After recent deaths, Chicagoans want safer roads for pedestrians

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Shortly before being killed by a car crossing the street, Peter Paquette took part in a rally to raise awareness of the importance of voting early.

A longtime volunteer for the 47th Arrondissement, Paquette, 75, was always working to improve his community, Ald said. Matt Martin, who shook Paquette’s hand at the rally just before he died.

“He was just a great person and such a kind and caring person,” Martin said. “He was also someone who was incredibly passionate about the opportunities government could create by doing things right.”

Paquette’s death was at least the third in recent weeks in Chicago in which a vehicle struck and killed someone, including two young children killed within a week of each other.

The deaths sparked anger among community members who rallied on Leland Avenue on Sunday for road improvements that would keep cyclists and pedestrians safe and shined a spotlight on city streets that are usually not designed for walking and cycling. Proponents are calling for city-wide infrastructure that would prioritize the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, an issue sometimes politically fraught when some segments of the community back down over fears of losing parking spaces and traffic lanes .

“Streets are currently designed primarily to move cars and trucks as quickly as possible,” said Kyle Whitehead, spokesperson for the Active Transportation Alliance, an organization that advocates for safe and fair walking, cycling and public transportation. . “I think it’s especially upsetting in the city of Chicago, … a large, relatively dense urban area with people walking and biking to destinations frequently.”

In the latest death on Sunday, Paquette was killed around 5:15 p.m. when he was hit by a car as he crossed Irving Park Road at a crosswalk in the North Center neighborhood, police said.

Earlier on June 2, a westbound driver on the 2200 block of West Eastwood Avenue struck and killed 2-year-old Raphael Cardenas, who was passing by Rafi, just before 6 p.m., Chicago police say. The toddler was crossing the street on a mini-scooter in his Lincoln Square neighborhood, police said.

A week later, on June 9, 3-year-old Lily Grace Shambrook was killed when a tractor-trailer collided with the bicycle she was transporting in the 1100 block of West Leland Avenue in Uptown, the city said. Chicago police.

Earlier this year, 22-year-old cyclist Nick Parlingayan was struck and killed by a vehicle that fled the scene in the 3800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue in the Old Irving Park neighborhood. At least two other cyclists have been killed in car collisions in 2022.

Deaths from car accidents have increased in recent years, according to the US Department of Transportation. A report released by the agency that compiled the first estimates of motor vehicle fatalities in 2021 found that those fatalities were up more than 10% from 2020. Pedestrian fatalities were up 13% and fatalities of cyclists by 5% in 2021, according to the report.

Over the past 10 years, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities have accounted for a growing share of road deaths, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

According to the FHWA, pedestrian deaths in the United States have increased from about 13% of total road deaths in 2010 to almost 17% in 2019. Bicycle deaths have also increased over the decade, from from around 1.9% of all road deaths to 2.3% between 2009 and 2018.

In Leland’s crash, the bike was hit when the rider was forced to maneuver around a ComEd truck that was parked in the bike lane, according to local media. The truck was cited for parking in a bike lane and within 30 feet of a stop sign, Chicago police said.

A spokesperson for ComEd said the utility company is still investigating the crash.

“The safety and security of ComEd customers and employees is always our top priority, and our thoughts are with the family,” a company statement read.

Cycling advocates point to a confluence of dangerous road conditions at play in Leland’s accident, namely, a vehicle blocking a bike path and trucks using Leland instead of larger cross roads like Wilson or Lawrence Avenue, where the works overpasses can play a role in truck rerouting.

“Leland should be designed in such a way that it would be physically impossible or extremely inconvenient for someone in a tractor-trailer to drive down that street,” Whitehead said.

In a statement sent to the Tribune, 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman said his office earlier this year allocated funds to study traffic on Leland throughout his neighborhood. Cappleman also said the neighborhood allocated money for sidewalk extensions, or bumps, at the intersection of Leland and Beacon Street. Installation should begin at the end of the month.

“Our thoughts remain with Lily, her mother and our cycling community,” Cappleman said in the statement.

Since Paquette and the toddlers were killed, calls for reform have grown, with the message that roads are not just for cars and should not be designed as such.

Experts say vehicle speed is a major factor in determining whether a crash is fatal. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 miles per hour has a 90% chance of surviving, while a pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 miles per hour has a 20% chance, according to an analysis of the data federal data cited by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency. for planning.

Victoria Barrett, transport planner at CMAP, said measures such as narrowing traffic lanes, adding speed bumps and tightening intersections by extending curbs can help reduce speeds, she said. . The same goes for city politics, like setting speed limits, she said.

“There are design features that we can use on the streets to make them less wide, less straight and less flat, which are the three things that lead to higher speeds,” she said.

It’s also important to separate cyclists from drivers, especially large heavy vehicles like trucks, because they have the potential to do more damage than smaller vehicles, Barrett said.

“If you can’t reasonably slow vehicles down, it’s important to separate vulnerable road users with things like bike lanes,” she said.

Experts and advocates also said using concrete barriers to separate bike lanes from vehicle lanes would protect cyclists and deter motorists from parking in bike lanes.

Where bike lanes are demarcated only by paint, as is the case in much of the city, cars often park in the lane or delivery vehicles block the lane, said Audrey Wennink. , transport director of the Metropolitan Planning Council, who often commutes. North Side to his downtown office by bike.

Enforcement is part of the solution, she said, but making it physically impossible to block the way with a concrete divider is key. Bike lanes also help narrow roads, which reduce the speed of cars more effectively than setting speed limits, she said. The reduction in the number of traffic lanes and the development of medians serving as islands for pedestrians crossing the street also narrow the roadways.

Roads like Irving Park, where Paquette was struck and killed Sunday night, are particularly dangerous, Wennink said.

“These are some of the worst roads for safety because there are so many lanes,” she said. “People drive very fast, and we have to totally rethink the way we design these roads.”

According to experts, these types of infrastructure measures reduce instances of human error, which lessens the risk of tragic consequences for anyone using the road.

“We know people are going to make mistakes, so concrete bike lanes protect against mistakes,” said Kate Lowe, an associate professor in the department of urban planning and policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who study transport.

In 2017, Chicago joined the international road safety project Vision Zero and set itself the goal of reducing traffic accidents and ultimately eliminating serious injuries and fatalities on the roads by 2026. .

A statement from the Chicago Department of Transportation said Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration had created a “dedicated funding stream” for safer streets under the Vision Zero program. CDOT said the city has installed more than 750 pedestrian safety projects in the past two years, including sidewalk extensions and pedestrian refuge islands, and added 45 miles of new and improved bike lanes in 2021. .

“Every tragedy is one tragedy too many, and the City of Chicago is taking a multifaceted approach to keeping our streets safe,” a CDOT spokesperson said in a statement. “Chicago is using all the tools in the toolbox, including building our local infrastructure to better reduce points of conflict between road users, using cameras to deter speeding, building partnerships communities to identify and program local safety initiatives, and create and support policies to support the shift to fewer vehicles and smaller vehicles in our city.

Still, some experts, advocates and elected officials say the city needs to take a more comprehensive approach to installing cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

Martin, the alderman for the 47th Ward, said the city’s approach to bike safety has been piecemeal over the years.

“It really can’t continue to be anything like 50 different approaches across town, depending on who the alderman is,” Martin said.

Defenders blame Chicago’s practice of allowing aldermen’s privilege, which gives aldermen significant power to block or allow infrastructure projects in their own neighborhoods. They say aldermen have outsized power to influence street-related projects and often pander to loud voices in their neighborhood pushing back on anything they perceive to impede parking access or traffic.

Michael Podgers, an organizer with Better Streets Chicago, said street design should be purely influenced by safety-related best practices that are informed by data and research, rather than political concerns.

“We really need to have people in positions of power standing up and doing the work and spending the political capital to make it happen,” Podgers said.

Overall, advocates and pundits are looking to change the way people view their roads, working to reverse decades of a car-centric approach.

“We need to change the whole culture of road operations so that we prioritize safety over speed,” Wennink said.

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