The efforts of Forest Park resident Julianne Bonwit to improve safety conditions around Garfield School in the village were rewarded Monday when the village authorized installing two crosswalk caution signs at the intersection of Hannah Avenue and Jackson Boulevard.
The flashing yield signs, one of two options proposed by the Traffic and Safety Commission, were supported by four of the five village council members. Commissioner Tom Mannix favored the other option, installation of stop signs at the intersection.
Although Bonwit’s goal when she started her efforts in September was to have stop signs installed, she said after Monday’s meeting that she was not disappointed with the village council’s action.
“I think what we got is better,” she said, noting that portable signs and “an actual crossing guard” had been added to the intersection when school resumed after winter break last month. The portable signs are placed in the intersection before classes start and removed after the end of the school day.
Both options included the continued presence of a crossing guard although the portable signs might be eliminated in the future. The village and the school district split the cost of the portable signs and the crossing guard’s salary.
Bonwit, parent of a Garfield School student, first brought the matter to the attention of school District 91’s Citizens Advisory Council in September, but a series of twists and turns ensued as she attempted to make her request heard by the school district and village officials. In November, she collected 125 signatures on a petition that she presented to the village council at the Nov. 27 meeting. At that meeting, the village council referred the matter to the village’s Traffic and Safety Commission, which met last month and forwarded its recommendations to the village council.
The crosswalk caution signs will be solar powered with signs stating, “State Law. Stop for Pedestrians in the Crosswalk.” When a button on the pole is pressed, a flashing light will be activated. The estimated cost is $3,700, compared to the $300 estimated cost of the stop signs. The signs are not expected to be installed until spring, when the weather improves.
After the meeting, Bonwit said her efforts were “totally” worth it.
“My concern was getting rid of the crossing guard, but it doesn’t look like that will happen,” she added.
During the public comment portion of the meeting preceding any action, Bonwit thanked the village council members and the commission members for addressing the needs of the students.
“Think carefully about this recommendation,” she said. “Hopefully families with young children will continue to move into Forest Park and you need to provide them with the safest way to get to school.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone also thanked the commission members for their “thorough recommendations.”
“We are going to keep the crossing guard there,” he said. “The best solution in addition to the flashing lights having a human being out there to keep our children safe.”
Commissioners Joe Byrnes, Rachel Entler and Dan Novak joined Calderone in supporting the flashing yield signs.
“The crossing guard is definitely visible,” Entler said. “Not having a full stop at other times of the day improves traffic flow.”
Novak said he favored the flashing yield signs “even though it costs a little more.”
Mannix said he favored stop signs “all the way” in admitting he was in the minority.
“Let’s see how this works,” he added. “We can always revisit it if we need to down the road.”
Calderone cautioned that the effectiveness of the signs will depend on the attitude of drivers.
“Frankly, we have some Forest Park residents who do not pay attention to traffic control devices,” he added.
The flashing signs will be installed just off the curb in the bump-out on the southwest and northwest corners of Hannah and Jackson.
In making the recommendation to the village council, Ryan C. Nero, chairman of the safety and traffic commission, noted that an administrative control will be required for the flashing signs to be effective.
“We firmly believe that the village support by installing the engineering controls is only half of the solution,” he said in his letter to the village council. “The engagement and awareness of the community is equally important.”
He recommended that the village coordinate with the Garfield School board, faculty and staff as well as with parents and students to develop and host a town hall meeting, at which the actions taken should be discussed. He also recommended that the village create an informative handout highlighting safe behaviors in school zones to be distributed at the town hall meeting.