Crossing Talcott And The “Risk Free” Life


The front-page headline in today’s Park Ridge Journal (“Pleas For Safer Crosswalk,” May 25) and an article in the on-line edition of the Park Ridge Herald-Advocate (“Pedestrian signal device debated for Maine South crossing,” May 25) illustrate a relatively recent American social phenomenon: the pursuit of a risk-free life.

Maine South High School has been at the corner of Talcott and Dee Roads since 1964.  Since that time, high school students have been walking to its campus from various directions, including across Talcott.  We would hazard a guess that millions of crossings of Talcott in the vicinity of Maine South have occurred since then, both in connection with school attendance and otherwise, yet we aren’t aware of any data concerning the number of fatalities, injuries, or even incidents involving crossing pedestrians in that area that suggest a greater danger posed by that stretch of pavement than elsewhere in Park Ridge.

Never let it be said, however, that facts and data should stand in the way of emotional appeals and political grandstanding, both of which were in evidence at Monday night’s Park Ridge City Council COW (committee-of-the-whole) meeting as that stretch of Talcott was depicted as a cross between some form of urban killing field and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  And singled out for special attention was the Talcott crossing just west of Hamlin.

A couple of students said they don’t feel safe walking in the Hamlin crosswalk.  A few parents related personal observations and anecdotes.  And Alds. Sal Raspanti (4th) and Tom Bernick (6th) flexed their political muscles and let it be known that they were going to make sure that something would be done, with the inside-track on that something looking like a yellow flashing signal light.

But as noted in the City’s Agenda Cover Memorandum, the results of City traffic studies for that stretch of road “do not meet the criteria for installation of a traffic control device”; and the installation of devices such as flashing lights where the accepted criteria are not met “exposes the City and City staff to increased liability.”

That didn’t deter Bernick, however, who called the situation “ridiculous” and concluded, albeit without citation to any statute or other legal authority, that the City’s liability would be far worse if somebody gets run over due to the lack of a signal there.  In that regard, Bernick reminded us of former Ald. Jim Allegretti, who seemed to invoke “City liability” whenever he couldn’t come up with any better argument for something he wanted.

But we digress.

For the past several years High School District 207 provided a part-time guard at that crossing during peak start/finish school traffic times, at a cost of $4,500 per year.  But this year D-207 cut the crossing guard due to budget constraints, dumping the “problem” into the City’s lap because the D-207 Board decided that it didn’t want to spend its $4,500 on this particular “safety” feature for its students. 

And at least two aldermen – Bernick and Raspanti – appear only too happy to field D-207’s punt.

But the bottom line here is pretty much an issue of plain common sense.  By the time a kid is of high school age, he/she should already have learned how to “look both ways” and cross a street safely, even a four-lane street like Talcott.  That’s the express basis of City Council Policy Statement No. 2, which states that “students in junior and senior high school are judged to be mature enough to travel to and from school without the assistance of adult school guards.”

And if a particular student isn’t “mature enough,” then the simple solution is for him/her to cross Talcott at one of its several traffic light-controlled intersections: at Courtland, Cumberland, Greenwood or Dee.  Sure, that might be a little inconvenient or out-of-the-way, but it’s a small sacrifice to make if safety truly is that important.

What seems to be at work here, however, is a new type of “special interest”: people looking for a kind of risk-free lifestyle for themselves and their loved ones, especially if the pursuit of that goal can be achieved without significant inconvenience to them and is funded out of the public purse rather than from their own pockets.  Unfortunately, more than a few politicians at every level of government seem ready, willing and able to pander to this new special interest, once again with public funds rather than their own.

At the height of his dudgeon, Bernick postured: “Who’s rolling the dice about which kid gets run over?”   

All the same people – including yourself, alderman – who are content to “roll the dice” every day on kids crossing all our other high-traffic roadways that don’t have a flashing yellow light or a crossing guard at their most convenient crossing points. 

If the solution to this problem is a crossing guard, then it should be up to D-207 (or the Maine South PTO) to fund it. 

But it appears to us that the better solution is letting kids, parents and politicians know, in no uncertain terms, that scarce public funds are no longer going to be used to compensate for a basic lack of common sense and caution.  Or for someone’s mere convenience.

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