After Drivers Kill 3 Seniors in the Niles Area Within a Month, Police Scold Pedestrians

The flier posted by the Niles Police Department.
The flier posted by the Niles Police Department.

You’d think that after three motorists, one of them a hit-and-run driver, struck and killed elderly people in less than a month in or near Niles, village officials would take a hard look at how street design and enforcement of driving laws should be improved to protect vulnerable residents. Instead, in the wake of these tragedies the Niles Police Department posted signs in bus shelters near dangerous intersections that largely put the onus for safety on people walking.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, the first of the three fatal Niles-area crashes occurred on December 27 at around 6:30 p.m. when a driver struck Michael Potwora, 72, as he crossed Greenwood Avenue, a five-lane road, at Betty Terrace in Niles. Police did not ticket the motorist.

On January 4, a hit-and-run driver struck and killed Leonid Belogur, 86, as he crossed Shermer Road at Greenwood Street in Morton Grove, just north of the Niles-Morton Grove border. The motorist has not been apprehended; Morton Grove police say they will soon release security footage with images of the vehicle.

And last Friday, January 25, around 6:20 a.m. an 18-year-old man driving west fatally struck Michael Horcher, 78, as he walked north across Dempster Street at Western Avenue, towards a shopping plaza in Niles. The driver was not cited.

The pedestrian-hostile intersection where Michael Horcher was struck. Image: Google Maps
The pedestrian-hostile intersection where Michael Horcher was struck. Image: Google Maps

Dempster has five lanes west of Western, and six lanes east of Western. This location is just a few blocks northwest of where Potwora was killed.

Following Horcher’s death, the Niles Police Department posted the above flyer in bus shelters. The six tips for drivers are generally sound advice, although it says motorists should “yield” to pedestrians in crosswalks, while Illinois law actually requires them to stop for pedestrians.

But the guidelines for people on foot (almost twice as many rules as for drivers) are problematic in several ways, as they largely holds pedestrians responsible for making sure motorists don’t kill them.

While the flier says “Always cross at marked crosswalks,” Potwora was struck while crossing five-lane Greenwood Avenue, which has no east-west marked crosswalks at that location. One could argue that he should have crossed the large street at an intersection with stop signs or stoplights, but the nearest signalized crossing is at Dempster, a third of a mile north.

The intersection of
Michael Potwara was killed crossing five-lane Greenwood Avenue at a location with no east-west crosswalks. Image: Google Maps

Pedestrians are also admonished not to listen to music (which, of course, drivers never do), or use a cell phone or electronic device while walking, although neither is against the law. Meanwhile, driving while using a phone or device is illegal and dangerous, but the sign doesn’t give drivers the same directive.

The flier also tells pedestrians to “wear light clothes and a reflective device on you when it gets dark,” as if it’s normal to have to wear a special wardrobe and safety gear to avoid being killed while walking. In reality, if you can’t see a person in the road wearing regular street clothes in time to stop for them, you’re driving too fast and/or distracted.

I’m sure the Niles Police Department meant well with these fliers, but if the village is serious about reducing the disturbingly high numbers of pedestrian deaths in the area, the solution is redesigning streets to make them safer and better enforcing traffic laws for drivers, not shaming people on foot.

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