What started out as a normal Saturday morning last month turned scary in Shelby Rapp’s east Bloomington neighborhood. She heard screaming coming from outside as she did laundry.
“Our neighbor was laying in the middle of the street and had been hit pretty tremendously,” Rapp said.
Rapps’ aunt, who also lives nearby, rushed over to their neighbor first.
“It was hard to tell what exactly had happened because the car had taken off so quickly down Barnes, and I didn't see the driver or anything because it happened so fast,” said Rapp.
The neighbor was rushed to the hospital. He lost his leg in the Aug. 22 hit-and-run.
“I just thank God every day that he is still alive and still well,” she said.
The tragedy made Rapp fear for not only herself, but for the families that cross the busy stretch of Towanda Barnes and Baywood roads every day. She’s now on a mission to improve pedestrian safety in her neighborhood.
Rapp said this intersection has been a problem spot for as long as she can remember. She ended up starting a petition, which has just shy of 1,000 signatures.
Rapp has raised her concerns with the Bloomington City Council, the Bloomington Public Works Department, and the McLean County Highway Department. Rapp has been working with County Engineer Jerry Stokes and multiple council members and staff for the city.
“All of us are kind of rallying together. I'm trying to come up with not only short-term solutions, but long-term solutions that are going to work,” said Rapp. “The main issue is that we want it to be something that isn't going to just be overlooked by motorists going by. We want something that's going to benefit not only pedestrians, but the rest of the community as well.”
Nearby Eagle View Park tends to draw families to the intersection who want to cross. Rapp said the main issue is that motorists do not abide by the speed limit.
Towanda Barnes Road is a county highway with speed limits between 45 and 55.
“It's one of those things where people, you know, want to go faster than what's posted,” said Rapp. “I have had anxiety attacks just leaving home because it makes me fear not only for pedestrians but motorists. People don't abide by that posted speed limit which has been one of the biggest issues.”
What options exist
Towanda Barnes connects to Route 9, and that causes a decent amount of traffic.
“I think the drivers feel comfortable driving fast on that road because there is a signal every mile rather than every 500 feet like in town,” said Assistant McLean County Engineer Luke Hohulin.
Currently, the Highway Department is working with the City of Bloomington engineering staff and collecting data on traffic counts, speed and clustering counts.
For this location, the county says its options are somewhat limited. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) has guidelines that the county has to consider when weighing its options. For example, if traffic were to increase on Baywood, that might warrant a signal because motorists would have a hard time getting onto Towanda Barnes. Or, if pedestrian traffic increases greatly, then that would warrant action that fits into the MUTCD guidelines.
“We're trying to figure out what options we have available to us,” said Hohulin. “Temporary solutions, I would say at this point, are just doing the data collection part of it. Then if something comes up where we can put out a solution then we will definitely do that, but nothing at this point.”
Towanda Barnes is obviously too busy for speed bumps or other remedial actions.
“We'll have to go through the traffic counts and the speed study, see what we actually have before us, but I don't see signals being their long-term solution,” said Hohulin. “Doing a full-fledged speed study would probably more likely indicate that speed should be raised rather than lowered just on the basis of what drivers feel comfortable driving.”
After data collection and working with the city engineers, the county plans on a solution.
“When we get something, we’ll definitely be reaching out to Shelby,” said Hohulin.
Rapp doesn’t know the how or the particulars on what will be put in place, but she believes something will be done even if it's just short term for the time being.
“I've had amazing feedback from them,” said Rapp. “I couldn't thank them for being any more supportive than they have.”
With the public’s help, Bloomington Police quickly found the juvenile driver in the hit-and-run.
“Being that the driver was juvenile makes it a little bit harder,” said Rapp. “I know that justice will be served as much as possible for my neighbor. I have no question about that.”
Through the trauma her neighbor endured, he only had one request from the community: to pray for the young driver.
“For him to take the time out of his day ... when he's gone through a great deal of trauma not only by being hit, but he has a long recovery both emotionally mentally and physically. And for him to consider the driver just shows what an amazing individual my neighbor really is,” said Rapp.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.