Suburbs lead in fatal bike, pedestrian collisions as Wheaton crashes prompt school to fundraise for light

Although perceived as playing second fiddle to Chicago, the suburbs outpaced the city in one undesirable category last year — fatal pedestrian and bicycle traffic crashes.

The Illinois Department of Transportation reported 249 deadly vehicle collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians statewide in 2023. Of those, 104 occurred in the suburbs, about 42%, compared to 63 in Chicago, about 25%.

The Cook County suburbs had the most, with 57, followed by DuPage with 16, Lake with 15, Will with eight, Kane with seven and McHenry with one, according to preliminary data.

Across Illinois, fatal crashes with bikes and pedestrians rose by about 7% in 2023 compared to 2022.

More people are cycling and walking since COVID-19, said Maggie Czerwinski, director of community building for the Active Transportation Alliance. But suburban infrastructure can be problematic, she noted.

“Our suburban streets have been designed to prioritize cars. We’ve been overbuilding our roads, we have wide intersections in the suburbs, we allow for fast speeds,” she said. “And with more people interested in getting around by foot or bike, that’s a recipe for safety issues.”

That conflict is playing out in Wheaton, where a lengthy quest to install a traffic light on busy Roosevelt Road (Route 38) is nearing resolution.

St. Francis High School leaders and Marian Park apartment residents contend a signal in their neighborhood will save lives.

According to IDOT, “1,900 cars an hour pass by our school,” which equals about 32 cars a minute or one every 2 seconds, St. Francis President Phil Kerr said. “It’s extremely dangerous.”

On the north side of Roosevelt, across from the school and apartments, is a popular mall with a Target, restaurants and parking spaces that some students use.

The result is myriad teenagers and Marian Park seniors dodging fast-moving traffic to access nearby amenities.

From 2009 through 2023, nine pedestrian crashes occurred in the vicinity, state and city authorities said. One person was killed and eight suffered injuries. Many of the victims were older Marian Park residents.

St. Francis pays Wheaton police $20,000 to $30,000 a year to direct traffic on Roosevelt when classes begin and end.

Now, the private school has pledged to pay up to $816,000 for the traffic signal and related street lighting, which has given the project momentum.

  Chantise Davis, left, and Debbie Suggs live near Roosevelt Road in Wheaton. They are among an organized group that wants a traffic light and a protected crosswalk installed a short distance to the west, near the entrances to St. Francis High School and Target, because of pedestrian crashes in that area. Joe Lewnard/

Last week, the Wheaton City Council gave a thumb’s up for a light at the nexus of Target and the school. Multiple details still need to be formalized and worked out with IDOT — which owns Route 38 — on financing and other entities.

St. Francis plans to secure a loan from a benefactor and pay it off with fees, proceeds from fundraisers and potential grants.

IDOT studied the area in 2019 and concluded because of the crash history and pedestrian traffic a light was allowable but it could not provide funding.

Meanwhile, it could take a few years before the signal is installed. Officials want to coordinate the project with major improvements to the west at Roosevelt and County Farm Road.

Stakeholders have lobbied for safety improvements since the 1990s.

“If it has to be two more years, so be it,” Kerr said. “But we’re essentially rolling the dice every day that someone doesn’t get killed or doesn’t get hurt out there. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to get to the finish line.”

At a planning meeting last week, Wheaton Mayor Phil Suess said, “The fact that St. Francis is able to come forth with the funding for this, quite frankly, is the key to moving this forward. I think there's no question this is going to come to fruition.”

Seven pedestrians, mostly seniors, were hit by vehicles from 2009 to 2016 on Roosevelt between County Farm and Fapp Circle, IDOT found. One person died and six suffered injuries, with four critically hurt. Six crashes were after dark.

Wheaton police reported 83 nonfatal traffic collisions occurred in the area between 2017 and 2023. Of those, 63 were property damage and 20 were personal injury crashes; two involved pedestrians.

· Daily Herald staff reporter Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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