Park benches tell no tales.
If they could, though, the benches at the intersection of Second Street and Central Avenue in Highland Park would be applying for police badges. These benches overlook one of the most (justifiably) feared intersections in all of Highland Park.
Last month, an while riding through this busy downtown intersection. In a bit of a local area rush to judgment, the comments on Patch about the story speculate as to the conditions of the collision. Was the driver distracted? Was the boy wearing safety equipment? Was it a government cover-up?
To a degree, the speculation was justified. Let's get it out in the open--Highland Park drivers have a reputation. We exhibit a level of impatience, distractedness and downright self-righteousness on our streets that just doesn't exist in other suburbs.
Nowhere does that play out more than at Second Street and Central Avenue, the busiest intersection in downtown Highland Park. With a four-way stop, turn lanes, and near-constant crosswalk use, this intersection is feared by pedestrians and challenging to drivers. Our city government recognized the danger at this intersection even before the recent collision and posted additional "Street Smarts" signage at the Second Street crosswalks.
For years, I have felt that Second and Central is an intersection to be avoided when possible, especially on foot, and I have talked with many friends and neighbors who feel the same.
I recently spent an hour observing this intersection over two successive weekend days (one of which was Memorial Day). In just a short amount of time, I witnessed the following driver bad behavior:
- 14 turns made without the use of directional indicators--I guess the saying about them being optional in Highland Park is true.
- 10 drivers who either proceeded through the intersection before it was their turn or just plain didn't stop.
- Three drivers who failed to wait for pedestrians crossing in the crosswalk.
- Two of the worst kind of driver, who honked at cars in front of them--cars that were stopped for pedestrians in the crosswalk.
- Two illegal left turns into parking spaces.
- Two bicyclists who didn't stop before entering the intersection.
- Two drivers who went straight from the left turn lane.
Nobody got hurt, of course, and on the plus side, I "only" saw 13 drivers holding cell phones, a few days ahead of the new hands-free phone ordinance that takes effect June 1. It will be interesting to see if the statistics are similar in school drop-off line this week, or a month or two after the ordinance is enforced.
It seems to me that few, if any, of the dozens of traffic violations I witnessed over the weekend were related to distracted driving. In a way, that's more disappointing, because it means that the behavior was frequently willful and conscious. We can do better.
Increased enforcement would help significantly. According to Highland Park police records I obtained for Patch, only seven traffic-related tickets and five warnings have been issued at Second and Central thus far in 2011. During 2010, eight traffic-related tickets and 10 warnings were issued. In 2009, 24 tickets and 27 warnings were issued.
In short, in my single hour at that intersection last weekend, I could have issued more tickets and warnings than were written by the Highland Park police in the last 17 months.
I realize it is impractical for police to stand constant guard at any single intersection in town. Still, were police to pick one single weekend and issue warnings for every infraction at this intersection, it would send a clear and consistent message that bad driver behavior in Highland Park will no longer be tolerated. This will benefit all of us--residents, businesses, visitors and bikers.
Short of enforcement, there are few options -- but for now, I'll be crossing at Central and First.