After years of public plea and various efforts, the crosswalk from the Village of Western Springs near Woodland Avenue across Ogden Avenue to Bemis Woods has been updated with additional signage and activated flashing lights to stop vehicles so that pedestrians and bikers can safely cross the four lanes of traffic.
The keystone of the new system is a set of “rectangular rapid-flashing beacons,” or RRFBs, small slit-like high-intensity LEDs that flash back and forth to get attention. A cyclist or pedestrian intending to cross Ogden in either direction presses a button to activate the lights, for which motorists are required by law to stop.
Users of the crosswalk are emphatically warned to wait until all traffic has stopped in front of the lights before crossing—and even then, to never assume that a driver isn’t irresponsible or distracted.
“I would caution all of the public to continue to be very vigilant despite the fact that there are flashing lights out there bringing more attention to the crossing itself,” said Village Engineer Jeffrey Ziegler. “You still need to be very cautious, similar to what you would be if there wasn’t the signal out there.”
One of the difficulties with the new system is that this type of signal is currently fairly uncommon, so motorists may be unfamiliar with it. Another is that drivers are often inclined to come off of I-294 at a dangerously high speed, enough that Ogden—especially east of Wolf Road—is somewhat infamous as a speed trap.
“This is going to require some behavioral changes on behalf of the motoring public,” said Village President Bill Rodeghier. “But I think if we all pay attention to what’s going on, we’ll all be better served… We hope that this is going to be a significant improvement for safety at that crossing.”
Motorists are required by Illinois law to come to a full stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, not merely to yield. Signage about 100 yards east and west of the crosswalk warns approaching drivers to be prepared to stop if necessary.
When pressed, the signal button makes a small beep as confirmation. The duration of the flashing lights is set at 20 seconds, in compliance with state law. A solar panel set atop each of the towers provides power, and a transparent box contains printed pamphlets of safety precautions.
No restrictions have been put in place with regards to turning onto Woodland Avenue at this time. Residents of Woodland that the RRFB lights would lead to increased traffic on their narrow (but being widened) street.
“Traffic counts were conducted earlier this year before the construction after residents raised concern about increased traffic,” wrote Village Director of Municipal Services Matt Supert in an e-mail. “After the crossing goes live, we will monitor traffic counts for a period to determine if there is any additional traffic turning onto Woodland.”
On Monday evening, Western Springs residents Larry and Judy Clark, along with son Connor, used the walk to return home from a bike trip in Bemis Woods and gave a mixed review of the new system.
“Before the lights, we’d stand here 30 minutes trying to get across,” Judy said—but added that the small thin lights seemed insufficient to grab a driver’s attention. “I’m happy to have the lights; I just think it’s a very poorly designed light. They need to go back and fix it.”
Larry added that he’d already seen cars screech tires and nearly crash into each other in their haste to stop in front of the crosswalk. “There’s always almost an accident,” he said. “We get across more quickly, but it’s a little too exciting sometimes.”
Traffic stopped without incident this time, however, and they crossed safety.
Ziegler and Rodeghier both also pledged that the WSPD at some point soon would be focusing enforcement efforts on the crosswalk to ensure motorist compliance and pedestrian and cyclist safety.