Riverside’s police chief has renewed his calls for the Illinois Department of Transportation to fund pedestrian safety improvements at the intersection of First Avenue and Forest Avenue/Ridgewood Road after a car struck an 11-year-old Riverside girl who was crossing First Avenue on the afternoon of March 22.
The girl was not seriously injured. She was taken by paramedics to Loyola University Medical Center for treatment and released that same day. According to police, multiple witnesses said the victim tried to run across First Avenue from west to east against a red light.
Those accounts are backed up by surveillance video that police obtained from Riverside-Brookfield High School and released to the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. The video can be viewed along with this report at www.RBLandmark.com.
At the start of the video, the girl is seen standing on the west side of First Avenue as southbound traffic comes to a halt due to the heavy volume. Meanwhile, northbound traffic continues to pass through the intersection.
With the southbound traffic stopped, the girl walks east to the middle of First Avenue and pauses briefly behind a vehicle in the left-turn lane before darting out into the northbound traffic lanes.
The girl is then seen being struck by a car driven by a 35-year-old Midlothian woman. The driver slammed on the brakes of her 2012 Buick Regal, but the car did not stop in time to prevent it from striking the victim.
Police described the victim’s injuries as scrapes on her right arm. They also noted a “scuff mark” across the hood of the vehicle.
The driver was not cited for any traffic offenses, since eyewitness and video evidence demonstrated she wasn’t at fault.
While the incident happened at about 4 p.m. on a school day, Weitzel said crossing guards assigned to the intersection are typically through with their assignments by 3:45 p.m.
Crashes involving vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists are not rare at First and Forest/Ridgewood. While numbers weren’t available for the first three months of 2019, the year opened with a violent crash just north of the intersection on New Year’s morning, when a car driven by a suspected drunken driver spun out of control and slammed into a fence protecting a cellphone tower utility building.
But Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said that the number of crashes at that intersection nearly doubled year over year from 2017 to 2018. Last year, Riverside police responded to 26 crashes at First and Forest/Ridgewood. In 2017, police reported 14 crashes.
In February, Weitzel sent a letter to Matt Magas, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, urging funding for safety improvements and emphasizing that the intersection serves as school crossing not only for Riverside-Brookfield High School students but for middle school students from the Hollywood sections of Riverside and Brookfield who attend Hauser Junior High, which is east of First Avenue.
“These grade school children are crossing First Avenue to and from school,” Weitzel wrote to Magas. “While Riverside provides a crossing guard at this location in conjunction with the high school, I believe further safety improvements are needed. There are many evening events held at Riverside-Brookfield High School too; students are crossing for sporting, social and other late afternoon/evening events at the high school.”
Weitzel suggested that IDOT consider enhanced crosswalk markings and signage, flashing lights on the northbound and southbound approaches to the intersection, safety bollards protecting pedestrians at each corner and improved roadway markings indicating drivers are approaching a school crossing.
It’s not the first time Weitzel has appealed to IDOT to calm traffic at the intersection. Back in 2015, Weitzel urged IDOT to approve installing flashing speed signs on the approaches to the intersection, and said the village of Riverside would bear the cost of the signs and their installation.
IDOT plans to resurface First Avenue from 43rd Street in Lyons north to I-290 this summer. Weitzel said that it makes sense to consider safety measures near RBHS at the same time.
“Now would be the time for them to take a look at some of these improvements,’ Weitzel said.