Champaign-Urbana Drive 25 Neighborhood Group

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Champaign Police Department ignores neighborhood's speeding concerns

one of two new Champaign speed indicator devices
Champaign police Deputy Chief John Murphy said the new traffic program is intended to be more responsive to citizen concerns while creating a safer environment for motorists and pedestrians.
News-Gazette April 17, 2006

Many residents of the W. Hill Street area of Champaign were encouraged to see a speed indicator trailer installed at the 600 block of W. Hill Street, a response to a complaint I made at the new Traffic Concerns website. Sadly our encouragement was short-lived. Sgt. Griffet, newly assigned supervisor for traffic concerns, determined that speeding was not a problem in our neighborhood and closed the concern. He based his decision on the data collected from the trailer. I have transcribed our exchanges below.
At 11:17 AM 6/10/2006, you wrote:
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: NeighborhoodTrafficConcerns NeighborhoodTrafficConcerns <>
Date: Jun 10, 2006 8:13 AM
Subject: Re: Neighborhood Traffic Concerns Report


In response to your traffic concern I have directed officers to provide extra patrols to your neighborhood to identify any traffic violators. Our officers setup patrols on eight different days at various times of the day, to include the lunch time at Central High School. During these patrols no violations were cited.

I also had a radar trailer placed in the 600 block of West Hill Street. In the week that this trailer was on your street it noted over 5000 vehicles. Please understand that the trailer captures vehicles in both directions and can even capture vehicles at a distance, to include some vehicles west of Prospect on Hill Street. The data collected showed that the average speed on your street is 22 MPH. There were 12 vehicles that traveled over 40 MPH during the week the trailer was on your street.

Because of this, I am closing this traffic concern at this time. Thanks.

Sgt. Dave Griffet
Traffic Unit Supervisor
Champaign Police Department

And my response...

June 10, 2006

Dear Sgt. Dave Griffet,

Thank you for addressing the traffic concerns on W. Hill Street--though I'm afraid I must take issue with your hasty conclusions.

Firstly, when I submitted the complaint through the new Traffic Concerns website portal two months ago (April 18, 2006) it was the height of "crossover" season. Since that time, tens of thousands of students with cars have left town, others have vacated for the summer, Central High and the Day Care centers at lower W. Hill Street are not in session, and overall traffic--as it does every summer-- has thinned out considerably.

car slowing to 30 mphSecondly, while the trailer you placed at the 600 block of W. Hill Street was a welcome addition (cars did slow down significantly for it), it does little to address the long term problem of speeding on W. Hill Street and the use of our street as a crossover to downtown. It most certainly works as a temporary traffic calmer, but it should not be considered a data collector, representative of the average speeds on our street when the device is not present. The device is visible from as far back as Prospect Street and drivers will automatically slow to the speed limit when they see it.

Furthermore, the device averages speeds of residents slowing for their driveways as well as those who speed through. I watched the radar for those who entered driveways; it was between 5-15 mph. I personally approach my driveway 5-7 times a day at this speed and I never drive at a speed greater than 20mph. To suggest the trailer device captures the driving norm on Hill street for drivers using it as a crossover is an insult to anyone with elementary math skills.

Personally, I think those trailers are a giant waste of city money. They have no long term effect and serve only to slow cars temporarily. Unless you plan to leave one in every neighborhood, you can not possibly hope they solve the problem of residential speeding, or the crashes that occur on neighborhood streets.

Frankly, I expected more from a police force as reputable as Champaign's than an arcane speed trailer. With the resources and talent available here it's unfortunate that Champaign has not taken a leadership role in the State in solving this growing problem of aggressive driving. Other communities with lesser resources and talent have managed better, more lasting approaches; the most progressive communities in Illinois have lowered the speed limit to 25 mph in residential neighborhoods and followed through with education and consciousness raising campaigns and higher fines. Such efforts cost tax payers half the price of one speed trailer and go a lot further to curbing the problem. There are new laws pending that would require drivers to slow on roads bordering city parks with playgrounds to the same standard (20mph) as school and hospital zones.

Finally, I would hope that you would see, as the residents of W. Hill Street do, that even one car traveling at 40 mph is unacceptable in a neighborhood comprised of dozens of children. The fact that you recorded 12 vehicles traveling at these speeds at a time of lowest possible volume, and in spite of the trailer, and determined that there was no problem, is evidence of the tolerance for breaking the law when it comes to car crimes. Our position is zero tolerance, not a ten mile per hour "buffer zone".

It is very disheartening to learn that those who are entrusted with enforcing the law are operating on a different standard than the one property taxpayers expect is being enforced. If you think 5 mph over the speed limit doesn't make a difference, then consider the fact that a person hit by a car traveling at 30 mph is 3x more likely to die when struck, than a person hit by a car moving at 25 mph; and at 40 mph the fatality rate is nearly 100%. The appropriate response to recording 12 vehicles moving at this rate of speed (nearly 2 per day) in a 30 mph zone (which should be a 25 mph zone) where children are often present is not, "closing this traffic concern."



If this is what we can expect from the much touted new Champaign Police traffic task force, than I strongly encourage C-U residents to write their city council members and urge them to end this wasteful program. What C-U needs is a comprehensive law that lowers the residential speed limit to 25 mph, educates drivers of the new limits, and raises the fines for those who violate speed limits in neighborhoods the same way fines are higher in construction zones. Anything less is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

More disappointment from Champaign court

After more than two years of waiting and a rotation of State's Attorneys, Shamsul Chowdhury, father of Nadia Chowdhury the University of Illinois Sophomore who was fatally struck by two cars on the corner of Fourth and John Streets in Feb 2004, learned this week that reckless homicide charges pending against Ioannis Tziligakis (one of the motorists who struck her) were dropped. Mary Shank of the News-Gazette reports, Chowdhury was “grief stricken” by the news. Dr. Chowdhury’s reaction is not surprising given the many months he waited out the continuances, only to learn that justice was not forthcoming. His ongoing frustration with the State’s Attorney’s handling of the case is understandable. But State's Attorney Julia Rietz, who took over the case from former Assistant State's Attorney Steve Zeigler last year and claimed to have been motivated “to take special care” in examining the facts of the case before deciding to drop the reckless homicide charge, said of Chowdhury, "I cannot act on emotions or do what he wants me to do to ease his pain." But did Rietz's own emotions cloud her judgment and lead to a shoddy review of the record? Several inconsistencies in her analysis seem to suggest she may have.

In what appeared an effort to both distance herself from her predecessor (who made the original recommendation) and to correct Dr. Chowdhury of his "emotional" response (as if one cannot be both emotional and rational) Rietz took some unusual steps to prove the case lacked merit, notably a strange re-staging of the events at Fourth and John to inform her decision, one which involved her husband, several passing students, and a stop watch.

Her investigation not only involved a bizarre (and unscientific) reenactment of the fatality but also yielded an equally bizarre set of assumptions and conclusions that contradicted eye-witness accounts. "If he [Ioannis Tziligakis] had been careening around the corner without paying attention, he wouldn't have immediately stopped.” While less than convincing, it is curious how this logic does little to serve Rietz's decision to drop charges. If Tziligakis was not careening without paying attention, he must have been proceeding normally and paying attention. The assumption that Tziligakis was paying attention (i.e. was conscious of his surroundings) when he struck Nadia Chowdhury is an odd defense and goes more to support the charge of reckless homicide than it does vacate it. It suggests he would have had to have seen her (after all, everyone else who was "paying attention" did) but proceeded into the intersection anyway without regard for her safety. (Recklessness = Conscious disregard of substantial and unjustifiable risk.)

That Tziligakis saw Nadia when he entered the intersection is compelling, since numerous witnesses on the scene claim to have also seen her enter the intersection; at least three admitted noticing her because she was particularly attractive and alert. Several witnesses state she entered the intersection before any car did, and was well into it when she was struck. One witness Paris Chandler, who was a passenger in the car behind Tziligakis and saw her half-way through the intersection, was incredulous in statements he gave to police at the scene, "He could not believe that [the] Hyundai's driver [Tziligakis] didn't see Nadia, since he could clearly see her." And Terrell Ware, the driver of the car in front of Tziligakis, which Tziligakis overtook shortly before striking Nadia, said, "I see her of course...I didn't think this person would not see her." Another witness, Ivan Wojtecki, described the intersection as "well it." He and two of his friends walking at Fourth and John passed her as she was crossing the street and stated the intersection was clear of cars. And most significant are Tziligakis's own comments, which he gave to Officer Ganesh Reddy at the scene. "As he [Tziligakis] turned, he noted a female (Nadia) crossing the street on the north side of the intersection going from east to west." Sabina Morkisz, Tziligakis's girlfriend, stated to police later that her boyfriend said to her, "he had been turning onto Fourth Street and the girl hurried to get out of the path of his car..." Nowhere does Tziligakis claim to have "not seen" her. From his own statements and those of witnesses, it is arguable that Tziligakis saw Nadia Chowdhury and took an unreasonable risk by proceeding into the intersection without slowing or stopping—and perhaps with the intention of intimidating; such is not entirely uncommon when aggressive drivers perceive pedestrians as moving too slowly.

Rietz's second assumption, that Tziligakis stopped "immediately" is also troubling. In favor of her own reenactment, she dismisses eye-witness accounts that have him not stopping immediately, but rather completing his turn after hitting Nadia and parking some distance away from the victim; so too is her theory of the timing ("a split second") between the first and the second strike which is not consistent with a single witness statement. The parking of his automobile alone, as described by those interviewed, had to have taken a number of seconds. Were the split second theory true, she would not have had time to hit the ground, let alone lie there long enough to be described by witnesses as being on the pavement, face up, and motionless. Nevertheless, it was a fast sequence of events.

N-G reporter Mary Shank offers an unsubstantiated description of Tziligakis's motives and actions: "Realizing he hit her, Tziligakis immediately stopped to help her..." Where does this statement come from? She attributes it to no one but asserts it as truth and therefore misleads her readers. There is no evidence in any document or statement that I've read to suggest Tzilgakis stopped “to help”. One eye-witness offered a completely different view of Tziligakis’s actions immediately following the collision:

Terrell Ware, driver of the car in front of Tziligakis and the only African American witness, describes seeing the impact and seeing Nadia "lurch" forward and hit the ground. He describes Tziligakis as "pausing" briefly after hitting her, presumably to take stock of what had just happened, and then proceeding with his turn and pulling over and parking. In his comments to police, Ware was as incredulous as Paris Chandler:

I just can't believe what had happened...just can't believe how someone can...someone that, somebody else's negligence like that. I mean, the young lady got hit...then the person that hit her gonna move from the scene of the accident

He later reflects:

...I also go back to that person that left her in the middle of the street and parked to the side. I mean, giving those people that came after him no sign of nothing to take precautionary action for…which makes it seem like nothing was wrong.

Another witness, Bill Kennedy who heard both the impact and the scream and turned to see Nadia lying in the road as Tziligakis veered away, said, “he’d stepped off the curb to try and help the girl [Nadia] as she was screaming for help.”

Tziligakis himself claims to have heard Nadia scream and to have seen her fall—Why then continue at all? Why not alert on-coming motorists by opening a door, flashing lights & hazards, especially if they are, as Rietz contends, a "split second" away? He knew he hit her; it was the first statement he made to Police at the scene: “I hit her,” he said. [It’s worth noting that he changed his story a number of times after this.] Why continue moving if, as Mary Shank imagines, Tzilgakis wanted to "help." A better explanation—one based on the witness’s statement—is that he delayed for a split second (probably long enough to think, Oh Shit!) then, out of concern for his own person and his own vehicle, moved out of harms way—the harm he had just created by making a reckless turn in the first place.

It wouldn't be the first time Shank got her facts about the case wrong. In a previous News-Gazette article from 2005 she has Tzilgakis running a red light. It seems Julia Rietz is not the only one skimming police reports and coming to careless conclusions.

After reading the Police report myself and visiting the intersection on a number of occasions and at different times of day and night… I believe the truth can be discovered by way of two possible scenarios. Either Tziligakis saw Nadia or he didn’t.

  1. If he did not see Nadia, which, given the conditions and given the fact that every witness on the street at the time saw her and that the area was well lit, then he did not make a proper stop at the stop sign and adequately absorb his surroundings before proceeding, which suggests negligence

  2. If he did see Nadia and proceeded anyway (taking an unjustifiable risk), then his actions suggest recklessness, perhaps even meaning to intimidate.

Rietz, however, would have us believe a tautology… Namely that Tziligakis was paying attention because he could not have not been [paying attention]. This is based on the even shakier logic that anyone who is able to immediately pull over after hitting someone cannot have hit that person recklessly. Never mind that plenty of reckless drivers can –and do– pull over after hitting someone, especially if there are a dozen witnesses present.

Moreover, that she dismisses Terrell Ware’s version of the events for her own reenactment, borders on absurdity. In a letter to Shamsul Chowdhury she dismisses Ware’s statement of being overtaken on the left by Tzilgakis because “it is physically impossible to pass another car at that part of Fourth Street. There are parked cars on either side of the street at all times, and the remaining lanes are not wide enough for two cars to pass.” This, as anyone who’s been to Fourth at John Street (a wide one way street) knows is ludicrous. (Click on image below for full view.)

While it is indicitive of her high energy that Rietz went to so much trouble to stage a reenactment of the events, the public would have been better served had she taken more care in reading the police reports and speaking to witnesses, and left the foresenics to those who specialize in reconstructing accident scenes.
Based on my review of the evidence, I did not believe that we would be able to prove reckless homicide," Rietz said, adding that during the last couple of months she did an exhaustive review of the police reports.

But it is highly unlikely that she gave these reports the scrutiny she claims. Consider the following statements she made in a letter to me on March 9, 2006. (This letter was in response to one I sent her.) Note: this letter is little more than a month old at the time of her decision to vacate based on lack of evidence.
Your understanding of what happened on February 21, 2004 is incorrect. Your account of the evidence is inaccurate. There is no witness who estimated that Mr. Yoon was going 35 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone. There is no evidence that Mr. Yoon accelerated to shake “whatever he hit.” With regard to Mr. Tziligakis there are no witnesses that say he was driving aggressively. He did not refuse to take the breath test. There are no witnesses who say they heard Ms. Chowdhury scream. There are no witnesses who say that Ms. Chowdhury was knocked unconscious. There are no “several” witnesses who recount in detail the manner in which Mr. Tziligakis took the turn. In fact, there are no witnesses who actually saw the impact. I have personally reviewed the police reports. I am very familiar with the actual evidence in this case. You[r] understanding of that evidence is simply incorrect.

Note: scroll down to access table data

RietzPolice Reports
"There is no witness who estimated that Mr. Yoon was going 35 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone."Well as [regarding] the car, it was like going 35. It doesn't seem like that much, but as far as being on the sideline and looking at was a lot... it wasn't slow at all.

-Terrel Ware to Officer Jeff Munds Supplementary/Continuation Report 704-1928
"There are no witnesses that say he [Tziligakis] was driving aggressively."There's a car. This car comes—I don't know if it was behind me or he sped up real quick—real quick. Fast. In a hurry to get that close and pass me at that time. But this car come and pass me. I didn't see him make a complete stop."
-Terrel Ware, Supplementary/Continuation Report 704-1928
"He did not refuse to take the breath test."

A short time later I was told that (1) driver (Dong) would submit to a PBT test, but that the other driver [Tziligakis] would not.
-Officer David Griffet, Supplemental Report

Ioannis [Tziligakis] was given the opportunity to submit to a PBT, however he declined.
-Officer Ganesh Reddy, Supplemental Report

"There are no witnesses who say they heard Ms. Chowdhury scream."

As Ioannis [Tziligakis] completed his turn he saw Nadia at the front of his car on the driver side. She then "screamed and lost her balance."
-Ganesh Reddy, Supplemental Report

Bill [Kennedy] then heard a scream and looked in the direction of the scream and saw the female laying in the road.
-Officer Jeff Munds, Supplemental/Continuation Report 704-1928

"There are no witnesses who say that Ms. Chowdhury was knocked unconscious."And her arms was just laid out and she wasn't moving. And she wasn't saying anything or nothing. No, showing, no sign of motion at all.
-Terrel Ware to Officer Jeff Munds, Supplementary/Continuation Report 704-1928
"There are no “several” witnesses who recount in detail the manner in which Mr. Tziligakis took the turn."

**See Ware statement above and Chandler statement below about driving aggressively.

Paris [Chandler] stated that he had seen Nadia walking westbound in the intersection's north crosswalk. When he saw the Hyundai turning, "he started freaking out" because he could see that the vehicle was going to strike Nadia.
-Officer Gregory Manzana, Supplemental Report

Note: These are just two, but there might have been more had she followed up and contacted witnesses at the scene who were not asked about the turn itself.

"There are no witnesses who actually saw the impact."What was in my mind was, wow he's making a pretty sharp turn...that's when she was struck and fell...She was hit in a space between the middle--driver's side tire and the middle of the drivers door. In that area is what she was hit by.
Paris Chandler to Officer Jeff Munds, Supplementary/Continuation Report 704-1928

In Conclusion

My sentiments regarding the Chowdhury tragedy are no secret. I have adamantly called for tougher penalties on car crimes, believing they ought not enjoy the special status they currently do. Car crimes are far more serious than bar skirmishes, yet I read constantly of kids who throw a punch or shove someone winding up with 2 years probation and a criminal record even when no one is injured. The State's Attorney pursues these types of crimes vigorously even while they often have no bearing on the public's well-being.

That car crimes are given far less attention and often result in no criminal record is a serious problem with our justice system; they linger on the first floor in the Circuit Court's Office and until very recently violators could opt for dozens of "court supervisions" and avoid a record. State of Illinois this year passed a law limiting court supervision to no more than 2 per year.

Commitment to pursuing convictions for those who kill with their cars is the only way to deter drivers from casually speeding, rolling or running stop signs, and driving aggressively. If the staggering death toll is EVER to come down from the tens of thousands it currently claims annually, then lawmakers need to be serious about making the punishments fit the crimes.

I do not know if there was enough evidence in the case of Ioannis Tziligakis to convict him of reckless homicide; probably not given the current attitudes toward car crimes. But I believe strongly in working towards eliminating the excuses available to those who kill with cars. That means pursuing every possible opportunity to bring those involved in vehicular crimes to justice. There were opportunities in the Chowdhury case that were ignored and the community will undoubtedly suffer because of it.

States Attorneys looking out for their conviction record are often reluctant to take chances if a conviction is not assured, but that's their job and they need to take it or leave it.

See Also:
Father doesn't get his wish - Daily Herald
Illinipundit Open Thread

Monday, April 17, 2006

New traffic program set for C-U

It's difficult to tell just what this new traffic program will mean for people in residential neighborhoods such as Champaign's Sesquicentennial neighborhood but it's a start. According to today's News-Gazette the new traffic program will include among other things:

  • more officers running traffic enforcement

  • more money for traffic enforcement

  • a new citizen webpage for reporting concerns

  • two new speed indicator trailers to advise motorists of their speed (some consider this a deterrent)

  • greater focus on pedestrian safety

I confess, I'm not very confident that this will make any difference in my own neighborhood, Hill Street.

Since the start of the warm weather, Hill Street may as well be a race track. Today for example, around 1:30pm, a bright blue pickup—fairly new, loaded, etc. made an impressive effort to break the sound barrier. I think my neighbors and I agreed the guy was doing close to 80mph by the time he reached the 600 block from Prospect.

In my opinion the best way to change the driving behavior in C-U is to stop treating these kind of drivers with kid gloves. Intimidation with a car should be treated no differently than intimidation without one, yet while the latter usually results in an arrest and criminal charge, the former is treated like a late phone bill. Why are car crimes so special? Why do we allow perpetrators behind the wheel to get away with what they could never get away without 2000 pounds of steel to hide behind?

I'm glad to see some steps in the right direction, but calling homicidal drivers a "traffic concern" seems to perpetuate the tolerance for them.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Georgia can do it, so should Illinois

Cameras for speeders get Senate kudos
If approved by the Senate and signed by the governor, the bill would allow jurisdictions to put up cameras in school zones and issue tickets in the mail for drivers who go at least 6 mph over the speed limit.
State law gives the 5 mph cushion for drivers ticketed for speeding by officers.

It's this 6 mph "cushion" that bothers me. If cameras were installed on streets with a speed limit of 30mph (that's the current limit in Illinois) then people can still drive at the homicidal speeds of 35+ mph in residential neighborhoods. This is simply too fast. It's too fast for brick streets; it's too fast for streets with children, the elderly, the hearing impaired, etc. It's simply too fast. This is why C-U must lower the limit to 25mph; otherwise cameras won't stop the persistent "just under the radar" casual speeders who menace our roads.

Rites of passage

In Pekin today, two young men are dead. The 16 and 17-year old friends slammed into a tree while traveling more than 35 mph over the speed limit. It's a familiar story: teenagers, alcohol, and speed. But here's something I didn't know: Illinois parents can block their childrens' right to drive.
The coroner's jury also recommended the Secretary of State's Office provide parents information about their right to cancel a child's driver's license through the age of 18 years old.

Ironically the parents of the young passenger in this car had recently done just that.

Plus ca change, plus ce la meme chose

It's been more than twenty years since I graduated from high school. I remember my older brothers being pallbearers at the funeral of a girl (age 16), one of their classmates, killed in a crash with three other teenagers. It was the same combination: alcohol, speed, and inexperience. Our small Massachusetts town never recovered from that tragedy. How could it? How can parents, brothers, sisters, friends recover when promising young lives are cut short so senselessly? I think too about those first on the scene: the police and emergency workers. What kind of stress do scenes like the one in Pekin today put on our community workers, on our community? It is not someone else's tragedy when lives are lost this way. It's everyone's.

Teenagers will always act out. It's time for real transportation alternatives. It's time cars were removed from the equation. Adding more public transportation such as trams and jitneys is a step toward giving kids the 2nd chances they deserve.

See Also:
IHSA partnering with state police
Athletic events to include reminders to buckle up, slow down and drive sober
Youngest drivers have grim record of fatalities
Her efforts may ease the dangers of teen drivers
Increased driving age proposed at state level
Fatal wreck blamed on alcohol, speeding
2 students killed near Crystal Lake

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Speeding? What speeding?

smashed carA few seconds before this car was reduced to a heap, the juvee behind the wheel, who had no license, tore down Hill Street at about 60mph. (He bragged about it to his classmates at Central High the following day, though we can't imagine the owner of the car, his "friend", was very amused.)

Police arrived on the scene within minutes of my 911 call— (Thank you Champaign Emergency Workers!) I was in the back of my house working on my computer when I heard what sounded like an explosion and the whole house shook. I thought some kind of a bomb had detonated—and rushed to the front door.

punkI saw this kid in baggy clothes get out of the car. He had a lot of blood on his face from a gash above his eye, and a phone in his hand—My first thought was he had been talking on the phone, speeding, and lost control. He was angry, claiming something bleeping "slick" was on the road. (The road was dry as dust, that is, until the battery acid and radiator fluid spilled across it.)

struck curb and treeThere was debris everywhere, strewn all over the lawn of my neighbors whose tree he struck. They were putting their newborn down to nap when they heard the same "explosion" as me. Apparently he struck the curb, went up over it (where children normally play) and hit the tree head on. The car then ricocheted off the tree, traveled about 80 or so feet, and came to a rest on the other side of the road (where cars are normally parked). Had a car been coming from the other direction (as one normally is) there would certainly be a body count to report. Talk about lucky!

wreckedI still don't know if they gave him any sort of sobriety test—he was very agitated, but he may have had a concussion. One thing is for sure, he was traveling so fast, he could not control the vehicle. Can you say, H-O-M-I-C-I-D-A-L driver?

I hope the cops on our beat are registering this. I hope city officials are too. While I appreciated the swift police response, I can still hear the lecture I got early last year when I warned police of speeders: "You know it only sounds like they're speeding because of the bricks..."

This is the second accident of this kind in under ten weeks on Hill Street also involving an unlicensed, uninsured, young man, traveling like a maniac. See comments from earlier post.

See Also:

Protecting neighborhood streets, protecting kids
(Includes a picture of Hill Street with kids playing in front of the same tree this guy hit.)

Articles of interest:
Macho car craze kills young men
(This is a UK study. I don't know if a comparable US study has been done, but this is still interesting and sadly familiar.)
Why do we speed? Because we think we have a good excuse
(This is a rather fluffy USA Today piece, but it does raise the unsettling prospect of what's to come, "speedin' season")

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Campus to revisit speed limit, other safety measures

This is promising

Last fall, the Champaign City Council rejected a proposal by University of Illinois officials to lower speed limits in the University District to 20 mph. Then, the Urbana City Council declined to consider it.

But Pam Voitik, director of UI Campus Services, which includes Campus Parking, and a member of a group studying campus transportation issues, said the UI would like the cities to reconsider the issue after changes are made this summer on Lincoln Avenue.

The street will be reduced from four lanes to three, including a turn lane, between Pennsylvania and Nevada, and workers will add signals at Nevada and Pennsylvania.

UI officials are concerned about the speed of traffic along the street because many students live east of Lincoln Avenue in sorority and fraternity houses and apartments, and they must cross Lincoln Avenue to get to classes.

Urbana Public Works Director Bill Gray said all three jurisdictions – the UI and the cities – should have the same speed limits.

"It's important to have consistency in the University District, so all three would have to collectively agree to a speed," he said.

Bruce Knight, planning director for the city of Champaign, said changes would need to be done "in the context of a larger set of recommendations." He noted the cities and the UI are developing an agreement to prioritize the safety recommendations that have not yet been put in place.

"My own feeling was that the primary purpose for reducing the speed limit is to send a message to drivers in the area," Knight said. "There may be other ways to send a message to drivers, and we should consider all those before locking in on a solution."

Voitik said lowering the speed limit won't significantly affect travel times, but "the probability that a pedestrian-vehicle accident will be fatal drops significantly when you reduce the speed from 30 mph to 20 mph."

Voitik quoted statistics from a 2004 Federal Highway Administration publication on pedestrian safety. It cites a study that found a pedestrian hit by a car going 40 mph had an 85 percent chance of being killed; one hit by a car going 30 mph had a 45 percent chance of dying; and a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 20 mph had a 5 percent chance of being killed.

Hopefully this time around the City Councils will be prepared for the Children of the Village of the Damned.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Marking an anniversary

Nadia... we will never stop missing you.

February 21st marks the 2-year anniversary of the reckless driving accident which claimed the life of 20-year old U of I Sophomore Nadia Chowdhury. Chowdhury was killed in a crosswalk on Fourth and John street in 2004 after being struck by two separate homicidal drivers: the first, Ioannis Tziligakis did not come to a stop and careened through the intersection striking the petite woman who was halfway through the cross walk, sending her into the path of another car that also failed to slow at the intersection. The impact of the second car, driven by an inebriated Dongki Yoon (his bac was twice the legal limit), sealed Chowdhury's fate. Nadia was dead within an hour at Carle Foundation Hospital.

In June of last year, Yoon reached a sweet deal with the court that allowed him to plea to a DUI and avoid probation, after which he quietly left town to pursue his studies elsewhere. This in spite of tough new Illinois drunk driving laws.

Tziligakis has played the continuance game: For two years now his attorney has managed to have the case continued, a tactic which always works to the advantage of the accused, since he can count on witnesses (especially in a university town) moving on or "forgetting" details. Ironically Tziligakis is expected before a judge almost two years to the day that he took Nadia from us.

Of all the recent campus traffic tragedies no case better exemplifies the culture of tolerance for homicidal drivers in C-U than in the case of Nadia Chowdhury. Her short but promising life was snuffed out by two drivers who failed so catastrophically in their responsibility to their fellow human that it is impossible not to wonder how such disregard could happen in an environment devoted to enlightenment and learning. Why is there not more outcry? Why does there continue to be so little stigma against this daily assault on our city and campus streets? When we are robbed of lives the likes of Nadia's we are witnessing the destruction of culture, the triumph of brute force over refined civilization.
"How can it happen in a place of higher learning? ... I believe that the purpose of higher learning is to create responsible citizens – not reckless/drunken drivers."
--Shamsul Chowdhury, father of Nadia

Perhaps no student action of recent years better exemplifies this culture of primitive self-pursuit and the abandonment of student idealism for self-centered agendas than the action taken last year by a group of U of I student leaders who blocked a campus speed initiative which would have signaled the beginning of consciousness raising on this sheepish campus. (We can only hope that these individuals, as they shuffle out of the U of I and take their respective places in adult society, will never be in community leadership roles or positioned to do the damage on a larger scale that is their legacy in C-U.)

Instead of rallying on behalf of their fellow fallen students, the Illinois Student Senate rallied on behalf of the almightily automobile and drivers’ right-to-might on campus roads shared by pedestrians and cyclists. Their political action marked a closing of the mind not seen since the days Southern bigots blocked African American access to white universities. It demonstrated just how shallow and out of synch this student body is with the most pressing issues of our time—from oil dependency to the environmental havoc being caused by cars, not to mention the shear loss of life (42,000+ healthy individuals perish each year on US roads, mostly owing to speed; nearly 5,000+ pedestrians are killed per annum by automobiles.)

The tolerance for reckless driving and the unwillingness to want bold action against homicidal driving is not confined to a few reactionary campus activists. Sadly these attitudes permeate the offices of our lawmakers and elected officials. When our politicians show no leadership or imagination for problem solving, when police fail to enforce existing limits, when judges refuse to treat these crimes for what they are (reckless homicide) and fail to deliver sentences recommended by the State, they are co-conspirators in the carnage that has become the standard of the day.

Let all of us this month remember Nadia; let us think of her as if she were our own child, our own sister. Let us ask ourselves what kind of future we want for our community and what we are willing to do to make it so. How many Nadia's must we lose before we are willing to commit to a kinder civilization?

See Also:
Trustee brings laudable perspective

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Citizen and Police Dialogue Report

Recently the City of Champaign Police Department mailed out a report on the findings from the 2005 series of Citizen and Police dialogues (see letter below). The dialogues, originally designed to address charges of racial profiling by C-U police, became a venue in all 8 sessions for citizens to voice frustration and antipathy for rampant speeding in residential neighborhoods which 7 out of 8 neighborhoods cited as their number 1 concern. Running a close second was the increasing assault on neighborhoods by boom cars (loud car stereo systems.)

But now that the report is in can we expect swift action? Can we expect street cameras, more enforcement, greater fines for violators of the peace, etc? It seems unlikely. According to the letter participants can count on more dialogues this Spring--presumably to discuss the previous dialogues.

This reminds us of the Monty Python skit in the Life of Brian where the commandos meets to discuss their resolutions.

They've arrested Brian!
They've dragged him off! They're going to crucify him!
Right! This calls for immediate discussion!
New motion?
Completely new motion, eh, that, ah-- that there be, ah, immediate action--
Ah, once the vote has been taken.
Well, obviously once the vote's been taken. You can't act another resolution till you've voted on it...
Reg, for God's sake, let's go now!
Yeah. Yeah.
Right. Right.
In the-- in the light of fresh information from, ahh, sibling Judith--
Ah, not so fast, Reg.
Reg, for God's sake, it's perfectly simple. All you've got to do is to go out of that door now, and try to stop the Romans' nailing him up! It's happening, Reg! Something's actually happening, Reg! Can't you understand?! Ohhh!
Hm. Hm.
Oh, dear.
Hello. Another little ego trip for the feminists.

You see, it's like this Captain Finney: we are sort of tapped out in the way of complaints. We'd like to see some action and bold leadership in this city now, please.

The way our elected officals drag their heels on these issues makes us think it would be easier to build a bridge to the moon than to make the adjustments that would curtail speeders.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Transportation issues lead "Big Small All" dialogues

Lots of great ideas for improving the community came out of the "Big Small All" dialogues which took place throughout 2005 in Champaign-Urbana. The News-Gazette reports on some of the feedback. It was not surprising to learn that transportation issues were in the forefront of people's concerns.
Transportation proved so big—299 ideas—it was broken up for discussion purposes into public, automotive and alternative.
"Maybe that reflects the number of transportation-related concerns recently," DiNovo said.
Even within topics, suggestions overlap. A teen center, less "big box" retail development and urban sprawl, more bike paths, smoke-free public spaces and equitable public schools are among ideas receiving multiple mentions.

See Also:
Champaign Country Bikes for Rick Langlois's take on the economic impact of bike culture for C-U's future.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Speed, alcohol, fleeing the scene

Today's News-Gazette reports on a 20-year old Champaign man who was arrested and charged with DUI, speeding, and hit-and-run in an accident that injured three people, one seriously. Apparently the driver, Robert Perry, and another passenger in the vehicle, after hitting four people, fled the scene, but Perry later turned himself in at the Police Station.
Perry said he could not see the car or people because it was raining that night. He admitted drinking alcohol before the accident and admitted smoking marijuana the day before, according to the police report.

Meanwhile the 24-year old driver of the vehicle that killed mother-to-be April Simmons and another man in a deadly crash last week, was an eight-time beneficiary of Illinois's revolving door laws on homicidal drivers according to the Chicago Tribune.

Homatas has a history of speeding violations. According to DuPage County court records, he has pleaded guilty to speeding eight times since 1998.

He also pleaded guilty to running a red light in Rolling Meadows in 2002. In six of the speeding cases--three of which court records show he was driving almost 20 miles over the speed limit-- Homatas received court supervision, which kept the tickets from affecting his permanent record.

See Also:
Not Enough Carnage
Senate Approves Limiting Court Supervisions for Moving Violations