Downers Grove North High School representatives present traffic safety plan, ask for suggestions at community forum

DOWNERS GROVE – Traffic safety concerns and solutions were weighed at a community forum Sept. 5 at Downers Grove North High School.

The forum encouraged input from parents and Downers Grove residents as the district moves forward with traffic safety improvements near the high school. A similar forum was held that night at Downers Grove South High School.

Not many people attended the event, which Downers Grove North principal Janice Schwarze attributed to athletic events at the school, which took place at the same time. Roughly 20 people were in the crowd, and most were Downers Grove North or Community High School District 99 officials.

The forum began with a brief presentation by both Schwarze and District 99 Superintendent Hank Thiele, who discussed what has been done so far and what officials hoped to glean form the discussion.

Some changes designed to enhance safety that already have been made include reduced speed limits near the school campus, pedestrian stickers on sidewalks and message boards that announce that school is back in session.

Schwarze and Thiele addressed how the changes were spurred by the death of Beth Dunlap, a Downers Grove North student who was struck and killed at 11 a.m. Feb. 19 while crossing a street near the high school in a marked crosswalk.

“We’ve always talked about and made numerous improvements already on that main entrance way before Beth was hit,” Schwarze said. “She did everything right, and honestly, a lot of the improvements we’ve already made probably would not have made a difference with her. But it did then prompt us to really talk about this in more detail.”

After changes are made to improve safety at the high schools, plans will be similarly instituted in Downers Grove Grade School District 58, Schwarze said.

Stacey Meekins, a principal with Sam Schwartz Engineering, a Chicago firm that will assist with the changes, discussed the district’s timeline for the projects.

After the first safety forum, the team plans to dive into technical analysis during October, which will include considering the ideas suggested by community members and discussing logistics.

A second safety forum will be in November, at which time results of the analysis will be presented and final ideas and concerns can be raised. By December, a conceptual design and final report will be available to the public, officials said.

Despite the forum’s low attendance, other outlets the district has provided for community members to voice comments and concerns have been more successful. For example, the district created an interactive map that allows anyone to mark problem areas and leave a comment on the website. So far, the district has received 274 responses, Meekins said. The map can be found on the district’s website.

While the interactive map has encouraged many to voice suggestions, including increased police presence, preventing left and right turns from Sherman Street and eliminating street parking during school hours, many of the map’s comments are complaints.

“The new reduced speed limits are ridiculous for a street of this size and traffic,” one anonymous commenter wrote regarding the recently adjusted speed limit on Main Street. “I understand a young woman was killed in an accident, but that would have happened if the speed limit was 5 mph. I MIGHT be able to understand the school zone 20 mph restriction, but to go to 25 on that stretch of Main is RIDICULOUS [sic].”

Some of the criticisms written on the map regarded the pedestrian signs, which they said inferred that Dunlap was in some way at fault for her death.

The signs, which encourage people to not talk on cellphones when crossing the street, are placed in the same location as the accident. Dunlap was not on her phone when she was struck. Schwarze assured attendees during her opening statement that the signs only were intended to prevent future accidents.

“No one can say what would or would not have prevented [the accident], but we can work to prevent tragedies in the future,” she said.

Published by Suburban Life Sept. 12

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