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Opinion: Main Street Speed Reduction Makes No Sense

After the tragic death of 9-year-old Carter Vo, some Skokie residents expressed concern about the speed limit on Main Street near Middleton Elementary School.

Editor's note: The following is an opinion and does not reflect Skokie Patch's view on said issue. If you'd like to provide a counter to this piece, please email me at georges@patch.com. 

I oppose the speed limit reduction on Main Street.

The proposed ordinance was slated for a second reading and included as part of the consent agenda at the Village of Skokie Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 1.  

I had hoped the Village Trustees would vote in the best interests of the community at large and not simply follow the Public Safety Task Force’s recommendations, especially since none of the Skokie Staff representatives on that committee or the consultant supported the speed limit reduction at the Aug. 8, meeting.  In addition, there were several factual errors in the ordinance as proposed and I do not believe the ordinance as written represents what Trustee Edie Sue Sutker proposed at the Aug. 20 Board of Trustees meeting. 

Therefore, I wrote a letter to encourage the Trustees to either vote against this ordinance, or at least postpone a vote until more information could be obtained. Instead, at the Oct. 1 meeting, the Trustees chose to ignore facts, statistics, and their staff suggestions and approved the proposed ordinance.

At the Board of Trustees meeting on Aug. 20, which is being categorized as the first reading of the ordinance, there was no specific ordinance presented – only the approval of recommendations by the Public Safety Task Force. In addition, at the meeting on Aug. 20, of the residents who spoke, all of them said they believed in pedestrian safety near Middleton, but of those who mentioned items regarding ordinances (speed limit reduction or traffic signal), two-thirds spoke against it. In my opinion, several amendments were needed to the proposed ordinance since there were several factual errors before it should have been placed on the agenda for a vote at the Board of Trustees meeting on Oct. 1.

While the ordinance was removed at my request from the consent agenda and opened for public comment, it was still approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees.  I was surprised that the ordinance, which clearly had some resident opposition, would have been voted upon rather than tabled until resident concerns regarding the actual ordinance could be reviewed.

I agree that public safety near schools is something that everyone should support. However, I had hoped that the Board of Trustees would balance those needs with the needs of the community as a whole for efficient transportation throughout Skokie. 

While I was not part of the Public Safety Task Force, I did attend all meetings of the group as a concerned resident.  The Public Safety Task Force was formed not to look at efficient transportation or even the impact of their decisions outside of the immediate area of Middleton School, but rather its primary goal was exclusively pedestrian safety in School District 73.5. The Task Force only had citizen representatives from within the 73.5 School District, yet the recommendations from the group would affect residents throughout the community – especially since the proposed speed limit reduction is not restricted to only the area of Middleton School. The Village of Skokie Staff that served on the Public Safety Task Force did represent the interests of the community at large and were largely against the speed limit reduction. 

In attendance at the Aug. 8 meeting of the Public Safety Task Force were Village Director of Engineering Fred Schattner, Village Manager Albert Rigoni, Skokie Police Chief Anthony Scarpelli, among others.  At this meeting, the Village Manager remained fairly silent and I do not recall him voicing an opinion on the issue of speed limit reductions.  However, Mr. Schattner, Mr. Scarpelli, and the other police officer all agreed with the consultant that speed limit reductions are ineffective in reducing overall traffic speed.  When the actual vote on this issue by the Public Safety Task Force came up, none of the staff actually voted for the speed limit reduction and instead remained silent (perhaps because they knew they would be out-voted by the very vocal resident members of the task force).  I cannot believe that Village Staff are opposed to improving public safety, so my only conclusion is that they believe that reducing the speed limit will not have the desired effect and could negatively impact other areas or citizens.

At the Village Board Meeting on Oct. 2, Trustee Randy Roberts said, “The beauty of a democracy is sometimes we can experiment on a local level and we don’t always have to follow consultants.  And sometimes common sense says that we should try and experiment and if they don’t work we can go back and we can change.”  I think it will be extremely difficult to increase the speed limit back to the 30mph speed limit that the consultants thought was appropriate.  However, maybe it will happen if enough residents complain when they do not see an effect on the average speed on Main Street and they see an increase on traffic on their neighboring residential streets.

Again, I would like to state that there were several factual errors in the ordinance as presented, including the false representation that the consultant, Gewalt Hamilton, supported the speed limit reduction along Main Street.  While I am all for decreasing the actual travel speeds on Main in order to improve traffic safety, I am against decreasing the speed limit on Main Street because I have listened to the Village Staff and Consultants who have stated that it will not be effective.  Despite the fact that the Board of Trustees are elected to represent the community at large, in this case, they chose to “experiment” and listen to a few very vocal residents appointed to the special Public Safety Task Force whose primary purpose was pedestrian safety near schools, not the overall well-being of the community.

Earl Weiss October 07, 2012 at 02:31 AM
I live "off Main" whatever that is. Have 4 kids all having gone to middleton, for 5 years each. I am against it.
Hank October 07, 2012 at 01:00 PM
The problem was not due to the speed limit. It was a DUI. The driver of the car was incapable of controling it. Changing the speed limit is just an over reaction. It seems no one is addressing the real problem. As usual...... If you really want to keep cars that are out of control off the sidewalks you need guard rails or concrete barriers. Both which are unsightly and simply wont' do in Skokie.
J C October 07, 2012 at 03:21 PM
Are you kidding...Their skirt steak dinner with Greek potatos is the best, And I have never had a better hamburger anywhere....And I don't mind waiting because it's worth it.....
Earl Weiss October 07, 2012 at 08:50 PM
"Hank The problem was not due to the speed limit. It was a DUI." There you go. Confusing the issue with the facts. No new regualtions etc. will sstop bonehead moves.
Earl Weiss October 07, 2012 at 08:51 PM
If your talkin skirt steak, I like Hubs better, but for a real treat try Crossrhodes in Evanston. You can thank me later.
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Thank you DVD for helping me make my point. Those who use Main St are not necessarily only local residents and do not all have children. Yet the public streets are PUBLIC and the Village should consider all of the residents needs. And the Village Staff and consultant did that and said that if you look at the community as a whole that the speed limit on Main St near Middleton should not be reduced. But instead people used their own personal experiences and personal opinions and not only reduced the speed limit on Main St near Middleton but along the entire stretch of Main St. I do live "off of Main St" - but in the area of Madison school (not Middleton). In my opinion in that area it isn't Main St that needs to have the lower speeds, but Lincoln. But that wasn't considered. So, instead this committee made recommendations that have implications Village-wide that are not based on facts. And if this kind of thing continues, then every street is going to be 25mph and people will be driving right in front of your house - independent of whether you live on the smallest residential street - because the speed limit is the same everywhere and why should they drive the extra half-mile to Dempster or Touhy or whatever if the speed limit is the same. That is why Main St is considered a collector street - to keep people off of Madison, Keeney, Lee, Cleveland, etc.
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 01:37 PM
You asked why this is an issue: 1) A limited number of people made this recommendation for the entire Village (from McCormick to Lincoln), not just their neighborhood (so not just near Middleton). And the Board of Trustees chose to listen to them instead of their staff or consultants. 2) It isn't the travel time issue that bothers me. What bothers me is that additional cars will divert to the non-collector roads like Madison and Lee. Some people currently will go 35mph and will stay behind a car going 30mph (the speed limit), but because they REALLY don't want to go 25mph - instead they will divert to a residential street and go 35mph on that road (and yes they will go whatever speed they want - independent of the speed limit). These are the ones where time is critical, so they are not going to divert all they way up to Dempster or Oakton. This is what the experts were trying to say - but no one listened. So my issue is why aren't people listening to the experts that they hired?
The Dot October 08, 2012 at 02:05 PM
JC, leave the zip code once and a while. Hank, take an extra five minute drive down Chicago Ave into Rogers Park and go to a Mexican place for skirt steak. Don't forget to lock your car. Oh, Grecian Kitchen has great food and employed that meth head who killed the 9 year old.
Earl Weiss October 08, 2012 at 02:29 PM
" Does this really adversely affect you other than to add, perhaps, a couple minutes to your drive?" Because the issue is not jut this couple of minutes. The next group, then the next etc. Then all clamor for the same thing. They are also considering the same thing. Lawler South of Golf is messed up as is Gross Point between Main and Oakton. So before you know it this "Couple of Minutes" repeats itself numerous times over a trip each way. So 15 minute trips become 30 minutes, etc. Pretty soon you blow an extra hour or so per day due to stuff like this.
Jim McNelis October 08, 2012 at 07:51 PM
I had the privilege of serving on the Traffic Safety Task Force this summer. I'd like to express my viewpoint towards the issue raised by Ms. Gudgel. Initially, the 25mph speed limit proposal did not, in fact, have majority support on the Task Force. When it was first proposed I have to admit that while I was not an opponent, neither I was an immediate enthusiastic supporter. I was more focused on enforcement of existing school zone speed limits. But as conversation continued, with more give and take, and deeper consideration being given to the issues, I did embrace the proposal. Others did too because in the end, the proposal had gained majority support. There was no bullying, only thoughtful and deliberate dialogue. In fact, as Katie might remember, at the same meeting these "few very vocal residents" also proposed a No Left Turn during morning hours for southbound trafiic on Central Park. This was discussed but ultimately was not recommended because it did not gain majority support. Again, no bullying, just respectful dialogue and consideration...
Jim McNelis October 08, 2012 at 07:51 PM
...One fact that influences my opinion on the speed limit, and why I believe the proposal absolutely does in fact make perfect sense to enhance pedestrian safety near schools, is the layout of Main Street in Skokie with respect to school zones. On Main St in Skokie, between McCormick Blvd to the east and Laramie Ave to the west, there are 4 school speed zones. Two of them are near public schools and two are near private schools. Four school zones means there are 8 changes in speed limit over this relatively short 2.4 mi distance. The speed limit change equates to a 10mph (33%) swing, from 30mph down to 20mph (and conversely back up to 30mph). This means that in this 2.4 mi. stretch of residential streetway, on average there is a 33% change in speed limit every 2-1/2 blocks. The way I chose to look at it this was: if I were designing this from scratch, with the number of school zones required over this distance to help protect students and pedestrians, would I put speed limit changes of 33% every 2-1/2 blocks? Or would it be more reasonable and more effective to use 20% changes instead? Especially considering the likely average speed coming in to the 20mph school zone, and enforcing these school zone speed limits. It made more sense to me, as a degreed and practicing engineer with 20+ years of experience, to have 20% swings rather than 33% swings over this relatively short distance...
Jim McNelis October 08, 2012 at 07:52 PM
...With regard to commenter concerns about precedence and influence on future decisions, I hear and absolutely agree in general with this. But understand that precedence also requires comparability. I don't know what other street in Skokie is like Main St. with respect to the number of school zones per mile. Those that are similar may also merit some sort of review by the village. But those that are not similar to what we were looking at are just not equivalent and a precedent doesn't apply. Why the village ultimately decided to extend the 25mph limit on Main St. about 3/4 of a mile further west to the Skokie-Morton Grove border, I cannot speak to. This was not something the task force discussed, it was a village decision. But it's probably safe to assume that the existing 25mph speed limit in Morton Grove makes it easier, more sensible, and more effective for overall speed enforcement to bridge that short gap and bring the 25mph zones together. While I appreciate and respect Ms. Gudgel's thoughtful participation in the task force meetings, I respectfully disagree with her on this issue. I think it absolutely does make sense and will enhance pedestrian safety on a residential street so densely packed with school speed zones. Sorry for the lengthy response.
Earl Weiss October 08, 2012 at 08:09 PM
"Jim McNelis I don't know what other street in Skokie is like Main St. with respect to the number of school zones per mile. Those that are similar may also merit some sort of review by the village. We can only hoe - NOT. Nextthing you know all are similar, Like Crawford with Highland, Middleton, East Prairie, The Lincolnwood schools, Then there's Church with Stenson, Old Orchard, St. Joan of Arc, and the one at Church and Central Park and Continuing into Evanston, Golf with Highland, Old Orchard, Niles North and, and , and,
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Jim: Thank you for your well thought out and logical response. Unfortunately, I did not hear that at the meetings. Perhaps you did say this or something similar. However, part of your logic doesn't follow with the decision that was made within the Task Force. The original proposal was for the reduced speed limit to end at Skokie Blvd, which means that Madison school would not have been affected. And one of the private schools that was discussed would have the same school zone as Middleton. So, as proposed there would have only been two school zones in a 1.9 mile stretch. At this point the decision has been made and I respect the votes both by the Task Force and by the Trustees. But what I am extremely disappointed in was the process. Why were a select number of individuals from just one school district given such broad influence to changing the speed limit throughout the Village? And while a majority of the task force did vote for all of the recommendations, including the speed limit reduction, I felt it was necessary for the Trustees to know that there was quite a bit of dissention regarding the speed limit.
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 08:42 PM
So, my primary concern was that the controversial issues were not presented to the Village Trustees. It was presented as though all the recommendations were unanimous and it was completely glossed over that there was an extensive conversation in which Village staff and the consultant spoke up against it. So, I did feel that my opinions were heard at the task force, even though they may not have been in the majority. However, I did not have the same feeling at the Village level. I really got the feeling that since two of the trustees sat on the task force, that the decision had essentially been made even before being presented. One indication of that is the fact that it was placed on the consent agenda despite several residents speaking up against it at the first hearing of the ordinance. If items are controversial - whether between residents or the committee that it recommending it, the items should not be placed on the consent agenda. Instead the Village should be presenting the topic to the public and welcome public comments.
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 08:50 PM
I think you meant McCracken on Crawford. Thank you for pointing out several concrete examples of other streets with multiple schools.
Earl Weiss October 08, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Right - McCracken
Katie Gudgel October 08, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Another point of procedure - according to the video taped meeting minutes from the Village of Trustees Board meeting it was the Task Force's recommendation to reduce the speed limit from McCormick to the Village Limit. This surprised me at the meeting, but I had assumed that the task force had approved that change via email when they approved the meeting minutes. You can review exactly what was said by viewing the Aug 20 video of the trustee meeting (around 55:00 is when Trustee Sutker discusses this) available on the skokie.org web-site http://www.skokie.org/boardvideos.cfm
J C October 08, 2012 at 10:44 PM
I suppose the degreed and practicing engineers, Never thought building schools on main thoroughfares was a bad idea in the first place . Maybe if we revert main street back to a dirt road it will help.
rzdw92 October 09, 2012 at 04:36 AM
Sure, there's lots of streets with multiple schools. But are they similar to Main St? How far apart are the schools? Where are they located? Do they have traffic controls at the crosswalks? Earl's examples: Crawford Ave. - not similar. A) it's controlled by the county not the village so the discussion basically ends there. Even if it could be changed by the village, still not similar. 3 school zones over 2.8 miles (from Howard to Grant St.), not the same "density" (ooh sorry JC, that's a big word for you). Also, the schools at the south end (East Prarie and McCracken) are located right at primary intersections where the crosswalks are controlled by traffic lights and the school speed zone is immediately adjacent to the traffic light. Not the same at all as Main St. Church St. - not similar. Guess what Church has that Main does not: traffic lights near schools! One at Central Park and Church for Walker School, one at Niles Center Rd & Church for the private school, and one at Lockwood and Church for Stenson school. Main has no traffic lights near the schools. So I guess it's not really similar after all. But thanks to the task force, we are going to get one stoplight at Central Park near the school and park. Gotta start somewhere I guess.
J C October 09, 2012 at 04:55 AM
I see, So what your saying is that by making some sort of cheep insult at me , Some how lends credence to you pointing out the blatantly obvious. So the discussion basically ends there !
rzdw92 October 09, 2012 at 04:59 AM
see, this is what I mean about Patch commentary being useless and irrelevant. you can dish out cheap shots at others but can't take one yourself. pathetic.
Katie Gudgel October 09, 2012 at 11:26 AM
I fail to see why these are SO much different. You are never going to have IDENTICAL conditions. Crawford vs. Main St: A) Yes much of it is controlled by the county. But that doesn't mean that pedestrian safety near the schools shouldn't be an issue and that throughout the Village traffic control devices should be similarly implemented. If the Village changes the traffic patterns everywhere else because they "can", that is going to make Crawford and those schools even more dangerous. B) What is the difference between 3 school zones in 2.8 miles (Crawford) vs. 3 school zones in 2.4 miles (Main St). Number wise, the school zone density is very similar. (Yes there are four schools along Main St that were discussed but two of those school zones overlap - so there will only be 3 school zones). Church St - VERY similar. Yes you say that there isn't a traffic signal near Middleton - but that is a separate issue from the speed limit reduction. Middleton will be getting a traffic signal. And there is already a traffic signal near Arie Crown on Main at Skokie Blvd and there is a stop sign near Madison school. So, yes, Main St to be made similar to Church St and even Crawford should get a traffic signal at Central Park. But why should Main St be the only street considered by the Village to have a reduced speed limit? It is VERY similar to other streets with schools.
Katie Gudgel October 09, 2012 at 12:05 PM
One factor which should also be considered is the number of public schools vs. private schools. The public schools specifically draw from the local community so are going to have a higher percentage of students walking to school than at a private school, which can draw from a much larger area. Based on that, all 3 of the schools along Crawford are public schools. Whereas along Main St only two of the school zones are for public schools. So, back to school zone density but this time public school density - Crawford: 3/2.8 miles or one every 0.93 miles, Main St: 2/2.4 miles or one every 1.2 miles. I am not saying that private schools shouldn't also have school zones, just that if you are going to go above and beyond the "norm" it should be in the area of public schools where you have more pedestrians. And reducing the speed limit on a collector street (Main) to 25mph is going beyond the "norm" as indicated by the consultant and called an "experiment" by Trustee Roberts.
rzdw92 October 09, 2012 at 01:35 PM
This editorial gets more confused with every new comment. Katie, you seem to be arguing against yourself. One of your original premises was that Main St is not comparable to itself -- i.e. Main St. east (by Middleton) IS NOT THE SAME as Main St west (by Madison) and no attempt should be made to equate the two sections. Now, in the name of promoting a slippery slope theory, you are throwing away that logic and becoming blind to any differences. Somehow now entire streets (Main, Church, Crawford) ARE THE SAME. I think this needs to be re-titled: "Editorial makes no sense".
Katie Gudgel October 09, 2012 at 01:51 PM
My point was exactly that decisions are being made without actually looking at the facts. The "study" was only for Middleton, and the Task Force was established to only look at District 73.5. But one of the task force members is now using as justification of HIS decision to vote for the reduction in speed limit along Main St claiming that there isn't another street that is similar. So, what I am saying is that the west end of Main St is just as similar to the east end of Main St as either one of them are to Church. So, why was it "justified" for a focus group to be broadly addressing issues all along Main St when there are other areas that may be even more similar to the Middleton area. So, what I am trying to say is where is the "border" between what the task force set out to do and what they actually did. They arbitrarily looked at all of Main St - without having done studies, asked local residents, or even asked the principals of the other schools. So, if this focused task force was "allowed" to do this for Main St, then why did they stop there? Why didn't they just reduce the speed limit everywhere in town? My contention is that this task force over-stepped their bounds and that the Village Trustees did not listen their staff who do have the experience looking at conditions throughout the Village.
The Dot October 09, 2012 at 01:58 PM
While some of you argue about whether or not a much needed reduced speed limit and traffic light is justified on Main St, has anyone ever noticed that Oakton St has no shortage of $5 haircut barber shops or salons and baba ghannoug?
Earl Weiss October 09, 2012 at 02:35 PM
" rzdw92 Sure, there's lots of streets with multiple schools. But are they similar to Main St?" You are splitting hairs. 1. Local entities have input on what counties do with roads thru their municipalities. 2. Tenths of a mile make a big difference? 3. Main Street / Middleton is now getting a Stoplight so that is a dead issue vis a vis speed reduction. So, you are correct - the discussion basicaly ends. We will have to agree to disagree. Some love the "Nanny State". Some don't. .
J C October 09, 2012 at 05:15 PM
$5 omg I paid $12 for my last one....
The Dot October 09, 2012 at 05:57 PM
check out little Dearborn the next time you're on Oakton.

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