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.

  • jcwconsult

    I am fully aware that a significant portion of the population cannot or will not drive for a variety of reasons. Similarly, a serious majority will drive for reasons including: privacy, comfort, need for multiple stops, carrying work or shopping items, and many others. I am age 74 and the chances I will walk to and from transit stops and wait there in 4 season weather are zero.

    The ONLY reason that drivers don’t pay enough in fuel taxes to support the roads and keep them able to handle the demand is the lack of gonadal material in federal and some state legislators. Until at least the late 1980s or early 1990s fuel taxes were enough to support the roads – and only myopic stupidity plus cowardice on the part of legislators let it fall behind.

    NO city will use enough officers or cameras to have the super majority (~85%) of the drivers stay below or close to posted limits set 10 or 15 mph below what that 85% of the drivers find to be safe and comfortable. The costs would be an ENORMOUS drain on city budgets with almost no offsetting ticket revenue. If the slowest 85% of the drivers feel safe and comfortable on a 4+ lane collector or arterial at speeds up to about 40 mph under good conditions, the ONLY solution to achieve 85% at or below 30 or 25 is to re-engineer the street. That is reality, and a failure to acknowledge that leads to a failure to control speeds plus lucrative for-profit speed trap enforcement rackets.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • LinuxGuy

    Gas tax money is frequently diverted.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    What objective evidence do you have for the statement “NO city will use enough officers or cameras to have the super majority
    (~85%) of the drivers stay below or close to posted limits set 10 or 15
    mph below what that 85% of the drivers find to be safe and comfortable”? Cameras are becoming less and less expensive, as are computers that they work with. The investment in on major expressway project — e.g. the Circle Interchange here in Chicago — is much greater than the investment that would be needed to deploy speeding cameras across Chicago. One major bridge costs much more and if untolled produces zero direct revenue. Also, I don’t know why you are balking at “85% of drivers”. The goal is to make cities more livable and multi-modal. Again, all “E”s must come into play (see above). Finally, what about my earlier idea of cars having “loud annoying beeping noise” whenever they travel faster than the posted/desired speed limit?

  • ChicagoCyclist

    This explanation/reasoning makes no sense at all. First of all, you don’t even state what the speeding ticket amounts would be or how many tickets one could anticipate in the course of a year, so you have no idea what revenue would be generated. Your approach to thinking about this and your lack of math mean that your statement is worse than unconvincing. Automated enforcement (i.e. speed cameras) at key / problem locations throughout a city — let’s just say at 100-200 locations in a large city like Chicago — will have a very significant effect on speeding, especially over time (i.e. over many years, during which more cameras can gradually be added) — mostly by gradually changing the ‘culture’ and ‘habits’ of those driving. “Public goods” are things like bridges, roads, sewer systems, water treatment plants, education, etc. They are not necessarily ‘profitable’ — especially in the short term. A water treatment plant can take over 100 years to ‘pay for itself’. Other public goods — like police — never do. They are done for other reasons than money.

  • jcwconsult

    Almost every article about speed and red light cameras has more emphasis on the profits than the safety aspects. Do you know of a city where speed cameras are a significant cost item in the budget with ticket revenue falling well short of the costs?

    I only want to discuss realities, not wishes. Without something close to 24/7/365 enforcement with locations close enough together that almost no one speeds, the only effective speed control is to reengineer the streets for lower 85th speed levels.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I have an advantage here in that I have been in a city council meeting with two of the major for-profit camera companies presenting their products. They are presented to council members as “free money” with the companies paying all the equipment and set up costs – to be paid back by splitting the profits the cameras generate above their own high costs. The for-profit camera companies survey the locations in advance and provide “advice” on where the cameras will generate serious profits. One company used to publicly admit using a “violation calculator”until that methodology was exposed as proving that profits were the true goal for the cameras. I have had extensive exchanges with many council members in many cities all across the country to confirm how the rackets are set up and work.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    With all due respect, that argument is beyond dumb.

    Here’s a scenario: you have AIDS. You’ve followed the news and you know that while it’s not entirely curable, AIDS can be managed. Unfortunately, you’re uninsured. This could be expensive. You find a doctor who will prescribe the drugs you need. Instead of talking about ways you might be able to afford the drugs, the doctor spends your entire office visit telling you about how effective they are. You leave without the drugs, you die a few months later, and message boards everywhere groan with relief.

    In case it’s not clear, here’s the analogy: AIDS is traffic deaths, you are the city, the doc is speed camera manufacturers, and the drugs you need are speed cameras.

    There’s no reason to try to talk the council into wanting speed cameras, because they already know they work. So the manufacturers talk about what they need to hear: how they can pay for it.

  • Sincerely

    Almost every peer-reviewed article about speed cameras is about how they save lives.

  • jcwconsult

    “free money” is all most of the councils need to know, because raising taxes for revenue is too difficult. The results are irrelevant.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Popular press articles are not scientific, peer-reviewed research. Most popular press articles in fact take the line that speed cameras are in fact big money-making, revenue-generating “scams” — different from your poorly reasoned notion. However, the popular press articles — like your notion — are ideologically driven, not evidence-based. Cameras (automated enforcement) can in fact be “24/7/365”. They are also “objective.” I don’t have any idea what you mean by “close enough together that almost no one speeds.” The goal is not to make it so that “so no one ever speeds” — that is clearly not possible. The goal is to greatly reduce the occurrence of speeding; and to reduce the number of fatak and serious-injury ped and bike crashes. Again, as every researcher into this issue has concluded: cities/DOTs need to use all the “E”s — engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement, equity, and evaluation — to solve our country’s tragically inefficient, non-future-oriented transportation systems.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Speed cameras exist. They’ve been deployed in many cities around the world. They work. You are making no sense and are getting more and more desperate in your nonsense anti-reasoning. Go talk to transportation engineers and transportation planners. They are the “doctors” in this situation. Yes, cameras must be paid for. So must all public infrastructure.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    First, you (jcwconsult) say that speed cameras won’t make money; then you say they are oriented precisely toward making money. You are very confused, my friend. Yes, cities must be careful in their dealings and contracting with for-profit companies. That is true for every ‘product’ — speed cameras, traffic signals, asphalt and concrete companies, arborists, etc. etc. Please don’t let your ill-informed and unintentionally harmful ideology blind you so.

  • Sincerely

    I think you misunderstood my analogy and/or are replying to the wrong person. I did write that at 1:30 am, so perhaps I could have been clearer..

  • Sincerely

    I don’t consider saving lives to be irrelevant. I’m not surprised the NMA extremists do.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Yes, sorry. I meant to reply to “jcwconsult”. We are totally on the same page!

  • ChicagoCyclist

    You are confusing aggressive ‘sales pitches’ delivered by private companies’ sales reps to cities with the reality of what speed cameras can actually do and what is actually involved in implementing and operating a system. Yes, speed cameras and other forms of automated and un-automated enforcement cost money. Cities know that. They also know that you can’t trust 100% salespersons and what they say. But they also know that the cost of cameras/enforcement is not really exorbitant, in the bigger picture of all public, municipal infrastructure costs. Speed cameras, and other forms of enforcement — though not perfect — are very effective. They work on the principle of Skinner’s theories of behavior, or Pavlov’s dog. Combined with better-designed, multi-modal “Complete Streets” (which give dedicated roadway space to bicyclists, and to pedestrians at crossings and on wide sidewalks), combined with road operational changes (longer signals for peds and LPIs, ped hybrid beacons), combined with slower posted speed limits, combined with educational and encouragement campaigns similar to “Mothers Against Drunk Driving” and “Buckle up” seatbelt campaigns, combined with better driver’s ed and more frequent, harder drivers license tests, and more expensive parking, gasoline, and higher sticker and registration fees and taxes — combined with all these “E”s, enforcement is one important tool in making roads and public right of ways safer and more equitable and more people- (as opposed to car-) friendly!

  • jcwconsult

    Most of the quotes about the $$$$ come from city officials, making their views crystal clear.

    Changing the engineering of the streets so that about 85% of the drivers who formerly felt safe and comfortable at speeds up to XX mph, now feel safe and comfortable only at speeds up to XX – 10 or 15 mph. The fix is permanent, almost no one speeds more than a few mph, enforcement is no longer necessary. Using enough cameras close enough together to achieve the same reduction in actual speeds is so expensive with almost no offsetting ticket revenue – that cities won’t do that. Such a plan with enough cameras to prevent most speeding would be rejected by the for-profit camera companies because they know the enormous costs with no profits would make the city do anything to get out of the contracts.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    I sat in a city council meeting while reps from two for-profit camera companies described their programs as free money.

    Camera location plans are almost always set up so that after violation rates drop by about half as locals learn where they are, the programs will still generate substantial profits above their own high costs. I am not confused at all, having talked to so many city officials that I understand how the rackets work.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Agreed the costs are not exorbitant in the ways the programs are actually used. They NEVER use enough cameras set close enough together to actually reduce the speeds of most drivers to 10 or 15 mph below the levels they find safe and comfortable, because then the costs with very little offsetting ticket revenue WOULD be enormous. The high profits most systems produce prove my point – they are used just enough to make a show for the public that officials are “doing something about the speeding problem” (the problem the officials have created with faulty street engineering) – but few enough cameras that a high percentage of drivers do not slow down, so the ticket profits are HIGH.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    The NMA, using naive interpretations of the data to justify victim blaming yet again.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    If a few cameras are profitable, then more cameras will be more profitable. That’s basic economics, dude. And as you very obviously are NOT trained as a transportation engineer or planner — but are simply a lobbyist/propagandist for the NMA who has been a squeaky-wheel at a few municpal meetings and online — you simply do not have any idea what “enough cameras” actually entail. Talk to a smart, well-trained traffic engineer and you’ll hear that your ideas are utterly false and fly in the face of all peer-reviewed research.

  • jcwconsult

    On different streets far enough apart – TRUE – more cameras will be more profitable while NOT reducing the speeds of a high percentage of the cars.

    Put the cameras close enough together that very few drivers speed above the limit by more than a few mph, and there will be very little ticket revenue to offset the high camera costs. Then the whole program becomes a huge cost item in the budget – rather than the high profit free money item the camera company reps sold the program on to the council.

    Do you really not understand that if speed cameras are effective to have very few drivers speed that the for-profit camera companies would go out of business?

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • ChicagoCyclist

    It’s called a “sunk cost” or, if you prefer, an “investment”. Cameras exist on roads and in buildings as “security cameras” all over the world. There are many, not one, companies involved in their manufacture, deployment, and operation. Many of these companies are very profitable and growing. Automated cameras — and the businesses that work with them — are increasing in numbers as the cameras get cheaper, easier to operate, wireless, smaller, and more advanced in terms of memory/storage, etc. The companies that manufacture cameras make money on the sales of them. The companies that install them make money on their installation. They don’t all care about long-term revenue from tickets. The City can own or lease cameras. The cities’ goals are to make life better for residents, visitors, etc. and to prosper in a globally competitive world (of ‘places’ where one can live or where a company can locate). You don’t seem to know anything about business or about urban planning and municipal government and management. You would benefit not only from learning more about transporation planning and engineering, but also about public administration, economic development, and municipal management. At any rate, the present (and the increasing use of cameras that we already see compared to 20 years ago) will certainly prove you wrong; and the future will continue to prove you wrong, as we will see a growth in the use of automated cameras and enforcement, and less use of single occupant motor vehicles.

  • jcwconsult

    Speed cameras are on a downward trend nationally and red light cameras are on a steeper downward trend nationally – as more and more people understand them as the for-profit rackets they actually are. California once had over 100 red light camera rackets and now there are only 29 programs in operation.

    These for-profit camera rackets are 100% different than security cameras.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    It will be interesting to see how more autonomous vehicles will effect enforcement. Many experts believe that it will be the manufacturers who will be held liable in the event of a collision and it will be the manufacturers who buy the insurance.

    If they build cars that willfully disobey the speed limit, as irresponsible humans often do, they will be held accountable for the deadly consequences of speeding. So you may be right that speed cameras will be phased out, as motor vehicles’ own surveillance will make them unnecessary.

    That’s a ways in the future, though. In the meantime, there’s a growing awareness of the dangers posed by motor vehicles. The culture of disregard among car users for laws that make us all safer is entrenched, and I’m sure we’ll continue to see hold outs like you who consider that reckless culture, and the lack of accountability it is built upon, to be more important than human lives, but you are, appropriately, dying out. In 10 years the engineering business will have almost no one left that believes your 85th percent dogma, and society will have matured past the naive association of automobiles with personal freedom. That you don’t see that shows how out of touch you are.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    You are, as usual, wrong. Please see the following:
    Global High-speed Camera Market to 2023 – Increasing Demand for Compact High-Speed Cameras (https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/global-high-speed-camera-market-to-2023—increasing-demand-for-compact-high-speed-cameras-300758975.html)
    Officials nationwide give a green light to automated enforcement (https://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/35/3/1). Also, the feds have, and will continue, to push ASE: https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/812257_systemanalysisase.pdf.
    See this list of all the (growing number of) jurisdictions using speed cameras: https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/printablelist. And see this: https://www.ghsa.org/state-laws/issues/speed%20and%20red%20light%20cameras
    Then see this factsheet: https://www.atsol.com/media-center/fact-sheets/
    See Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traffic_enforcement_camera#Effectiveness
    And see this interesting map: https://www.vox.com/a/red-light-speed-cameras

  • jcwconsult

    The IIHS (should be the Insurance Institute for Higher Surcharges) lists are inflated and include systems that are inactive, gone or part of a main system. Example: currently, the IIHS lists 35 red light camera systems in CA, but our list has only 29 active systems, down from 105 some years ago.

    “Fact sheets” (PR propaganda) from atsol (now Verra Mobility) are from the largest ticket camera racket company which has just a teensie-weensie bit of financial conflict of interest, so take their comments with a boulder of salt. The GHSA is in the revenue stream from ticket camera rackets, so their views have serious financial conflicts of interest. NHTSA now backs predatory for-profit enforcement rackets that target mostly safe drivers for revenue – including paying for overtime police costs to enforce in known speed traps with quotas for traffic stops or tickets, a practice that should be illegal everywhere.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • Sincerely

    You keep calling people who speed “mostly safe drivers.” I don’t think that phrase means to what you think it means.

    Also, it’s hilarious that the car-obsessed mouthpiece for a for-profit lobbyist group is accusing researchers and safety organizations of propagandizing. I think your fixation on conspiracies is making you miss the obvious.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Wow, you really are a serious, anti-science conspiracy theorist, eh!? With your style of (anti) reasoning and (anti) thinking, I am guessing that you also believe that the earth is flat, that the sun goes around the earth, that evolution is a hoax, and that there is no such thing as an anthropogenic effect on climate (especially tail-pipe emissions) — or would believe so, if any of these falsehoods happened to seem to you to support your allegiance to private, single-occupant motor vehicle travel! I would direct you to studies from FHWA, AASHTO, NACTO, ITE, TRB, and university engineering and transportation planning departments/centers, but I am quite sure that you will say that these organizations and researchers are nothing more than anti-automobile gangsters/devils too! I must say, your approach to this issue is the very essence of bias, narrow-mindedness, partisanship, partiality, bigotry, preconception, and distortion. Thinking/reasoning like you do is the scourge of science and a true danger to society.

  • jcwconsult

    Financial conflicts of interest in taking positions on almost anything gives thinking people pause to consider if their studies and comments are likely influenced by the revenue.

    Our national political soap opera has that issue in its focus.

    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Uh … yes, there are people who take bribes. And there are some examples of for-profit companies producing ‘false studies.’ But this not the majority of individuals or companies. And anyway, that is why we have peer-review processes, and why we rely on experts who’ve built consensus over time. Because there are some bad or dishonest doctors, does that mean that you dismiss the profession and its knowledge? Moreover, most of the for-profit companies that produce ”false studies’ are part of really large/profitable and established industries like pharmaceuticals/medicine; nutrition; military contracting; banks and investment companies; tobacco/cigarettes is of course one of the more famous examples. The sad fact is that the automobile industry has, over the last decades, been gaining notoriety for just producing this type of ‘propaganda’ — doing all it can to distract people from the “negative externalities” of cars (pollution of various sorts, GHS emissions, traffic crashes and fatalities, contribution to sedentary lives and the attendant health issues, a-social psychological effects, etc.). Be vigilant, yes. But rely on scientists and experts and the larger consensus their peer-reviewed work produces — especially those at universities, and those who have devoted their careers to public service (not elected officials but professionals who work in the public sector). The need to increase walking and bicycling and public transportation and the concomitant need to reduce driving is well established by the social and physical sciences and is not controversial.

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