There is an immediacy to the public’s demand for a traffic light at 183rd Street and Center Avenue in response to the tragic crash on July 22 that must be addressed. As the H-F Chronicle reported, the Village of Homewood has begun that work. Helping drivers, walkers and cyclists negotiate this tricky intersection will help save lives.
It’s a great start to fixing a road that needs so much more. At the 34 other cross streets and hundreds of driveways from Kedzie to Halsted, 183rd Street will continue to be a difficult, harrowing and predictably deadly crossing for anyone in a car, on foot, or on a bike. Using the sidewalks and playing in the front yards along its length will continue to feel like risky, even irresponsible acts.
Between the traffic signals, drivers will continue to dodge and weave across lanes to avoid left-turning cars and homeowners leaving their driveways. And, as they approach the signaled intersections, drivers will still race to beat the light.
Next door to us, the Village of Lansing faced the same dangerous traffic conditions on Ridge Road from Torrence to Burnham. Four lanes wedged between homes and a school rewarded aggressive driving at the expense of sidewalk users, homeowners, school kids and other drivers. In 2007-2008 alone, these four lanes enabled 141 crashes at cross streets and along its length, injuring 27 people including three cyclists and two pedestrians.
To fix this unacceptable situation, Lansing and its engineers looked beyond any one dangerous intersection, instead asking whether the road’s overall design could be changed to make the street more efficient, reduce aggressive driving, and save properties and lives.
Their answer: no longer did Ridge Road’s four lanes serve the village’s goals of safe, efficient transportation for all users. Lansing decided to “right size” the road by re-striping it from four lanes to two, separated by a center turn lane to help road users turn left (and reduce the aggressive swerving to get around them).
The results are profound: in 2012-2013, crashes on Ridge Road between Torrence and Burnham fell by 52%, from 141 to 67. That means fewer injuries and property losses, but also a substantial reduction in calls to resource-strained first responders. Twenty of those crashes resulted in injury, including two cyclists and no — zero — pedestrians. Embracing the results on Ridge Road, Lansing is now applying the same restriping strategy to Wentworth Avenue.
There were 1,035 crashes between 2009-2018 on 183rd Street — on average more than 100 per year — injuring 532 people and killing three. Forty-six involved a pedestrian or cyclist.
This road fails everyone who must drive, walk, ride, cross and live along it. It is an anachronism, a local commercial and residential street that was force-fed four lanes in the 1980s based on plans from the 1970s, when Lincoln Mall still looked like the future. 183rd Street is a bloated, 50-year-old design for saving two minutes drive time from Kedzie to Halsted. In exchange, it encourages aggressive driving endangering our families, discouraging walking and biking, depressing property values, disconnecting our neighborhoods, and degrading our community’s quality of life.
Let’s prevent another tragedy at Center and 183rd, but acknowledge that this entire street is dangerous at every cross street and along its length, and that this is unacceptable and fixable.
We respectfully ask that the village begin work, today, to form a task force of local stakeholders — residents, schools, first responders, businesses — and begin working with state and regional transportation and planning agencies, including the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, to make the tragedy at Center and 183rd the catalyst for transforming this dangerous, out-of-place and behind-the-times road.
We have five decade’s worth of smarter ideas and nearby examples to draw from, as well as regional, state and federal grants, to reboot 183rd as a 21st century street that protects everyone using it, allows efficient movement of people and goods, adds value to its homes, connects its neighborhoods, and makes our village a healthier, happier, more sustainable place to live.
Graham Bolkema, owner
Julie Lawton, Director
Homewood Business Association
Ron Wexler & the Wexler Family
Note: Data from the Illinois Department of Transportation via the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.