Maybe there was a time back before the mid-20th century that First Avenue between Cermak Road and Ogden Avenue was more of a country lane than a busy state highway. If that was ever the case, no one can probably remember it, and it certainly isn’t the case now.
Whatever the past history, at some point someone felt it appropriate to plop down a high school right next to it and then shoehorn a zoo right next door. The state of the situation as we hurtle toward 2020 is that First Avenue is busier than ever and Brookfield Zoo now draws roughly 2 million people to its gates every year.
On many days of the year, often six days a week, students, athletes and families flock to Riverside-Brookfield High School at all hours of the day. On beautiful fall and spring days thousands also flock to Brookfield Zoo, many of them to the smaller parking lot by the South Gate, which takes their cars right past the high school.
Even without the zoo, however, First Avenue is a major road and obstacle for pedestrians. Throw in high school and grade school students crossing during the morning rush and in early afternoon when traffic begins to build and you’ve got a very dangerous situation.
At off-peak hours it’s still dangerous, and according to Riverside’s police chief the number of crashes at the intersection of First Avenue and Forest/Ridgewood – the one right by the high school – almost doubled from 14 to 26 year over year from 2017 to 2018.
In the past year there have been three instances where pedestrians or bicyclists struck by cars have miraculously escaped serious injury. But there have been fatal crashes there in the past and eventually another will follow.
We urge the Illinois Department of Transportation to take safety concerns of local residents and officials seriously and work to come up with solutions to help safeguard pedestrians and bicyclists at First and Forest/Ridgewood.
If an overpass is impossible (and we have no reason to believe it is) then other more immediate steps need to happen before we have a tragedy on our hands.