by Marni Pyke for the Daily Herald

February 19, 2024


Deadly traffic crashes increased 2.5% last year, Illinois Department of Transportation preliminary data showed Friday. IDOT reported 1,176 fatal collisions in 2023, 29 more than in 2022.

“Roadway facilities in Illinois are moving in the wrong direction,” DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman said. “While the loss of life from airline, factory, and warehouse accidents is falling, deaths from vehicular accidents are rising in a disturbing way.” Fatal pedestrian crashes rose from 195 in 2022 to 204 in 2023,
while those involving cyclists spiked by 42 last year from 33 in 2022.

It’s more than just numbers for Wheaton residents living near a hazardous stretch of Roosevelt Road (Route 38). A group of concerned citizens is advocating for a traffic light and crosswalk to reduce crashes. Debbie Suggs came home from work one night to the Marian Park apartments in 1998 and saw the body of another resident struck by a vehicle lying on Roosevelt Road. “That was my first experience,” she said. “It was one experience too many.”

Suggs and daughter Chantise Davis have lived in the Marian Park apartments along Roosevelt Road, east of County Farm Road, since 1973.

The road teems with vehicles, accommodating nearly 25,000 daily. On the north side are shopping plazas with a Target, restaurants and other popular destinations. On the south side are Marian Park and St. Francis High School.

Over the years, a number of fatal and injury-causing crashes, as well as close calls, have traumatized residents, many of whom are elderly, safety advocates said.

Just walking to get groceries can be life-threatening, Davis said. “It’s very dangerous to cross.” Suggs, 77, was almost hit two years ago by a car “that came out

“It makes us feel like we don’t matter. And we know we matter,” she said.

The situation took on added urgency after pedestrian Paige Donahue was killed by a hit-and-run driver about a mile east of Marian Park on Jan. 2, 2023.

“She was an angel,” Davis said of Donahue, her friend.

IDOT engineers studied the vicinity and decided a traffic signal was warranted at the nexus of Target and St. Francis.

But it’s up to the city of Wheaton to sign off on the improvement, and residents say they’re frustrated by delays after years of peril.

Funding is unresolved. However, Republican state Sen. Seth Lewis of Bartlett is seeking a $1.25 million government grant to help pay for it.

City Manager Michael Dzugan said the municipality is “taking a deep dive” into traffic issues in the area and will present a factual report likely in March.

“It’s very, very complex, and there’s a lot of different pieces to this,” he said.

Those also include fire trucks from a nearby station north of Roosevelt exiting onto the busy road.

“We thought it would take some effort and time to make sure people understand all the pieces and how they interrelate and where we go from here,” Dzugan said. “We obviously want to make things better.”

Meanwhile, residents with assistance from the nonprofit DuPage United have organized petitions and are lobbying the city to act.

“We’re not looking for a handout. We’re looking for help and a solution,” Davis said.

Across Illinois in 2023, the number of people killed in vehicle crashes rose to 1,275, from 1,268 in 2022. In the metro region, traffic deaths decreased in McHenry and Will counties in 2023 but went up in Cook, DuPage, Kane and Lake.

Kane experienced five crashes between Aug. 21 and Sept. 3 that left seven people dead.

Schwieterman noted, “The increases mirror the additional driving being done by Illinoisans. We're jumping behind the wheel more, and that's been bad news for pedestrians and bicyclists, who are in harm's way.”

IDOT spokeswoman Maria Castaneda urged, “Please buckle up, drive sober, pay extra special attention when behind the wheel at all times, remain alert for bicyclists and pedestrians, slow down and put down the phone.”

The agency continually analyses crash data to pinpoint hazardous locations, she said.

This spring, IDOT expects to publish a “dashboard to allow local agencies to identify locations that due to crash history or features may be prioritized for safety enhancements,” Castaneda said.

Wheaton police are still seeking information on Donahue’s death.

To help, call (630) 260-2199 or email [email protected]. Anonymous tips can be shared at (800) 222-8477.