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Kadner: Illuminating street signs a bright idea for Cook County

The names cross streets are illuminated along Sauk Trail road intersections where traffic signals are present. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

The names of cross streets are illuminated along Sauk Trail road at intersections where traffic signals are present. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:36AM



Driving down Sauk Trail one night, I spotted one of those things people talk about but that I had never seen myself.

It was glowing and just hanging in midair.

“Look at that!” I shouted to my wife in the passenger seat. “You ever seen anything like it?”

“A street sign you can actually read,” she replied in awe.

It was an illuminated sign contained in a box-like structure that seemed to be attached to a traffic signal hanging over Sauk Trail.

“Western Avenue,” the sign read, clear as day, although it was about 8 p.m.

After making a few phone calls, I discovered the signs belonged to Cook County.

“We currently have illuminated signs at all the major intersections on Sauk Trail, from Harlem east to Western Avenue,” said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for the county.

Sauk Trail is a county road. Paleologos explained it was the second in Cook County to get the illuminated street signs. The first signs went up on Lake-Cook Road in the northern suburbs from the Edens Expressway west to Quinton Road.

The signs are lit by LED lights on the inside of a box that is indeed attached to a traffic signal, which is the power source for the illumination.

Cook County started the project in 2009 because, after doing research, planning engineers saw that drivers were aging and thought it would be a good idea to make it easier to see street name signs, Paleologos said.

“Also, headlights on cars today are more focused toward the pavement instead of upward, another good reason for illuminated signs,” she said. “Another benefit: It’s better to have an illuminated sign instead of relying on a nearby streetlight to pick up the name of a street or point a light in the direction of the sign.”

And Paleologos noted that some thoroughfares in the suburbs have no streetlights at all.

“So far the response from motorists has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said.

I got the same reaction from Park Forest village manager Tom Mick. I called Mick before contacting the county because I thought the illuminated signs were a village project.

“Just about everyone tells us they love the signs,” Mick said. “They were installed around 2010, but we can’t take the credit.”

Cook County is planning to do between 10 and 20 more intersections in 2013.

The next streets scheduled for the Southland are Vollmer Road, along Ridgeland Avenue (from 87th Street to 115th Street) and one on Central Avenue.

The signs are only placed at major intersections on county roads.

The signs are wired to the traffic signal control cabinet where there is a photocell that turns on automatically when it starts getting dark.

The street signs are made of white Plexiglas panels with retro-reflective sheeting internally illuminated with LED lighting.

There’s a green stencil cutout with the name of the street appearing in white. The letters are quite large and the words “Cook County” appear beneath the street name, although I confess I didn’t notice that at the time I passed through the intersection.

There’s also an outline of Cook County on the left corner of the sign.

Bolingbrook was the model for the Cook County project. But Bolingbrook apparently uses fluorescent lights in its illuminated street signs.

The signs are not feasible at some locations, Paleologos said, because they must be mounted on signal light mast arms.

So, now for the big question: How much do these things cost?

“The average cost per sign is $3,800,” Paleologos said.

That sounds like a lot of money for a government entity that is making cuts to keep from drowning in red ink.

But as someone who drives throughout the suburbs a lot, for business and pleasure, I welcome the easy-to-read signs.

One of my pet peeves is trying to read street signs on dark suburban roads.

Yes, it’s possible to do by slowing down, but every motorist has to realize he’s taking a chance of getting rear-ended when he does that on a busy road.

And there are some busy intersections where the street signs are nearly impossible to read until you’re in the intersection itself.

Side streets are even worse in many suburbs.

Some have no streetlights. Others have no street signs.

The county highway department plans to install the illuminated streetlights at major intersections on all county roads.

Whenever the county replaces a traffic signal, it will put illuminated street name signs into those as well, Paleologos said.

Will the signs improve traffic safety?

A co-worker told me she was stopped at a red light on Sauk Trail when a car crash occurred in the intersection and one of those vehicles ricocheted into her car.

When police arrived on the scene, they asked her what had happened. She had to have witnessed the accident because she was waiting for the light to change.

“I didn’t see it because I was admiring the street sign,” she said with a sheepish laugh. “I had never seen one like it.”

Story update

Rich Tolleson, the retired Cook County police officer whose Crestwood home became uninhabitable for a time due to hoarding, died recently.

“He had fallen several times and finally fell in the bathtub,” his wife, Emily Tolleson, said.

Paramedics responded and he was conscious at the time, Mrs. Tolleson said, but he died of a heart attack Dec. 22 at Palos Community Hospital.

“I didn’t want to have a service for him and disturb everyone’s holiday,” she said.

She said there will be a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. March 16 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Chicago-Alsip, 5000 W. 127th St,, Alsip.

“He was happy because of the story you wrote about him,” Mrs. Tolleson said. “He found out people cared.”



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