Mount Prospect cyclist's death prompts questions about crosswalk safety
Just months after Mount Prospect installed a flashing light intended to make a busy crosswalk near a popular park safer, an SUV struck a cyclist June 9.
Joni Beaudry, 55, died of her injuries later in the hospital, leaving her husband and five children bereft.
"It has me angry, confused and profoundly sad," Eric Jakubowski said of his wife's death. "We are shattered by this loss."
Theoretically, Beaudry should have crossed in safety. Mount Prospect had completed improvements to the crosswalk at Central Road and Melas Park in November.
The conscientious cyclist was wearing a helmet and pressed the button to trigger a "rectangular rapid flash beacon," which has amber lights alerting drivers to stop for cyclists and pedestrians.
But the eastbound driver of an SUV that hit Beaudry failed to stop, and opinion is divided between whether the flashing light is the right engineering solution for this particular location. Central Road is a 35 mph, four-lane street that sees about 21,000 to 23,000 vehicles a day.
The relatively new flashing beacon device is popping up at other intersections across Illinois. Jakubowski says it's confusing for drivers and gives pedestrians and cyclists "a false sense of security" that vehicles will stop.
Traffic experts say the beacon has been tested and reduces crashes, but technology alone can't stop collisions.
Mount Prospect police cited Hanna Burzynska, 56, of Elk Grove Village, with failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
"This death draws attention to the fact we need to change our driving behavior and habits and realize we need to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks," Mount Prospect Police Chief Tim Janowick said.
State Rep. David Harris agrees with Jakubowski. The Arlington Heights Republican witnessed a near-miss involving a cyclist a fewweeks ago at the Central Road crossing.
"I personally believe that crosswalk is still inherently dangerous because of the way it is set up," Harris said. "It does not sufficiently alert traffic ... and I don't think the flashing lights are sufficiently noticeable."
On paper, flashing beacons are effective. A study at crossings with no beacons showed drivers yielded to pedestrians just 18 percent of the time, but compliance jumped to 81 percent once beacons were installed, the U.S. Department of Transportation states.
"All pedestrian crosswalks on state highways are done in accordance with federal guidelines," IDOT spokeswoman Gianna Urgo said. "Safety is our top priority."
Harris, Mount Prospect officials and Illinois Department of Transportation engineers will meet this week to talk about the crossing.
"If we need to lobby for changes in state law or federal regulations, I am 100 percent in favor," Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said. "Let's see what needs to be changed and do it. When you have a tragedy it's so unfortunate for the people involved but it does become an important rallying point."
Compared to drivers in more pedestrian-friendly communities, suburban drivers have a significant learning curve when it comes to crosswalks, Janowick said. Illinois law requires motorists to stop at crosswalks, but pedestrians and cyclists also must check and be sure traffic has halted, he said.
About $164,000 was spent to fix the crossing with the new beacon, a pedestrian island, new signs and striping. Most of the money came from the federal Safe Routes to School Program, but Mount Prospect, which is pushing biking and walking, also chipped in.
Tuesday morning, Jakubowski reflected on his wife, who volunteered, cared for their two youngest children with special needs and grabbed a few minutes for herself the morning of June 9 for a quick bike ride.
"Joni was one who was there for the kids," he said, referring to Max, 21, twins Will and Alexis, 19, Isabelle, 16, and Zachary, 14. "Going forward is daunting."
As vehicles sped past the crossing where Joni died, joggers, moms with strollers and dog walkers in turn pressed the button, triggering the flashing lights.
Some vehicles stopped immediately, others hesitantly.
A number cruised right through.
"It's dangerous," said Bob Harris of Mount Prospect, who held back as a pickup truck rumbled past, ignoring the lights. "Some people just don't understand. That pickup truck ... there was no way he was going to stop."
"My concern is that Mount Prospect is the first of many communities that will install these signals," Jakubowski said. "I want her death to be a wake-up call."
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One more thing
Chicago's overnight runway rotation test at O'Hare continues with a new lineup this week that should affect folks in Chicago for landings, and Bensenville, Wood Dale and Itasca residents for takeoffs.
Surprise, surprise, you can expect local traffic delays this month related to reconstruction of the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) in Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines and Rolling Meadows.
Next week, it's Rolling Meadows' turn with traffic shifts and lane closures on Golf Road continuing through fall.