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Batavia weighs Route 31 pedestrian crosswalk safety

McKee Street location of particular concern

BATAVIA – Residents urged city aldermen to leave in place the flashing-light pedestrian crosswalks on Route 31 during a recent committee meeting.

They told Batavia City Council members July 11 that removing the three designated crossings would be a step back from making the community more friendly and accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The rapid-flashing, yellow-light, pedestrian-activated beacons were installed nearly two years ago across the four-lane Batavia Avenue (Route 31) at McKee, Union and Morton streets.

The McKee street crossing is of greatest concern. There have been at least three minor accidents and several near-misses reported.

“The installation of flashing beacons at this crossing does not appear to have improved driver awareness or the overall safety of the crossing,” Public Works Director Gary Holm said. “There is a false sense of security that those lights are giving pedestrians.”

However, members of the Batavia Bicycle Commission and Batavia Environmental Commission – appointed by Mayor Jeff Schielke and confirmed by the council – asked aldermen not to remove the crossings.

“You will be removing the only source of pedestrian empowerment we have on Route 31,” Environmental Commission member Abby Beck said. “Pedestrians are not the priority and have to plead with cars to let them cross the street already.”

Bicycle Commission member Matt Knowles urged the council to lobby the Illinois Department of Transportation to institute a “road diet” on Route 31, reducing the number of lanes as was done north of Fabyan Parkway in Geneva.

Schielke said that gaining approval for this option would be extremely difficult because traffic counts are much higher south of Fabyan Parkway in Batavia.

Holm said IDOT also is resisting the idea of installing overhead red-flashing lights, known as a HAWK signal, at the crossings.

Bicycle Commission Chairman John Gamble said the community is better off with the crossings, and that motorists and pedestrians will get accustomed to their use. “Don’t do away with what’s been done,” Gamble said.

But many aldermen are now worried that the McKee crosswalk is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Seventh Ward Alderman Drew McFadden said he had supported the installation of the crosswalks, but now is having second thoughts and is leaning toward having them removed. First Ward Alderman Scott Salvati also suggested he is leaning in that direction.

Fourth Ward Alderman Paula Mueller called the McKee crossing “awful,” and asserted that “something has to be done.” Third Ward Alderman Elliot Meitzler said a regulation traffic signal would be better. Second Ward Alderman Marty Callahan worried that there have been “too many near-misses.”

Seventh Ward Alderman Dave Brown said the city should undertake a comprehensive streetscape engineering study. Fifth Ward Alderman Lucy Thelin Atac, a proponent of the crosswalks, called Route 31 “a big barrier” to pedestrians and bicyclists. She said the city should pursue the road diet.

Sarah Greenhagen of the WellBatavia Initiative said the crosswalks are needed to help promote healthy lifestyles in the community.

A couple of residents suggested the crosswalks are not working and that the city should remove the flashing beacons before someone is killed.

Holm made clear that any option the city chooses to pursue involving engineering or IDOT approval will take some time.

Aldermen took no action.

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