylight with clear weather conditions. This list is only a snapshot, though, of the hundreds of crashes that happen throughout the year.
One intersection that was not included was Circle and Lexington, one block south of the Circle bridge. Tom O’Connell lives nearby and has found broken car parts on the road. His neighbor’s tree has been gauged from an accident. He has also seen a school bus crash, cars hit one another and a lot of near misses.
“People are jumping on Circle and taking it all the way down to bypass Harlem,” said the 55-year-old resident of 10 years. “They are definitely going too fast. There are a lot of issues at this corner, a lot of screeching and a lot of people not paying attention to traffic signals. I worry about the motorists.”
O’Connell said he’d like to see more stop signs to slow down the speeding drivers.
Everybody agrees that safety is the top concern. The problem is not necessarily caused by the design of the intersections, according to police, but usually because of drivers who are not being careful and attentive while on the road. People are often distracted by their cell phones or driving too fast, police said.
“They are putting on makeup, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, it’s like driving has become the secondary concern when people are behind the wheel,” Hosty said. “We need more cautious drivers.”
If anything, Barnes said, the deadly accident from a few weeks ago should serve as a reminder.
“I still think about it, just knowing that it could happen to anybody,” she said.