Advocates: Vast Majority of Palmer Square Residents Want Raised Crosswalks

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Rudy Keller and his daughter Sequoia use a crosswalk on the north side of Palmer Square. Photo: John Greenfield

Palmer Square neighbors who want to see the city install raised raised crosswalks by the park appear to greatly outnumber opponents, judging from numbers provided by both sides.

Earlier this month, Streetsblog Chicago detailed how neighbors have been campaigning to convert the two marked, mid-block crosswalks on the north side of the park to raised crosswalks. Contrary to what was reported in an earlier DNAinfo article, the speed tables would be a relatively inexpensive $20,000 each, and the Chicago Department of Transportation supports the proposal. According to local alderman Scott Waguespack’s chief of staff Paul Sajovec, Waguespack also has no problem with the proposal – except that a few residents have repeatedly contacted him to oppose the idea.

Andrea Keller, whose young family lives near one of the mid-block crosswalks, recently launched an online petition calling for the raised crosswalks as a strategy to improve access to the park and calm traffic on the three-lane roadway. Using a speed gun during for three 15-minute observations during a recent evening rush, Streetsblog writer Steven Vance and contributor Justin Haugens found that 75 percent of motorists were speeding. So far 60 people have signed the online petition.

Keller’s husband Rudy wrote me to thank Streetsblog for drawing attention to the issue, and for clearing up misconceptions about the proposal. However, he argued that we actually underrepresented the support for the safety improvements. Andrea and other organizers also collected over 100 signatures on a written petition they circulated in the summer of 2013, he said.

“The ratio of people signing the petition, versus people rejecting it, was overwhelmingly in favor of implementing the raised crosswalks,” Rudy wrote. He claimed that a small, vocal minority of people on the block “have been very aggressive in their opposition, and have been able to use their influence with Alderman Waguespack to stop (for now, at least) this worthwhile proposal.”

Rudy Keller added that, at a February 2014 meeting of the Homeowners Association of Palmer Square, only two attendees opposed the speed tables. Earlier this month, roughly 30 people at a meeting of Logan Square Preservation voted unanimously to endorse the raised crosswalk proposal, according to president Andrew Schneider.

One of the leaders of the opposition is Corinne Bradley, who told me she dropped off paper surveys at every household on the north side of the park, and that most of the responses she received were against the speed tables. She declined to say exactly how many people voiced opposition to the raised crosswalks via the surveys and how many voiced support, but confirmed that there were less than 20 opponents. Rudy Keller and his neighbor Steve Hier, who has also been advocating for the speed tables, both told me independently that the total number of opponents is six or fewer.

Bradley, who lives near the northeast corner of the park, wrote a letter to Waguespack arguing that raised crosswalks would delay first responders, form an obstacle to bicyclists, and create constant noise as motor vehicles pass over them. Sajovec told me he suspected that some of the neighbors don’t understand the difference between speed humps and speed tables. While the former are commonplace on Chicago side streets and are several inches tall, speed tables are only two or three inches high, with a very shallow trapezoidal cross-section that has a minimal impact on emergency vehicles, cyclists, and noise levels.


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Speed table by Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square.

Bradley said she did take a look at a speed table on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square, which has helped slow car speeds next to Kempf Plaza. She also said she understands that speed humps aren’t being proposed on her block, although she wasn’t aware that the raised crosswalks would only cost $20,000.

Despite the low cost of speed tables, Bradley said the expenditure still seems wasteful, and she would rather see her block’s speeding problem addressed with better signage, curb bumpouts, or HAWK beacons at the midblock crosswalks. The first strategy would probably do little to deter speeders, and the latter two would likely cost significantly more than the raised crosswalks.

It turns out that Bradley’s main opposition to the speed tables is philosophical. Since all drivers would likely have to hit the brakes before going over the speed tables, “you’re penalizing everybody, not just the speeders,” she said.

Steve Hier, who lives directly in front of one of the midblock crosswalks, thinks that requiring motorists to reduce their speed before driving over raised crosswalks would be a very small price to pay for potentially saving lives. He noted that clients from a nearby center for people with disabilities, old people from a neighboring senior housing facility, and kids from a daycare center around the corner use the park on a daily basis.

Hier has lived on the block since 1978, and says the number of children using the park has increased tenfold over the past few decades. “I can sit on my porch or look out my window every day, and see people struggling to cross the street,” he said. A year and a half ago, after he witnessed a driver nearly crash into a mother and her child, he began lobbying the ward office and CDOT to put in the speed tables.

He noted that, for years, Lincoln Park residents had been asking the city for years to do something about drivers blowing stop signs at Belden Avenue and Lincoln Park West. Two days after a driver killed four-year-old Maya Hirsch at the location, the city restriped the crosswalks and improved the signage; within a year, curb bumpouts were added to shorten the crossing distances. “I’m scared to death that it’s going to take someone getting maimed or killed to get the city to act on this,” Hier said.

Last Wednesday, Hier and a neighbor met with Waguespack to discuss the speed table issue, and gave him a letter from Logan Square Preservation endorsing the proposal. While the alderman didn’t commit to the idea, Hier said “Scott is working with CDOT to calm traffic on Palmer, and raised crosswalks is one of the things that’s on the menu. He said he’s also sensitive to neighbors that don’t want this.”

However, the results of the petitions and survey suggest that the great majority of nearby residents do want to address the speeding problem with speed tables. If you live in the ward, and especially if you live on the square, be sure to contact the alderman and let him know you support the proposal, and he shouldn’t let a handful of opponents block this safety improvement.

  • “you’re penalizing everybody, not just the speeders,”

    You don’t have to be speeding to hit someone in a crosswalk.

    BTW… Does Steven really own a speed gun? Cause that’s pretty hardcore.

  • Mishellie

    I love how it’s a punishment to SLOW DOWN for a second.

  • Jeff H

    They must believe it is some sort of unalienable human right to not have to brake when driving. My brain can barely processes the entitlement here.

  • CL

    Someone went door-to-door in my parents’ subdivision collecting signatures to make speeding in the subdivision cost twice as much as a regular speeding ticket. My parents told me that even though they didn’t agree — the regular fine was expensive enough to make you regret it — they felt pressured to sign.

    It’s hard to refuse nice people who show up at your door, especially when they’re doing it “for the children.” Nobody wants to say no, especially when saying no makes it look like you want to keep speeding and endangering the children (whether that’s true or not).

    I imagine the people who oppose the speed tables are seeing a similar bias in that people feel pressured to agree with them on the spot. The in-person responses really don’t tell you much about what a random sample of residents would find about support in the neighborhood. I’d be curious about the results of competing online petitions… although you’d have the same probablem where nobody would want to publicly display their name on the opposed one.

    I imagine that ultimately a majority of residents would probably favor speed tables just because nobody likes traffic through their own neighborhoods in the first place. Everyone wants motorists to go 10 mph on their own street, even though I doubt they drive that slowly in other neighborhoods.

    We do need some solution to 95% of drivers never stopping at crosswalks. There are a lot of streets where you just have to wait forever.

  • David Altenburg

    10mph? Right now, we’re just trying to get people to slow down to 25mph. This is a park that’s heavily used by toddlers for goodness sakes. And if people don’t want appear to oppose safety for those toddlers and other users of the park – well, that’s not a problem, it’s just evidence that social pressure can help create a more decent society.

    It’s funny because the debate isn’t even about what the law should be. It’s about whether the street design should be effective at encouraging drivers to obey the law.

  • Anne A

    When I was a little kid living on Kedzie years ago, my parents would bring me and my brothers to play on Palmer Square. My grandparents lived along the Square and we’d also play there when we were visiting them. It’s been a play destination for parents with little kids for decades.

    For the sake of families with little ones living there now, I hope that a good package of improvements can be made to reduce speeding and improve safety.

  • CL

    Speed bumps force me to basically come to a stop, so that I end up driving 5-10 miles per hour. So a lot of people seem to want me to drive down their streets at < 10, since they advocated for the humps. There's no way I could drive 25 on streets that have them.

    I don't think I've ever driven over a speed table, but I assume you can't drive 25 mph over them. I could be wrong?

  • It’s probably best to tap your brakes before driving over a speed table, but they’re less likely to cause cars to bottom out than speed humps are. Take a cruise down the 4700 block of Lincoln Avenue in your car some time and let us know what you think of the speed table by Kempf Plaza.

  • Anne A

    Good example. If you drive at a reasonable speed and slow slightly, speed tables are not a problem. These are NOT speed humps.

  • Corinne Bradley

    John– I politely ask that you fact check your article. You state that a small minority of people on the block have been able to use their influence with the alderman to stop this proposal. What influence are you referencing? This is completely false, misleading, and insulting to all involved.

    1) Residents on the block opposed to speed tables (myself included)met with Ald. Waguespack. 2) Likewise, residents on the block in favor of speed tables met with Ald. Waguespack. Are both parties unduly using their influence? No, we’re simply exercising our American rights to free speech and to having an opinion.

    Please don’t misconstrue facts for the sake of a storyline. It is beneath all parties concerned here.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Tap your breaks before the speed bump. When you’re at about 10mph ride over the hump without your foot on the pedal of the gas or the break. Glide over the hump. Saves a lot on car maintenance.

  • If the street has enough foot traffic to need speed tables, you shouldn’t be going 25 anyway. 20 (with a tap immediately before the table) is perfectly reasonable.

  • Hi Corinne. You’re referring to this quote from Rudy Kelly:
    “The ratio of people signing the petition, versus people rejecting it,
    was overwhelmingly in favor of implementing the raised crosswalks,” Rudy wrote. He claimed that a small, vocal minority of people on the block “have been very aggressive in their opposition, and have been able to use their influence with Alderman Waguespack to stop (for now, at least) this worthwhile proposal.”

  • CL

    They sound better than speed humps. I’ve had a couple of scary moments hitting unmarked speed humps in the dark, only going like 20, but that’s plenty to damage a car.

  • Rudy Keller

    Hi Cori,

    If I understand the history of the proposal correctly, following the submission of the petition, the project was ready to move forward. Then, a small group of people met with the alderman to oppose the project and the project was consequently stopped. I would consider that successfully influencing the alderman.

    My argument to John was that a small number of residents are having an undue influence compared to the much larger number of people who signed the petition in favor of the raised crosswalks. I don’t think that is false, misleading, or insulting.

    While I obviously feel differently than you about the merits of this proposal, I have absolutely zero qualms with your outspoken advocacy of your position, nor do I feel you have “unduly” used your influence by exercising your first amendment rights. I continue to hope that we can find agreement on a way to make our street safe and pleasant.

    Best,
    Rudy

  • Corinne Bradley

    Actually, the project had not been funded or approved by the alderman, so it was not ready to move forward. We both simply expressed different view points to the alderman.

  • Frank J Schneider

    Even though you can’t expect actual “journalism” from a blog it would still be great if you would even try to make it seem like you are objectively “reporting” both sides of the issue instead of clearly advocating for one side!

    “However, the results of the petitions and survey suggest that the great majority of nearby residents do want to address the speeding problem with speed tables. If you live in the ward, and especially if you live on the square, be sure to contact the alderman and let him know you support the proposal, and he shouldn’t let a handful of opponents block this safety improvement.”

    In my opinion the majority of neighbors do want to address the speeding problem also people not stopping at crosswalks which is actually the bigger issue! However just because we aren’t sold on this proposed solution it doesn’t mean that we don’t support an alternate or even more comprehensive solution!

  • duppie

    What does this “more comprehensive solution” that you support look like?

  • Frank J Schneider

    Possibly the proposed “curb bump outs” or even reducing the number of lanes from three to two (like it is south of Palmer Square) or even ultimately reducing the width of the street by adding more green space to Palmer Square so the crossing is significantly reduced. I don’t want to throw money at a problem with out actually reviewing all the options and asking ALL of the community for their opinions and ideas.

    Only by involving the whole neighborhood that is how we got Palmer Square transferred to the Parks department and the play space and improvements made ironically over the opposition of many of the neighbors directly on the square!

  • As I explained to Corinne on the phone at the start of our interview, Streetsblog is a sustainable transportation and livable streets advocacy website, so we don’t claim to be impartial on these issues. She also mentioned that she had read my previous article on the subject, which had a similar ending.

    I discussed CDOT’s 2008 proposal for a comprehensive traffic calming solution for the street, including speed tables, bumpouts, and a road diet, in my previous article. It would be terrific to see all those improvements made in the future, but the grand total would be $550K, almost half of the ward’s annual $1.3 million discretionary budget. In the meantime, $40K for the speed tables alone would be a great short-term solution.

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