41 removed, 29 added
By Anthony Caciopo
Regional News Editor
Conspicuous by their absence, dozens of stops signs in the section of town known as Old Palos have been removed recently as part of a traffic control evaluation commissioned by the City of Palos Heights.
Forty-one signs have disappeared in the last three weeks in an area bordered by Rt. 83/College Drive on the north, 127th Street on the south, Oak Park Avenue on the east and 76th Avenue on the west.
Along 122nd Street alone, eight have been removed between Harlem and Oak Park avenues.
But in the same geographic area, 29 stop signs and six yield signs have been added, also per the recommendation of the traffic control evaluation, which was done in 2017.
The sudden departure of the 41 signs is because they were unnecessary and/or ineffective, according to law enforcement personnel and traffic engineers .
“Too many of them, in the wrong places, breeds a disregard with stop signs,” said Dave Vandervelde, an engineer of 40 years’ experience who worked on the study.
“And they (drivers) cruise right through,” he said.
Impatient motorists sometimes drive faster between stop signs, in an attempt to make up for what they might feel is “lost” time.
Deputy Chief Bill Czajkowski knows every one of the stop signs that are, and were, in the neighborhood.
“Stop signs must be warranted,” he said. “There were some that were put up that probably shouldn’t have been. There were some areas where stop signs were real head-scratchers.”
According to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, approved by the Federal Highway Administration, “Traffic control devices are often considered a panacea for all traffic problems at intersections.
“This belief has led to devices being installed at many locations where they are not needed, adversely affecting the safety and efficiency of vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic,” the manual states.
Among the disadvantages that may result, according to the manual, are “Excessive disobedience; increased use (of other roads) in an attempt to avoid the traffic control device; increased frequency of collisions.”
Vandervelde and Czajkowski both noted that proper visibility from the driver’s seat are key for the safe progression of traffic on a given street.
“It isn’t because of speed, but inadequate sightlines that was causing a lot of the accidents,” said Czajkowski. “But it’s the perception, when the sign is gone, that people are speeding.”
As the community matured, the sightlines along some streets have been compromised, he said. “The cleaning up of sightlines is very important. There’s a city easement and a lot of times people do plantings.”
After 20, 30 or more years, the sightlines can become obstructed, Czajkowski said.
The traffic control evaluation noted 156 locations where streets intersected one another in Old Palos. Vandervelde, the engineer, said “I don’t think any of them had more than 500 cars a day. I’d be surprised if they had 200 cars a day.” His estimate did not include the busy roads of Harlem Avenue, Rt. 83/College Drive and 127th Street.
Czajkowski said the City is employing three high-tech devices that the police can move around to check on real or perceived troublesome traffic areas that might warrant enforcement.
The “Shield Radar Speed Sign” not only flashes an approaching car’s speed, as many drivers have experienced, but is described by its manufacturer as capable of resolving speeding complaints and running quick traffic studies.
The device provides reports that give law enforcement data on the number of vehicles, their compliance or lack of compliance to the speed limit, hourly and daily traffic flow and other parameters that can help the police decide when to conduct enforcement.
The devices are only a fraction of the size of the large, trailer-mounted electronic speed signs more commonly seen that only display a vehicle’s speed. They were purchased with funds from the Drug Asset Forfeiture Program at no cost to taxpayers, Czajkowski said.
But rationales of traffic studies and sightlines aren’t satisfactory to Brent Lewandowski. He’s the newly elected Ward 3 alderman who lives at the western border of the study area, along 76th Avenue. Many of his neighbors want stop signs back that were taken out three years ago.
There’s concern among the younger parents with children,” he said. “We absolutely want the cars to be slower because our kids are in the street as well. We’re all sharing the roads, we ‘re seeing cars speed. No one’s looking to get people tickets, but at the same time…”
About the traffic control evaluation, Lewandowski said, “It seems light, it seems cookie-cutter. They went to each intersection and determined at that intersection whether or not there was an obstruction and whether or not a stop sign was needed.
“That manual might be effective for Oak Lawn, for Chicago, where there are sidewalks, but what’s special about Palos Heights is that we have narrow streets” (with no sidewalks and no lights).
“The end goal is to get federal funds for some of these roads,” he said. “But the one thing missing is what are you sacrificing. That’s the main beef of the people on 76th Avenue.”
Czajkowski, the deputy police chief, said that since the removal of the stop signs on 76th Avenue in 2015, there has not been an increase in accidents.