I’m driving west on State Street through downtown Geneva. Approaching Fourth Street, my wife says, “See that person crossing the street?”
“What person?” I might say, or even, “What street?”
Last fall, a friend and his family, after pizza at Aurelio’s on the intersection’s southeast corner, started across State Street to their car. Underestimating the speed of rush-hour traffic, they got stuck mid-street. They waited, terrified.
Frustrated and angry, my friend wrote the city – how could it slow traffic and warn drivers about pedestrians? In the course of an email exchange that lasted several days, Mayor Kevin Burns replied the family could have walked east and crossed at Third Street’s traffic light. He also stated the city did not have money to spend on police officers at every corner of Geneva, but added the city could examine the Route 38 and Fourth Street intersection as a possible “enhanced enforcement zone.”
Wanting to cast my own concerns, on the city’s website I found “Make a Request,” which led to a categories drop-down menu. I then selected “Streets and Sidewalks.” From there, I selected “Street Signs,” logged in and wrote my letter.
Five days later, hearing nothing, I emailed the mayor. (As for my initial letter, the city said it found no such request on file.)
“Public Works has been discussing this intersection … regarding pedestrian crossing signs,” Burns wrote. He said the city and Public Works had hoped that the Illinois Department of Transportation “would share in the cost … . Unfortunately, [IDOT has indicated] that even if we pay 100 percent for the striping/signage, they would not allow it” because it was “too close to the traffic signals.”
This seemed to make no sense, but what did I know? I read novels not street plans.
The mayor also reported that IDOT believed signage might be useless to stop or slow traffic, “even though it’s the law to yield,” and “would encourage more crossings and thus increase the risk of someone getting hurt.”
Using IDOT’s reasoning, maybe we should eliminate stop signs because they only encourage us not to. Moreover, if IDOT rules State Street like an all-powerful Oz, why give any credence to ruby-slippered Public Works?
Curious to discover how the other candidate for mayor might resolve the intersection question, I wrote Bob McQuillan, and filled him in on what the city had done – or not done.
If it was a safety issue, McQuillan responded, and neither the city nor IDOT could put up warning signage, he wondered, “Why have the crosswalk at all, especially if Public Works is telling people to cross at the light?
“If they do keep it,” he continued, “they need to let people know it’s Illinois law to stop for people in a crosswalk.”
McQuillan suggested blurbs in the newsletter and a banner-like sign.
“If Geneva wants more people downtown, and they say they do, the city better do something, because it’s just going to get busier.”
Next time I talked to my friend, he was no more optimistic than before.
“One day,” he predicted, “to avoid hitting a pedestrian, an eastbound car will crash into Aurelio’s. Want some anti-freeze on your pizza and pasta?”
“And nothing,” I added, “takes a back seat to burgers on a grill.”
• Rick Holinger has taught high school English and lived in the Fox Valley for nearly 35 years. His poetry, fiction, essays and book reviews have appeared in more than 100 literary magazines, and he founded and facilitates the St. Charles Writers Group. Contact him at editorial@ kcchronicle.com.