The campaign to improve safety at Palmer Square Park by slowing down cars is picking up speed. Some former opponents to proposed speed tables, also known as raised crosswalks, have switched sides after watching a video clip of drivers going over a speed table in Hyde Park. In addition, the Homeowner’s Association of Palmer Square voted last night to endorse the proposal.
As we’ve detailed on Streetsblog, neighbors have been lobbying to convert the two marked, midblock crosswalks on the north side of the green space to raised crosswalks. This quarter-mile stretch of Palmer Boulevard has three westbound travel lanes and no stoplights or stop signs, which encourages speeding.
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 breaking the posted 25 mph speed limit. About a third were driving over 30 mph, and a handful were going faster than 40 mph next to a park that gets heavy use by families with small children.
In order to calm traffic and improve pedestrian access, neighbors have asked the city to install the raised crosswalks, at a relatively low total cost of $40,000 total. Andrea Keller, who lives on the block with her young family, says she collected over 100 signatures on a written petition last year. She also recently launched an online petition, which has garnered over 70 signatures.
Local alderman Scott Waguespack is open to funding the speed tables with ward money, according to chief of staff Paul Sajovec. The only thing stopping Waguespack from approving the project is that a handful of residents have repeatedly contacted him to oppose the idea, Sajovec said.
Last week, opponent Corinne Bradley told me she understands the difference between speed tables and speed humps. The former have a longer cross-section, so they’re unlikely to cause cars to bottom out or create loud noise as vehicles pass over them.
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Speed table by Kempf Plaza in Lincoln Square.
Having checked out a raised crosswalk on Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Square, which has helped slow car speeds next to Kempf Plaza, Bradley said her main reason for opposing the speed tables is philosophical. Since all drivers might be required to hit the brakes before going over the speed tables, “you’re penalizing everybody, not just the speeders,” she said.
However, when I spoke to Sajovec on Friday, he said that some of the other opponents had been confused about the nature of raised crosswalks. “What they envisioned was more like speed humps,” he said.
At a meeting of Logan Square Preservation last month, attendees watched a short Chicago Department of Transportation video of drivers going over a speed table next to a University of Chicago Laboratory Schools building at 5800 South Stony Island Avenue. After they watched the clip, a couple of people who had been against the Palmer Square raised crosswalks dropped their opposition, and all 30 members voted to endorse the proposal, Sajovec said.
“The next step is to make sure that all of the people around the park understand specifically what’s being proposed,” Sajovec said. “If all of the people who have concerns understand the proposal, then Scott can weigh the pros and cons and make a decision about whether to move forward.”
Last night, the safety campaign got another boost when the Homeowners Association of Palmer Square discussed the issue and voted eight to two in favor of the raised crosswalks, according to Andrea Keller’s husband Rudy Keller. He said the association would be passing on the results to Waguespack today.
It’s worth noting that the Stony Island speed table has less vertical deflection than the Lincoln Avenue raised crosswalk. The former appears to have been designed chiefly to raise awareness of pedestrians, rather than to force drivers to slow down. As a result, two of the three motorists in the short video appear to be passing over the Lab School speed table at a high speed, without braking at all.
While a final design for Palmer Square hasn’t been determined yet, hopefully the raised crosswalks would look more like the higher-profile Lincoln Square speed tables, which appear to be much more effective. It would be disappointing if the city chooses a design that merely suggests that drivers slow down, rather than requiring them to do so. A watered-down design would have little influence on the type of motorist who would drive faster than 40 mph next to a tot lot.