Flossmoor officials and residents met downtown Friday to discuss safety concerns regarding traffic around the island on Sterling Avenue.
The small area in downtown Flossmoor where Sterling Avenue, Park Drive and Central Drive converge around a teardrop-shaped landscape island contains the following:
● Seven crosswalks.
● One Metra foot tunnel.
● One Metra parking lot entrance.
● Two mailboxes.
● A post office.
● Four park benches.
● Eight parallel street parking spaces.
● Nine angled street parking spaces.
● Bicycle parking.
● A major restaurant.
● Six business storefronts.
● The Flossmoor Public Library.
That’s a whole lot going on in a relatively small area. Drivers, pedestrians, train commuters, business patrons and schoolchildren all cross paths during peak commuting times in the bustling downtown. All the activity creates a wonderful city energy, but for years it’s also produced headaches for some residents who say traversing the downtown area via car or foot has become unsafe for themselves and their children.
As the issue has come to a head, Flossmoor resident Mary Murray coordinated a meeting for residents with Mayor Paul Braun to discuss the issue. The morning of Jan. 12, Braun talked with other village officials and concerned Flossmoor residents huddled against the winter cold within the Metra pedestrian tunnel on Sterling Avenue.
Although she ended up missing the meeting due to other responsibilities, Murray spoke separately about the issue to the H-F Chronicle. She said although she walks her fourth-grader, MeMe, to Western Avenue Elementary School every day, her daughter would like to make the trek by herself sometimes.
“She lives in this beautiful, wonderful little village and she’s old enough to navigate herself, but it’s not safe for her to cross Sterling Avenue by the library. You can be out in the crosswalk and cars still go right through,” Murray said. “There’s this whole rite of passage that she has not been able to experience because we can’t seem to make our downtown safe for our kids.”
At the gathering, public officials and residents all seemed to agree that the number of crosswalks in the area makes the situation confusing for pedestrians and distracting for motorists. With seven crosswalks between streets and to and from the island — which Braun pointed out isn’t a true roundabout — drivers’ attention is too splintered. Braun said the village wants to enlist a traffic professional to review the intersection, but added “we’re definitely changing the crosswalk.”
Another point of agreement among those in attendance was the need to relocate the mailbox that sits on the landscaped island. Drivers who stop to deposit mail disrupt the flow of traffic, causing others to dart around them.
Flossmoor resident Alanna Cotch said a car nearly struck her daughter as she traversed the crosswalk in front of the mailbox — there’s another crosswalk just behind the mailbox, about 40 feet away.
“A person stopped at the mailbox to drop off mail and the person behind them was in too big of a rush and almost clipped her,” Cotch said. “It’s not the people dropping off mail; it’s the people coming up from behind.”
Moving the mailbox would require coordination with the U.S. Postal Service, but Braun said it shouldn’t be a complicated project and will probably take place in 2018. However, he said some residents would be upset to see the mailbox in a different downtown locale.
“That mailbox is iconic to some people and they don’t want it moved,” Braun said.
Flossmoor Public Works director John Brunke said the village has already replaced all the landscaping on the island with low-level vegetation to increase visibility. Last year, the village commissioned a study and reconfiguration proposal of the area, a plan that is estimated to cost about $1 million, Brunke said. The village is pursuing grant money to pay for the project from the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program. Brunke said the grant was not awarded for 2018, but the village will reapply this year.
There are problems beyond the island, too. Alan Ermshler, a Flossmoor father of three, said commuter drop-offs at the Metra tunnel and delivery trucks parked in front of Flossmoor Station Restaurant present additional hazards.
“In the morning and afternoon, you’ll see trucks parked right (in front of the restaurant) and you see kids pop out from behind the trucks, trying to see if it’s clear to cross,” Ermshler said.
Murray and other parents suggested that a crossing guard could help pedestrians cross the island during busy times.
Flossmoor Police Chief Michael Pulec said the village previously assigned a community service officer to act as a crossing guard there, but the design of the crosswalks made it too difficult to manage.
“There are so many crossings, he was running from one crosswalk to the other to the other,” Pulec said. “It wasn’t effective as people were crossing for him to get to them.”
He added that Flossmoor School District 161 would need to split the cost of the crossing guard with the village, something it has not yet been willing to do.
Resident Elisha O’Shea pinned much of the problem on cars speeding through the area. If drivers would just slow down and watch what they’re doing, she said, things could improve. She suggested a short, intensive period of police citations to make it clear that speeding won’t be tolerated downtown.
“I crawl through here when I’m driving,” O’Shea said. “I realize there’s a human element and you can’t control everything, but it’s so frustrating. How much can you control the fact that people are going to be jerks?”
Pulec said officers have been making more stops for driver education and citations, and residents agreed they have noticed the increased police presence.
The whole meeting was intended to bring everyone together to discuss solutions, Murray said. She collected a list of residents’ ideas and forwarded it to Braun.
“I don’t doubt that the village is concerned about this too,” Murray said. “There just needed to be a conversation about it in the place where everyone sees this stuff going on. That’s why I got it rolling.”