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Safety First: Transportation Planners Take Aim At Traffic Collision Toll

Cars on Veterans Parkway
Ralph Weisheit
/
WGLT
Traffic on Veterans Parkway in Bloomington-Normal.

The McLean County Regional Planning Commission has a lofty goal to get to zero fatal traffic collisions and zero life-changing injuries per year in the county. It's based on a program that emerged in Sweden and has spread worldwide.

Bloomington-Normal has an average of 3,500 traffic collisions and 750 injuries a year. Jennifer Sicks, transportation planner at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission, said that's way too high, and hopes a sustained campaign called Go Safe McLean County will lower the human toll.

Go Safe McLean County will try to change public attitudes about things like using a cell phone while driving, pedestrian compliance with walk-don't walk lights, and even using crosswalks.

"I live on Main Street in Normal. I drive up and down it every day and coming home in the evenings. It's like the old game Frogger. You never know what's going to pop up in front of you," said Sicks.

She also said there have been truly frightening reports of Illinois State University students climbing in between the cars of stopped trains, which, she said, is never safe.

She said the program will focus on slowing down in general, but certainly in specific hazardous instances at intersections.

"Part of the goal here is to get people who are inclined to put the foot on the accelerator when they see a yellow light to instead put a foot on the brake. That's a very simple thing for a person to do," said Sicks.

As you might expect, a heat map of collisions and mishaps with injuries in the community shows Main Street and Veterans Parkway are major crash locations. But Sicks said it's about more than just the volume and frequency of vehicles in those areas.

"One of the sort of signal features of both Main Street and Veterans Parkway is that people are speeding a lot. And every time that happens, there is an increased possibility of a crash and of both serious injuries or fatalities," she said.

The campaign also will redesign roads and intersections and change infrastructure to make them more pedestrian friendly.

Sicks said getting to zero fatal accidents and life-changing injuries may be overly ambitious, but she said Columbia, Mo., which is similar in some ways to Bloomington-Normal, has had significant positive results from the program. She said community leaders there have said the benefit is worth the sustained effort and attention Columbia has devoted to it.

Attitudes are difficult to permanently change. There's always a day when someone runs behind schedule and rushes to catch up. Sicks said the efforts of Go Safe McLean County may need to be cyclical, reminding people to do safe things just like they need a reminder to get a flu shot.

About 12 people die every year in McLean County traffic.

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