A motherly crossing guard greeted Matthew Sim Thursday morning, shepherding him and other students across the street to Enders-Salk Elementary School in Schaumburg.
But before he reached the safety of school, the 12-year-old walked a busy stretch along North Salem Drive, with cars zipping by. The sidewalk he normally uses is covered with snow, Matthew's family said.
Elgin-O'Hare 411Get updated on construction plans for the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway extension, inching its way to the airport, during a forum from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wood Dale Junior High, 655 N. Wood Dale Road, in Wood Dale. Work this year includes new interchanges at Rohlwing Road and I-290 on the expressway, and at Elmhurst Road and I-90. To learn more, go to www.illinoistollway.com/construction-and-planning/projects-by-roadway.
"He's almost been hit twice," said mom Toni Sim, whose work hours make it difficult to drive her son to school.
Matthew and thousands of other pedestrians have experienced a winter not just of discontent but downright peril, thanks to record snowfalls and a laissez faire attitude toward shoveling sidewalks in the suburbs, they say. The approaching thaw will melt the problem away for now, but concerned citizens don't want the winter of 2014 to become a distant memory.
"It's very dangerous," Sim said. "Especially with people (driving) and doing their makeup, texting, checking Facebook. No one has time to shovel the snow and the village doesn't want to get involved."
Thanks to consistent plowing that allowed the sun to melt the remaining snow, major roads and highways offered mostly dry surfaces for motorists this winter. But myriad sidewalks caked with snow and drifts thawed into an icy soup only to be covered with snow again, causing a vicious cycle for pedestrians.
"Unfortunately with snow removal, streets are prioritized over sidewalks and sidewalks are an afterthought," said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, a cycling and pedestrian advocacy group.
"It's a reflection of a larger problem that transportation is viewed solely as about cars. The walking environment, the pedestrian environment is not prioritized to the extent it should be."
Coretta Johnson stood precariously on a mini-glacier high above Warrenville Road in Lisle with traffic whizzing by at 45 mph just a few feet from her perch.
"The way they pile the snow up, I guess they don't think about the people that catch the bus when they plow," Johnson said, leaning onto the busy road to check for Pace Bus 88. The route sign is half buried in a snowbank, a familiar sight across the suburbs.
Pace has a grand total of four employees who handle upkeep and snow removal across six counties, along with help from contractors who clean or advertise in bus shelters. But "given the number of times it has snowed and the amount of snow we've had, it has been difficult to keep up," Pace spokesman Patrick Wilmot said in an email.
But "whether a bus stop or shelter is clear of snow is essentially moot if people cannot safely access it because the sidewalks are too snowy or icy. Unfortunately, people -- myself included -- occasionally have to walk in the street to get to a bus stop because the sidewalks are too treacherous," Wilmot said.
The issue hit home for Burke this winter when he wiped out trying to navigate "accumulated snow mounds."
The shovel-challenged culprits vary -- homeowners, homeowners' associations, commercial or retail property owners, absentee landlords with empty buildings ... and the list goes on. Although Chicago tickets people who don't shovel sidewalks, that's not the case in many suburbs, Burke said.
Schaumburg does not require residents to clear sidewalk snow. "There's a lot of reasons for that," Assistant Village Manager Paula Hewson said. "We have a lot of seniors and they may not be physically able or capable (of shoveling snow) or not have the finances to get someone and pay for that." The village does plow sidewalks around municipal property and commuter rail stations, and along certain major roads near schools.
Meanwhile, after receiving complaints from residents, Libertyville's streets committee will likely take up the sidewalk snow issue soon, Public Works Director John Heinz said.
In Barrington, where he previously worked, volunteers such as the Boy Scouts could be matched up with elderly residents unable to shovel their snow, Heinz said. Chicago offers a similar service.
"There are a lot of interesting ideas out there," Burke said. He referenced cities that clear sidewalks after a period of time, then present the property owner with a bill, or towns that provide a list of snow shovelers for hire.
Municipal leaders who want cleared sidewalks but are overwhelmed at the magnitude of that goal should take it step by step, said Burke, who's interested in starting a regional conversation.
"You could start with a safe-route-to-schools approach," he said. "You don't have to do every sidewalk ... but what if we start with that?"
To learn about the Active Transportation Alliance's snow removal campaign, go to www.activetrans.org/shovel. To report a snowed-up Pace bus shelter, call (847) 364-7223.
And if you've got an opinion about suburban sidewalk snow, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got some interesting comments about the $73 million deal between the Illinois tollway and the Northwest Suburban Municipal Joint Action Water Agency to move a pipe out of the way of widening I-90.
"Why is the tollway widening a road to Chicago that is in gridlock at Cumberland?" asked Eugene Luzwick of Wheeling. "I-90 once you get to Chicago is almost daily in constant gridlock. It is a waste of money."
He added: "My son lives in Hanover Park and I feel the cost to move the water pipes is too expensive. He not only has to pay for this now but in addition, they are paying for Chicago's problem with the cost of replacing old water pipes."
But Carl F. Kowalski of Des Plaines believes "the water agency is getting a great deal from the tollway authority.
"In 1984, the agency knew full well that the permit to install the water main in the tollway right of way had the potential risk of future relocation cost. They also knew that locating that water main in 16 miles of right of way without the interference with other utilities or traffic would save a ton of money in immediate construction costs. To go back now and plead ignorance to the reality of the permit seems a bit disingenuous to me."
DuPage County hosts a forum on the reconstruction of Gary Avenue from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Carol Stream municipal center, 500 N. Gary Ave. The project stretches from North Avenue to Army Trail Road. To learn more, call (630) 407-6900.
Yes, construction season is nigh. IDOT will mark St. Patrick's Day with breaking ground on widening Route 20 (AKA Lake Street) from Oak to Park avenues in Bartlett and Streamwood. Traffic lanes will be dwindled to one lane in each direction.