After Accidents, Administration Recruits Consultants to Improve Parking Lot Safety

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After Accidents, Administration Recruits Consultants to Improve Parking Lot Safety

The Niles West main entrance on Oakton Street after school.

The Niles West main entrance on Oakton Street after school.

Mateo Acosta

The Niles West main entrance on Oakton Street after school.

Mateo Acosta

Mateo Acosta

The Niles West main entrance on Oakton Street after school.

Mateo Acosta

By Sarah Waters and Mateo Acosta

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After concerns about parking lot safety emerged following accidents in August and September, the administration sought input from consultants and architects on parking lot and traffic flow. Parking lot safety has been a matter of concern since a student on a bike was struck by a car in August. According to the Village of Skokie, there have been six automobile accidents in close proximity to the school since the beginning of the school year. Two of those accidents caused injuries.

“It’s scary,” parent Chris Renner said. “I am convinced I am going to hit a kid. Kids get out of cars all over the place—in the middle lane, even in the back of the line. Cars cross to make a left turn from the far right lane.”

According to assistant principal of operations Steve Parnther, the administration has been working with the school’s architects, Studio GC, to streamline pickup and drop-off processes and reduce the potential for accidents through improved parking lot design.

“Essentially, what we want to do is slow things down,” Parnther said. “Right now, things are going too fast. We have a security guard in front; however, people still end up doing what they want to do. What we’re looking at is, if we can’t get a police officer out every day, how can we maximize safety through other methods?”

Although plans have not yet been finalized, the administration has considered increasing the number of crossing guards and police on campus during high-traffic times. Installing more speed bumps and streamlining some roads into one-way lanes were also taken into consideration.

“We’re trying to limit opportunities for potential accidents,” Parnther said. “The more entry and exit areas that are being used simultaneously, the more chances there are for accidents. If there’s one way for people to go in and one way for people to go out, it’s safer.”

The haphazard parking lot structure has caused concern among parents, many of whom navigate the lot daily to pick up and drop off their children.

“After school, the parking lot is very jammed up,” parent Tom Kriz said. “There’s a bunch of cars waiting to pick people up, and they’re lined up like that to the point where they block other cars.”

Unclear traffic patterns coupled with student drivers have also resulted in close calls.

“When I used to drop off my daughter off in the morning, there would be kids’ cars everywhere,” parent Mary Kenmotsu said. “There have been many close accidents because cars don’t know when to turn.”

Students also share concerns about traffic safety in the parking lots. For some, the disorganization of pick up and drop of processes makes the area more dangerous.

“Everything’s very disorganized. It takes a good ten minutes for my parents to even get out of the front entrance area,” senior Adrian Recinto said. “You can even start to see the flow of traffic spill onto Oakton Street. Traffic also builds up in the teachers’ parking lot in the South Lobby, since people are trying to find easier ways to drop off their kids.”

“I don’t think there is any place where I feel less safe than the Niles West student parking lot,” senior Brian Pryzby said. “Whether it’s impatient high school drivers or people blindly backing up, you never know where the next accident is going to come from. I think the parking lot is way too small to facilitate the amount of traffic it gets, not to mention the lack of supervision.”

Some changes to pick up and drop off have made the process more restrictive, like the closing of the Black Box entrance. With fewer entrances and exits, traffic can become clogged and slow.

“The Black Box entrance was very useful to alleviating the flow of traffic, and now that it’s gone, people don’t have other options,” Recinto said. “It just contributes to the traffic problem. I feel like it’s comparable to O’Hare traffic during the holidays.”

Parking lot structure at Niles North is much different, partially due to Westfield Old Orchard’s location adjacent to the school. There, pick up and drop off areas are served by one-way lanes only, in contrast to Niles West.

“The student pick up and drop off situation at North is pretty good sometimes, but thanks to the Old Orchard mall parking I have two options to get my child or drop them off,” Niles North parent Luka Planinic said. “I pick up my daughter in the mall parking lot which is right in front of the school’s main entrance.”

English teacher Sharon Swanson uses both the North and West parking lots daily.

“I’ve seen the changes that the parking lot has gone through. At West, it is totally disorganized. The parents seem to be able to run roughshod over everybody,” Swanson said. “At North, it’s smooth, it’s organized. There is one line. The parents go in this one line, and you pick up your kid and you move. It’s not total chaos everywhere.”

According to Swanson, the process at West used to be more consolidated.

“When I first started teaching here, there was not this problem at all. The whole setup in front was different, then they ‘fixed’ it, and then it got like this mess. It used to be a more open area with two full lanes, and it was never a problem.”