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Best of Jeff Ward: A Modest Proposal for Some Safer Geneva Intersections

Some thoughts from a traffic consultant wannabe

  • Editor's note: Jeff Ward is on vacation this week, so we're running some of his old columns in his usual time slots at 5 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This one got a lot of comments the first time around. Based on accidents lately at Randall and Keslinger, maybe it's time for some improvements there, as well?

My very first appearance before the Geneva City Council actually came in 1998. Back then, there was no stoplight at Williamsburg Avenue and Randall Road so westbound Williamsburg traffic would fly south down Cambridge Drive to get to the Kaneville Road light. My modest proposal was a three-way stop sign at Cambridge and Pepper Valley drives so no child would be maimed while walking to the subdivision pool.

Out of that presentation, I had the good fortune of meeting then Geneva traffic consultant Bob Smith. Since traffic studies are far more complex than you’d think, Bob went out of his way to take me with him every step of the way, from vehicle counts to line-of-sight measurements to speed statistics.

In the end, the intersection didn’t warrant the red octagon, but the process was fascinating. I’ve never forgotten the traffic lessons Bob taught me and have never looked at an intersection quite the same way since.

So, in that spirit, let’s take a look at some Geneva intersections that could use some improvement. We’ll go from the least to most problematic.

4. State Street (Route 38) and Third Street. I’ve watched plenty of Third Street drivers turn right on red onto west Rt. 38 despite an opposite stoplight crossbar sign to the contrary. The problem is, southbound Third doesn’t perfectly align because of the northern diagonal parking and, right-on-redders tend to look for pedestrians first and oncoming traffic second. Add some southern sunlight in your eyes for good measure.

I myself never noticed that “No Turn on Red” sign until taking a photo of the intersection for a previous Patch piece. So my simple suggestion would be two eye-level “No Turn on Red” signs on the southwest and northwest stoplight poles. No one would miss ‘em then.

The current setup on the northbound side of Third Street works because the street aligns and, instead of drowning it out, the sun illuminates that sign.

3. The Starbucks entrance/exit off Bent Tree Drive. In an effort not to offend the fragile sensibilities of Eaglebrook residents, commercial developers lined the backside of the Randall Road businesses with a tree screen. The problem is, they utterly overdid it at the strip mall’s access drive which runs virtually parallel to the street.

Rapidly exiting motorists can’t really see southbound Bent Tree traffic and some of them seem to think, if they can’t see you, you must not really be there. The simple solution? Remove some of those trees so caffeine addled southbound folks can exit the parking lot without getting T-boned.

2. North Third and Hamilton Streets. Good friend and Strategy Sales co-owner Rob Kelley brought this one to my attention. While walking to and from work, he sees at least 10 motorists a week treat that intersection as a four-way stop which creates problems for the folks who know it isn’t. Every two weeks, he’s forced to cringe at the inevitable near misses when a driver brakes for a stop sign that ain’t there.

“There are times being overcautious can actually cause an accident,” Rob said. “It’s like Russian roulette at that intersection.”

One of Bob Smith’s most compelling contentions was drivers tend to adjust to the street on which they’re driving. For example, speeding is rampant on portions of Fargo Boulevard because it’s so wide open. If motorists already perceive Hamilton and Third to be a four-way stop, then let’s make it one.

1. Peck and Kaneville Roads. With all the middle school bound parents and a regular parade of school busses, despite being re-designed some years ago, this one is a nightmare. The odd angle of both streets is completely counterintuitive and, while a right from Peck onto Kaneville is a snap, a left  toward the middle schools requires a special kind of kamikaze mentality.

Again, the way the streets align makes it difficult to determine if westbound Kaneville traffic is turning right or continuing west. Then, because of the design, those Kaneville right turners too often find themselves competing with oncoming left turners who are given the illusion they can beat you. And if a Peck Road left turner creeps too far forward, the Kaneville lefties have to take an unexpectedly wide turning arc which makes things even more interesting.

Now, add the fact the configuration makes it nearly impossible to effectively salt and plow it in the winter, and you literally have an accident waiting to happen.

Stoplights aren’t cheap, but that intersection desperately needs one. Failing that, city planners should reconsider re-striping the Peck Rd. lanes to mitigate the above uncertainties. Perhaps a left turn lane would do the trick.

I know we haven’t discussed any east side Geneva intersections yet, but that’s because we superior west siders rightfully refuse to set foot east of the river. I kid my East Side Drive compatriots! With your older (and far better) pure grid street system, other than eastbound Rt. 38 drivers insisting on turning left, I just don’t see the same kind of problems.

Of course, if we were only discussing accidents as a result of sheer traffic volume, intersections like Randall and Kaneville or Fargo and Randall would be right at the top. But established traffic patterns are difficult to affect and unlikely to change. In the cases we’ve covered, making some small to medium adaptations might just save a few fenders or, better yet, a few lives.

Jeff Ward March 30, 2011 at 01:39 PM
Sandy, You're absolutely right, but since that one doesn't fall within Geneva I omitted it.
Jeff Ward March 30, 2011 at 01:40 PM
Dear Geneva, I've always wondered that myself. Good point!
Beth Bales March 30, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, I did indeed notice the lack of east-side problems, and your harumph about not setting foot in our east-side haven did amuse me. I know you said you'd ban left turns from eastbound State Street -- so my question to you is, how do those people who live north of State get home? Or get to Gen-Ho, or Harrison Street School? East State Street and left turners are an accident waiting to happen. I frequently make left turns from westbound State, as we live south of State Street, yes, on that far-less-superior East Side. There are times I wend my way through Ridgewood, because there's a left turn there. And many other times I simply watch the rear-view mirror in fear, waiting for the bozo who simply refuses to believe anyone will inconvenience him/her. East State needs a left-turn lane -- but I'm guessing that's a State issue and we know how much money the state has.
Jeff Ward March 30, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Beth, Yikes! I never said ban - I just said they those left turners were problematic. I do agree with Mike about Chrissey, however. But I really like your idea of a central left turn lane - if they could make one fit. Jeff
Amy Baughman March 30, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I'm appalled by the following statement by Jeff Ward..."we superior west siders rightfully refuse to set foot east of the river". Why is that statement a part of an article about Geneva's bad intersections?? Doesn't that create an antagonistic sentiment regarding the division of this town? If you feel that you "rightfully refuse" to cross the river to the East Side, then I think you should get out of Geneva. All "kidding of my East Side compatriots" aside...that comment depicts an underlying prejudice that shouldn't be in any news article. If you want to give your "rightful" opinion on how the west siders are better than the east siders, then write about that. This statement didn't belong within the content of this article. All you needed to say was the East Side doesn't seem to have many troublesome intersections given the fact that it is set up on a true grid system without misaligned intersections. That would have been straightforward enough. Keep the "uppity" comments to yourself. Us respectful people on the East Side would appreciate it.
Jeff Ward March 30, 2011 at 03:09 PM
Amy, Please understand, I'm an opinion columnist, not a reporter. Due to some unbelievable confluence of circumstances someone is actually willing to pay me to write my opinion. My faux attack on east siders was an attempt to have some fun with the folks that actually think that way. Should Starbucks patrons also be angry with me for referring to them as "caffeine addled?" After all, some of my best friends are east siders! Jeff
Amy Baughman March 30, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Jeff, Thanks for the clarification. You are entitled to your opinion. I merely pointed out that you should stick to the facts instead of inserting your prejudicial banter with your compatriots into an article about bad intersections in Geneva. That is my opinion. I refer to my friends as "friends", not "west siders" or "east siders". My friends and I want our community to be the best place to live. I don't really care who lives where. I care that our streets are safe for the people who live and visit our town. That is why I was interested in your article in the first place. My opinion is based on the belief that no one is better than another. And, that is why I took issue with your statement of opinion.
Jeff Ward March 30, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Chuck, I resent that remark I'm actually a very sensitive lout!
Colin C. March 31, 2011 at 02:58 PM
This is great! When we lived here in the '50ies there was real enmity between east and west siders. We were always preparing for the "Big Battle" in the middle of the bridge. It was the same in Batavia and Aurora. Now it's become all namby-pamby, with the occasional reference but nothing really serious. Maybe we can bring back the good old days. See you guys Saturday night on the bridge!!!!
Jeff Ward March 31, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Colin, Keep your eye out for Monday's column. I plan on getting that very ball rolling! Jeff
Sandy Kaczmarski March 31, 2011 at 05:50 PM
And I'll bet you'd beat the snot out of 'em, Colin! I'll bring my camera to the rumble.
chuck carroll March 31, 2011 at 06:48 PM
Really Jeff, we need you writing a column about east/west conflict? Its a lot easier from the west side to see it as humor.
Jeff Ward March 31, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Chuck, You are more than welcome to write a rebuttal. I would look forward to that!
Kyla Keime March 31, 2011 at 07:35 PM
Jeff, you are really going to write a column on East vs. West? This ought to be great! Should I follow with Mom's Talk on Wednesday - "The Battle Between Middle School's - North Vs. South". I can't wait to read your column, I always find them entertaining and generally very logical!
Jeff Ward March 31, 2011 at 07:55 PM
Kyla, It's already started! For example, we know east siders are quite as smart as west siders because if they were they wouldn't live on the east side! I think they call that a tautology! The battle of the middle schools would, indeed, be an interesting follow up. Jeff
Jim J March 31, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Apparently you should stop before you type the Monday column; or, at least get an editor to review it. How ironic that you claim "west side smarts" and can't quite get the thought across when you type it: "we know east siders ARE quite as smart as west siders..." I'm sure they will all agree with that statement and some might even rightly claim to be smarter! What a delicious typo! I'm thinking the that your entire Monday column might be the real tautology ("needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word", per on-line Merriam Webster).
chuck carroll March 31, 2011 at 10:27 PM
this is a bad idea jeff...... from one who was on the sidelines during the last serious round of this in 05.
Jeff Ward April 01, 2011 at 12:50 AM
But was it a typo?
Jeff Ward April 01, 2011 at 01:11 AM
Have we finally gotten to the point that we can't laugh at ourselves anymore. As comedian Lewis Black said, the difference between us and the Taliban is we can laugh at ourselves!
Beth Bales April 01, 2011 at 01:56 PM
During one of the school district re-districting "discussions," someone (not a School Board member) referred to Coultrap as an "inner-city school." The kids at Harrison Street immediately said, "what does that make us? The "ghetto school?" The chip on our east-side shoulders is alive and well!
Kyla Keime April 01, 2011 at 07:28 PM
Oh Beth, you hit that nail on the head. And Harrison is such a wonderful school with some of the best families in Geneva. I am so tired of being labled as the poor school and a I am so sick of people thinking that we have to conform to that sterotype. I love my East Side neighborhood, I love my neighbors and I love the students, teachers, prinicpal, and support staff at Harrison! And let me remind all which elementary school won the Spirit Cheer contest at homecoming this year...Let's Hear it for Harrison!
Beth Bales April 02, 2011 at 02:35 AM
Hi Kyla -- And let's not forget that I believe Harrison won every single Geneva Public Library Summer Reading Contest trophy until the contest was retired! Possibly the other schools were tired of losing... But East Side pride aside, I have to say that I know families from every school and there are WONDERFUL families from every single area of Geneva. I think part of it is, is, as your children grow out of the elementary years and you get to know the kids (and parents) from middle school and high school you realize how many great people there are all over Geneva. But ... "let's hear it for Harrison!" indeed!
Mary Stith April 02, 2011 at 02:48 PM
Ok Beth...don't diss the non reading West siders...maybe we're using kindles! Love the East Side and the West Side. I just love Geneva!
Kyla Keime April 03, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Hi Beth! I think we are going to take some grief for Jeff this week ;) Let's go East Side! However, with my son in middle school this year and with our many other involvments in Geneva I have met wonderful people all over this community, even a few Mill Creekers that I adore and am proud to call friends. What amazes me about this community is the true sense of community. Joking aside, it is such a great place to raise your children, and some of my son's best firends are NOT friends that he went to Harrison with, but friends that he met at Troop 37 or St. Marks. So East or West, - Geneva, Let's Go! Geneva, Let's Go!
Bob McQuillan April 04, 2011 at 12:54 AM
East Side, West Side, Unincorporated Geneva & even some parts of LaFox are wonderful places to live!
Beth Bales April 04, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Mary, that made me laugh. I love Geneva too -- look how many people we know how join us.
Beth Bales April 04, 2011 at 01:48 AM
Ditto above, Bob.
Kimberly Kozar April 04, 2011 at 01:38 PM
Wow - I go on vacation and look what I've been missing. It's important to play nice in the sand box, but we wouldn't want to be so banal to discourage opinions. In fact, I just read (one of the few things I actually enjoy about vacation) of an interesting match between humans and artificial-intelligence, called the "Turing Test" which actually pits the top AI programs against the human mind to reveal the winner - "The Most Human Computer". While sensitivity is an important characteristic, one of the most valuable assets of the human element is our ability to think differently, which helps to solve problems and allows room for wit, rather than have us all behave like "wet blankets". In fact, Charles Platt (science fiction writer) won the most human award in 1994. He accomplished this by being "moody, irritable, and obnoxious" (according to Wired magazine). Of course, I am not suggesting Jeff Ward is any of these things. Okay, the thought has crossed my mind - but I still enjoy his writing. Simply, wit and opinion does cause a reaction, but doesn't it make you feel alive? Is it not better to preserve the freedom of independent thought and expression (such as you have all done here) than to have us all roaming this place like humanoids with pre-programmed thoughts? Hmmmm ... I praise you, Jeff, and all others who have the courage to stand by their humanny ways! See, how intelligent am I - using a word that's not even in the dictionary, but hey - that's what makes me human!
Jeff Ward April 04, 2011 at 01:41 PM
Kim, Actually, I am "moody, irritable and obnoxious." My wife will tell you it's part of my immense charm!
Kimberly Kozar April 05, 2011 at 04:02 AM
Well, Jeff, that's all that matters ~ if you want anyone to like you at all, it should be your spouse (because they have the power to make your life miserable otherwise). LOL!

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