IDOT: No School Zones on Willow in Northfield
Half of Thursday's Willow Road study group meeting was taken up with discussion of implementing school speed zones in Northfield, which it doesn't qualify for, according to state standards.
In the ongoing study sessions to, once and for all, devise a road plan for improving traffic and safety on Willow Road, Northfield representatives on the committee have continually used the forum to ask the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement school speed zones in their village. On Thursday, IDOT representatives finally came through with an answer: No.
One hour before the sixth Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting came to order, committee members received a written response to member Phoebe Raymond's June request for school speed zones, wherein IDOT explained that the portion of Willow Road that passes Sunset Ridge School and Middlefork School does not qualify for 20-mile-per-hour speed zones along it.
Pete Harmet, bureau chief of programming for IDOT, said there is already a stop-light-controlled crossing on the road, so school zones are not needed.
"School zones are not warranted under existing conditions," Harmet said. "We're looking at where students are crossing."
He said IDOT is going to identify other potential safety enhancements to improve safety on the road.
For Northfield committee member Robert Hayward, it didn't take long to get his blood sizzling and his voice a few octaves above the others at the news.
"This is a mission you can goddamn guarantee I'm going to continue to drill down," he said.
As with every other piece of information IDOT has brought to the table, Northfielders challenged the argument that they don't qualify under statewide standards. Village Manager Stacy Sigman pointed out that the Illinois Compiled Statutes seems to back up their case: "On a school day when children are present and so close thereto that a potential hazard exists because of the close proximity of the motorized traffic, no person shall drive a motor vehicle at a speed in excess of 20 miles per hour while passing a school zone or while traveling upon any public thoroughfare where children pass going to and from school," reads an excerpt from Chapter 625 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.
They demanded to look at school zone placings across the state. Harmet said he would provide the community with a list of 800 school zone and non-school zone crossings in District 1, for a point of comparison.
Unsatisfied, Northfield members demanded to see the school crossings statewide. Sigman threatened Harmet with a Freedom of Information Act request, and after several more pleas from members, an official from IDOT said he would see what he could come up with.
Jeffrey Liss, representing Winnetka on the CAG, offered a compromise to the school zone situation. He pointed out the difference between conceptual school zones and those that demand reduced speed.
"There's no reason not to have signage that doesn't affect traffic and alerts drivers," he said.
At the previous CAG meeting held in September, Northfield committee members had challenged IDOT's crash and traffic analysis of Willow Road with data produced by the village's hired traffic and transportation planning consultant Kenig, Lindgren, O'Hara, Aboona (KLOA).
Harmet said that KLOA's numbers are not used for design and that IDOT's figures result from 19 years of study showing there has been a 17 percent increase of traffic on Willow Road.
"That's a disputed fact," Hayward said.
"That's a simple fact," Harmet countered.
"That's not the truth. You guys can't handle the truth," Hayward said.
Thursday night IDOT invited a research analyst from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) to explain the methodology used to come up with the figures IDOT is using to determine the future of Willow Road.
CMAP's Claire Bozic had a fruitful exchange with members on all sides of the debate and explained how the CMAP model will be used to map out various potential designs for the Willow Road project, which at the end of the day, is the point of all these meetings: to present alternative design plans that will then be brought before the public for input. And then IDOT will choose which plan to implement.
The CAG will reconvene in January to discuss IDOT's initial road-design suggestions and will continue its study work without input from former member and Glenview Village President Jim Smirles, who died Nov. 12.
"We can all agree that whatever challenges a community faces takes members in the community to step forward," a Glenview member said. "Jim always stepped forward. He put his heart and soul in everything. He put himself above and beyond the community. We will miss Jim."
Correction: We previously misidentified Scott Turban in the story. He represents the Northfield Park District, not IDOT. We regret the error.