‘Don’t let Emily’s life go in vain’: Batavia residents urge Route 31 safety measures now

A memorial bicycle has been placed at the entrance to Les Arends Forest Preserve at Millview Drive and South Batavia Avenue (Route 31) in Batavia. Emily White died May 26, several days after she was hit by a car while crossing the intersection.

People who favor turning Batavia Avenue in parts of Batavia into a three-lane road got some good news June 13 when they learned the Illinois Department of Transportation has agreed to start the process several years early.

In the meantime, residents urged the City Council to do things immediately to slow down traffic on the state highway also called Route 31 – including increasing police enforcement of speed limits – to make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists to cross.

“Don’t let Emily’s life go in vain. How many more lives need to be lost or injured before you do take action?” said Ken White, whose daughter-in-law Emily White died May 26, several days after she was hit while bicycling across Batavia Avenue at Millview Drive.

The Mill Creek Early Child Center has erected this dinosaur, on northbound Batavia Avenue, warning drivers they are approaching a crosswalk at Union Avenue in Batavia.

City administrator Laura Newman said that in a meeting June 13 with Illinois Department of Transportation officials and several state legislators, she was told that IDOT will let the city get a permit now to restripe Batavia Avenue from Fabyan Parkway to Wilson Street and Main Street to Mooseheart Road to make it a three-lane road. That is not likely to happen until at least April 2024, however.

Newman said IDOT also has agreed to study the speed limits on the road beginning in July.

The city asked IDOT for a road diet – the three-lane concept – several years ago. It is in a Phase I engineering study for the request. IDOT has not approved doing it in the downtown section because it is concerned that reducing the road in that section could cause bottlenecks.

Any changes to Route 31 have to be approved by IDOT.

“We completed the feasibility study, which identified what the alternatives were for the road diet through the corridor,” TranSystems consultant Matt Baldwin said. “We looked at a three-lane section throughout the entire corridor and then we looked at a modified section.

“We had the official kickoff meeting with IDOT on May 2. Since then we’ve been advancing and updating the traffic analysis that was completed during the feasibility study with additional information.”

Baldwin said the firm will present concepts for the road diet at a public information meeting later in the summer.

About 80 people attended the discussion at the City Council meeting June 13. It was planned after vehicles hit bicyclists in two crashes in May, including the one involving White. A teenage boy, hit in the other crash crossing at Union Avenue, remains hospitalized.

Among the ideas was hiring a crossing guard at Union during the hours that nearby Harold Hall Quarry Beach is open this summer. Newman said that would cost about $13,000. Aldermen agreed to consider the idea.

Resident Kim Hardin, a friend of White, has been voluntarily guarding kids there since the crashes. She also organized a recent rally at Millview urging drivers to slow down and the city to take action.

“We all know that this stretch of road is dangerous,” Hardin said. “I can speak from just being there a few times that a lighted crosswalk does not work at all on a four-lane highway.”

“As a City Council, you need to respond to this and do it,” Batavia Mayor Jeffery Schielke said. “I don’t want this to become a one-night thing where everybody came and said what they had to say and nothing gets done about it.”

Some residents urged the city to take out a flashing beacon at Union. The beacon, which pedestrians activate, flashes yellow lights that warn drivers that pedestrians will be crossing. Several people said it makes things more dangerous by making blind spots for drivers because a driver in one lane may stop but drivers in the other lanes don’t.

Newman said the city is stepping up education about safely crossing the road, as well as its campaign urging drivers to slow down.

• Shaw Local News Network correspondent Jonah Nink contributed to this story.