2 Deaths Stoke Concerns About Pedestrian Safety On Veterans Parkway | WGLT

2 Deaths Stoke Concerns About Pedestrian Safety On Veterans Parkway

Nov 7, 2019

Police said Thursday they have found the other vehicle apparently involved in the second fatal incident on Veterans Parkway in just six weeks, as questions resurfaced about pedestrian safety on one of Bloomington-Normal’s busiest roads.

Vincent V. Shorten, 25, of Normal, was struck by at least one vehicle around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday as he walked east across Veterans just north of Fort Jesse Road, authorities said. He died from multiple blunt injuries and toxicology results are pending, McLean County Coroner Kathy Yoder said Thursday.

Normal Police say Shorten was struck by a gray minivan that was northbound on Veterans in the easternmost lane. Police say he may have also been struck by a second vehicle—a dark full-size pickup—that was also northbound on Veterans in the center or westernmost lane.

After putting out a call for help to the public, Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner said late Thursday that the second vehicle had been found. The investigation continues.

Shorten was the second pedestrian killed on Veterans in the past six weeks. Reginald Hubbert, 18, was struck by an SUV on Sept. 26 while walking near Veterans and Empire in Bloomington. He died several days later when he was removed from life support.

That incident is still under investigation pending toxicology results, Bloomington Police spokesperson John Fermon said Thursday. No citations have been issued to date. Police declined to release any other details.

Safety Concerns

The two deaths have renewed discussion about safety on Veterans Parkway, a major artery through Bloomington-Normal that is widely viewed as unfriendly to pedestrians.

The state's new capital bill includes $10.9 million to resurface 4.7 miles of Veterans Parkway. This will cover those sections of Veterans not completed during a recent resurfacing, including from Commerce Parkway north past Washington Street in Bloomington, and between Clearwater Avenue and Old Route 66 in Bloomington and Normal.
Credit Ralph Weisheit / WGLT

“It’s extremely difficult for pedestrians and people on bicycles. Anybody who’s not in a motor vehicle,” said Jennifer Sicks, transportation planner at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission.

Veterans was not designed nor did it grow with pedestrians in mind, she said.

“It was cars, trucks, and that was it. Fortunately, our views have changed over the years,” Sicks said.

Today there is an underpass at Veterans and Vernon Avenue/GE Road, plus a few crosswalks at various intersections (including Fort Jesse). There are also several pedestrian stopping points within the median up and down Veterans.

“I don’t think those get used very much, and it’s because no one feels confident or safe standing there,” Sicks said. “Going back and fixing (Veterans) can be very tricky.”

Normal Town Council member Kevin McCarthy is aware of the public perception that Veterans is not pedestrian-friendly.

“I’d love to tell everybody to use the Constitutional Trail that goes under Veterans Parkway, and we’d just avoid this,” McCarthy said. “But the reality is, somebody who needs to get across up by Fort Jesse is not going to go all the way down there.”

One complicating factor is that Veterans Parkway is a state route, putting it under Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction.

“The department is still awaiting a report from police with additional details on the fatality and the circumstances,” IDOT spokesperson Guy Tridgell said Thursday. “Safety is our top priority. We always look to work with our local communities to ensure that any improvements address their needs and concerns.”

Included in the state’s new capital plan is $600,000 for a feasibility study to determine alternatives for improving the intersection of Veterans and Illinois 9/Empire Street in Bloomington.

“We look forward to working with the public and sharing the findings as the study process moves forward,” Tridgell said.

Sicks said other communities use all sorts of creative measures to alert drivers to pedestrians, from highly reflective crosswalks to signage to lights.

“Whatever it takes,” she said. “If they want to shoot off fireworks periodically—I don’t know if anybody has tried that—but anything to try and bring the drivers’ attention to the fact that there are other users of the roadway who can’t get out of the way.”

She pointed to Uptown Circle as one example of a creative way to address traffic and safety.

Bloomington Planning Commission chair Megan Headean said the city’s comprehensive plan “does prioritize making Bloomington more multimodal.”

“If the city wants to take up the issue of making our busiest streets more pedestrian friendly, especially in light of these incidents, the Planning Commission will want to hear the public’s input,” Headean said.

Sicks said she’s encouraged by IDOT’s feasibility study and thinks it could also provide guidance on what to do about other sections of Veterans, including near Fort Jesse Road. She said “the philosophy has changed across the board in traffic engineering at all levels,” placing greater emphasis on pedestrians and cyclists. But cost can be a barrier.

“It’s about finding some new ideas about how we can use engineering and use infrastructure to moderate behavior, so that people who are too distracted to know that there’s a pedestrian in the roadway will have no choice and will have their attention called to it,” Sicks said.

McCarthy is also aware of the various markings and signaling that other communities have tried. For now, he mostly has questions about what happened Wednesday night.

“I’m back to, what’s really going on? Why all this change all of a sudden in fatalities?” he said. “We’ll try to see what it is we can really do to stop that problem from happening again.”

Once the details about Wednesday night’s incident become clear, such as whether signals or other accommodations were in place and being used, the Town of Normal will share them with IDOT, said Normal’s Director of Engineering Ryan Otto.

“We just want to make sure we understand everything about it, and work with the state to make sure if we can do something different there, we will,” Otto said.

WGLT’s Mary Cullen contributed to this story.