With a number of road and streetscape construction projects in and around Riverside’s downtown as well as a road resurfacing project running through Riverside along First Avenue, police are stepping up traffic enforcement and implementing pedestrian safety measures, Police Chief Thomas Weitzel announced last week.
The initiatives follow in the wake of police observing traffic conditions downtown during the morning and evening rush hours, which included motorists southbound on Longcommon/Riverside Road stopping on the railroad tracks as confused motorists ahead of them tried to decipher new traffic patterns due to construction.
“The number one issue that’s happening at the train crossing is cars getting stuck on the tracks, or going around the gates, or not leaving enough room for other cars to get over,” Weitzel told village trustees at their May 16 meeting.
The chief said an officer observing the rush hour situation on one day last week witnessed about 15 encounters where vehicles were stopped on the tracks. In one instance, the crossing gates started going down while a car was stuck.
In response, said Weitzel, the village has authorized hiring officers back on an overtime basis daily from 3 to 6:30 p.m. to maintain a visible presence in the downtown area on both sides of the tracks. That effort began May 20.
“I told them, if you need to get out of the car, put on your safety vest and assist with traffic, then do so,” Weitzel said. “I want to see that car continuously in that area. It’s not about issuing citations, it’s about visibility.”
Weitzel did say that motorists must pay attention near the railroad crossing. To emphasize safety there, said Weitzel, the village has installed larger, more visible “do not stop on tracks” signs on either side of the crossing.
He is urging patience from motorists in light of an increased amount of cut-through traffic coming into the downtown area on Forest Avenue as southbound motorists try to avoid the stretch of First Avenue under construction between Ridgewood Road and Ogden Avenue.
“There’s no doubt that cars are cutting down Forest Avenue,” Weitzel said. “It is a nightmare out there the closer you get to Ogden Avenue.”
In terms of pedestrian safety, Weitzel said he has assigned a crossing guard before and after school hours on the east side of Riverside at East Quincy Street, to guide school children across the tracks, away from the construction zone on the west side of Riverside Road.
Children who live in the First Division will be directed to walk along Burling Road and then cross in front of the township hall to the east side of Riverside Road. The crossing guard will be stationed at Riverside Road and East Quincy Street through the end of the District 96 school year.
The special traffic patrols during the evening rush hour may extend into early July if officials believe they are needed.
Weitzel said the patience of motorists and pedestrians will be rewarded when the downtown construction finally ends.
“When it’s done, it’ll make a marked improvement to vehicle and pedestrian traffic,” Weitzel said.
Village President Ben Sells likened the situation to a family enduring a kitchen remodel and also urged caution when traveling downtown.
“Keep in mind that those two projects [the commuter parking lot and Metra station area improvements] are projects that are going to be a benefit for generations to come,” Sells said. “There will come a time when it’s finished, and we’re all going to be very proud of the results.”