Originally published in Chicago Tribune, September 22, 2020.

Niles village officials are hoping state legislators, citizens and professional studies will convince the Illinois Department of Transportation to approve traffic signals for an intersection where a 13-year-old bicyclist was killed in July.

On Sept. 11, letters signed by Niles Mayor Andrew Przybylo were mailed to State Senators Ram Villivalam and Robert Martwick, and State Representatives Bradley Stephens and John D’Amico. The letters ask the elected officials to support the village’s request to IDOT for traffic control signals at Waukegan Road and Cleveland Street, which is part of a designated bicycle route.

The village is also seeking a traffic signal further east, at Caldwell Avenue and Cleveland Street, where the bike trail connects with Miami Woods and the North Branch Trail.
All four legislators, who each represent a district that includes a portion of Niles, were asked to mail a letter of support to the village by Oct. 1 so that it can be included in a larger package of documentation that the village plans to submit to IDOT officials.

Support from legislators helps 

“Typically IDOT doesn’t waver from their written procedures and standards, but if there is a unique situation and there is support from legislators, they will sometimes take a closer look,” said Niles Director of Public Works Fred Braun.

A recent traffic signal warrant study, conducted by a village-hired consultant, found that Waukegan and Cleveland meets only one of the nine criteria required by IDOT to approve signal installation, Braun said. That one criteria was the occurrence of a severe crash, he said.

On July 16, 13-year-old Sam Yousif of Niles, who had just completed seventh-grade at Culver School, was killed when the bicycle he was riding west across Waukegan Road was struck by a 2014 Chevy Silverado pickup truck traveling north on Waukegan at Cleveland. An investigation into the crash conducted by the Major Crash Assistance Team, a multi-jurisdictional investigation unit, determined the pickup truck was traveling 30 to 35 mph at the time of the impact.

Toxicology tests on the 18-year-old driver were negative for drugs, reports obtained by Pioneer Press indicate. Based on witness accounts, a landscaping truck was stopping in the right lane of northbound Waukegan Road and may have blocked Yousif’s view of approaching traffic in the left lane and also blocked the pickup truck driver’s view of Yousif crossing Waukegan onhis bicycle, a Niles police report said. The findings of the investigation determined that no charges would be filed in connection with the crash, Niles Police Cmdr. Anthony Scipione said.

Cleveland Street, on which Yousif was riding, is a designated bicycle route which generates more than 200 bicycles and pedestrians each day, based on recent studies, Braun said. Village officials believe this, too, should be weighted heavily in IDOT’s decision regarding a traffic signal, he said. According to information provided by Braun from the Federal Highway Administration’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, other criteria for approving traffic signals includes traffic volume at specific periods of the day; pedestrian volume (typically more than 100 pedestrians per hour); whether the intersection is a crossing for school children and is near a railroad crossing; whether the corridor comprises other traffic signals in the area; and whether a signal will encourage better traffic flow. 

Waukegan and Cleveland is located two blocks from St. John Brebeuf Catholic School and less than a half-mile from Culver School. Sen. Robert Martwick said his office already submitted a letter of support for the village’s traffic signal request. “Our approach has always been that mayors in our local towns, like Andrew, know what is going on in their town, so when they say, ‘We need this from the state government,’ we will try to accommodate it,” he said. “It seemed like a reasonable request and sounds like something they really need there on a bike path.”

Rep. Bradley Stephens also mailed a letter of support, his office said Monday, as did Sen. Ram Villivalam. “I will continue to work with the village of Niles and the hundreds of residents who are asking for IDOT to take action,” Villivalam said in a written statement.

Village pursuing signal or alternative

Residents have been calling for a traffic signal at Waukegan and Cleveland since Yousif’s death, and a petition was submitted to the village in August, Przybylo said.
“It’s important for residents to know we agree with them,” Braun said. “We’re not going to stop trying. We are using every resource available, but at the end of the day, we have to get IDOT’s support for a traffic signal and there’s a procedure for doing that. We believe we are following that based on the studies we are performing and getting the support from legislators and residents.”

If traffic signals are not approved for Waukegan and Cleveland, the village will seek to install flashing beacon lights that pedestrians can activate when they want to cross Waukegan Road, Braun said.

The village had a plan several years ago to install flashing beacon lights to aid pedestrians in crossing Waukegan and Caldwell, Braun added, but the project was stalled by IDOT until guidelines for these devices could be updated, which occurred last year.

In addition to beacon lights, the village would also request a “refuge island” in the middle of Waukegan Road, allowing pedestrians and bicyclists to stop midway across and wait for traffic in remaining lanes to clear, Braun said. 

A refuge island could also be installed on Caldwell at Cleveland, and one is currently being added on Howard Street at the North Branch Bike Trail, Braun said. A second study of the Waukegan and Cleveland area is currently being conducted by HR Green Inc., the company that conducted the traffic signal warrant study. This study will look at a larger area and include an analysis of crash data, Braun said. The studies cost a total of $59,323 and were approved by the Niles Village Board in August.

The village has also created a four-member Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Group that will review the village’s existing plan and proposed projects contained within it. Interested residents are asked to submit a form of interest to Village Clerk Marlene Victorine at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Monday, Oct. 5 at 5 pm.

 

 

 

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