After Noah Katz’ Death, Ald. Sposato Prioritizes Moving Cars Over Saving Lives

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Noah Katz

It’s bad enough that it took the death of a small child at a Northwest Side intersection to spur the city into moving forward with prior plans to improve safety at that location. But it’s downright shameful that 38th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato is still pushing back against the project on the grounds that it will inconvenience drivers.

At about 4:10 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, Noah Katz, 2, and his mother Rachel, 39, were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue in the Portage Park community area, according to police. Van driver Alexander Vasquez, 48, was heading west on Giddings and turned south on Central, striking them. Noah was pronounced dead on the scene; Rachel was hospitalized with minor injuries. Vasquez was issued one citation for failure to stop at a stop sign, two for failure to reduce speed, and two for failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk, police said.

According to local alderman John Arena’s office, in mid-2015 45th Ward residents voted via the participatory budget process to use the district’s discretionary “menu money” to install curb bump-outs at several locations, including the crash site. Spurred by Noah’s death, Arena and the Chicago Department of Transportation are working to get the curb extensions, which will shorten pedestrian crossing distances and help calm traffic, installed at Giddings/Central as soon as possible.

To install bump-outs at the crash site, first rush hour parking restrictions need to be removed on this stretch of Central. The parking restrictions are currently in place northbound from 7-9 am and southbound from 4-6 p.m., with the theory being that clearing the parking lanes facilitates traffic heading to and from the Kennedy Expressway.

The restrictions on Central also exist south of Arena’s district in the 38th Ward, which has previously expressed resistance to lifting the rush hour parking ban, Arena’s chief of staff Own Brugh told me last week. Therefore, Arena planned to negotiate with Aderman Sposato to only have the restrictions lifted in the 45th Ward on Central south of Lawrence.

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Nick Sposato

Last week Arena introduced an ordinance to City Council that would remove the parking restrictions on Central, only within his ward. He hopes to see it passed by the end of the year.

But last Thursday Sposato was still balking at that very reasonable compromise. “This is a complicated issue, and it’s not as simple as just being able to say ‘Let’s immediately lift the parking restrictions,'” Sposato said told DNAinfo last Thursday. “For every action there’s an opposite reaction… do I want to see bumper-to-bumper [traffic] on that street?”

In effect, a community is still reeling from the senseless death of a little boy at the hands of a careless driver, and Sposato is more worried about maintaining the status quo for motorists than preventing future tragedies.

He did mention one reasonable concern, that removing the rush hour parking restrictions on unmetered stretches of Central would allow residents to park on these streets 24-7, which would stop parking turnover and hurt local merchants. But this issue could be addressed in other ways, such as implementing 2-hour parking along retail strips or adding meters.

Sposato also complained about the $125,000 cost of the bump-outs at Giddings/Central. I’m not sure why he feels it’s his business to comment on that, since the infrastructure will be paid for solely with 45th Ward funds, and Arena’s constituents voted to fund the curb extensions in their PB election.

In addition, Sposato implied that more emphasis should be placed on getting drivers to comply with traffic laws rather than adding stop infrastructure like speed humps and stop signs. It’s certainly true that those piloting multi-ton vehicles that can easily kill other others should be required to follow the rules of the road and do every within their power to avoid taking lives.

But Chicago’s police resources are already stretched thin, and installing more traffic enforcement cameras seems to be a political non-starter at this time. As such, street redesigns that discourage speeding and other unsafe driving behavior, and/or shield vulnerable road users from traffic, are one of the most effective strategies for preventing more innocent pedestrians like Noah from losing their lives.

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