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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.

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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