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Posts from the Driving Category


Silly Tribune, Speed Cameras Aren’t Just for Kids — They Make Everyone Safer

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Illustration: Rachal Duggan, Chicago Reader

[Today the Chicago Reader launched a new weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. This partnership will allow Streetsblog to extend the reach of our livable streets advocacy. We’ll be syndicating a portion of the column on the day it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print. The paper hits the streets on Thursdays.]

There’s a mountain of evidence from around the world that automated traffic enforcement saves lives. For example, a 2012 study in the Journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention credited the widespread use of speed cameras in France with saving more than 15,000 lives over a seven-year period.

However, Chicago’s traffic cameras have been highly contentious. Not only do drivers hate getting tickets, but starting in 2012 a Chicago Tribune seriesuncovered a number of issues with the red light camera program, mostly under the last Mayor Daley. These ranged from dubious cam locations to a bribery scheme by the vendor, Redflex.

Current mayor Rahm Emanuel’s speed camera program, which launched in October 2013 and has installed 150 cameras in 63 “Children’s Safety Zones” around schools and parks, has been less controversial so far. But last week, Trib reporters David Kidwell, who spearheaded the red light coverage, and Abraham Epton went nuclear on the speed cameras.

In four long, mind-numbingly detailed articles, covering the better part of eight pages of newsprint, the reporters described how the cameras have issued roughly $2.4 million in questionable tickets. That represents about 2.6 percent of the roughly $81 million in tickets produced over the last two years.

They quoted a dozen or so drivers who complained that the tickets they received were unfair because they were issued while parks were closed, children weren’t present in school zones, or warning signs were missing, contrary to state law and city ordinance.

“It’s a sneaky thing to do,” north sider Alissa Friedman told the paper.

Kidwell and Epton also attacked the locations of the cameras, which state law dictates can only be installed within eighth-mile zones around schools and parks.

“While it was pitched by the mayor as a way to protect youngsters walking near parks and schools, the most prolific cameras in the two-year-old ‘Children’s Safety Zone’ initiative can be found along major roadways, where crash data shows child pedestrians are least likely to be struck by speeders,” they wrote. They also noted that some of the cams on busy streets are justified by their proximity to small parks with limited foot traffic.

But, as with the paper’s red light coverage, the speed camera articles show a strong bias against automated enforcement in general. Once again, the paper largely ignored the safety benefits of the cams, even though they’re widely documented.

The reporters also chose not to discuss the reasons speed enforcement is crucial, not just for the safety of children, but for everybody. The city’s default speed limit is 30 mph, and for good reason: studies show that pedestrians who are struck at this speed usually survive, while those struck at 40 almost always die.

Read the rest of the story on the Chicago Reader website.

Streetsblog Chicago will resume publication on Monday. Have a great Thanksgiving!



Trib Launches War on Speed Cams, CDOT Releases Data Showing They Work

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Still from a CDOT compilation of cam footage of high-speed driving, showing a driver doing 99 mph by the Vincennes Avenue bike lanes on the Southwest Side.

The Chicago Tribune’s David Kidwell and his colleagues have written extensively about the city’s red light camera program. Some of that reporting has been constructive, including revelations about the red light cam bribery scandal, unexplained spikes in ticketing, and cameras that were installed in low-crash locations during the Richard M. Daley administration.

Other aspects of the Tribune’s red light coverage have been problematic. For example, the paper emphasized that the cams have led to an increase in rear-end crashes with injuries, while downplaying the fact that they have decreased the number of right-angle injury crashes, which are much more likely to cause serious injuries and deaths.

Throughout it all, Kidwell has shown a strong bias against automated enforcement in general. He has largely ignored studies from cities around the country and the world that show red light and speed cams are effective in preventing serious injuries and fatalities.

Yesterday morning, Kidwell and fellow reporter Abraham Epton unleashed a new assault on the city’s speed camera program, the product of a six-month investigation. In three long articles, they claim that the city has issued $2.4 million in unfair speed camera tickets, and argue that many of the cams on busy main streets are justified by small or little-used parks.

If there really is a significant problem with speed cams writing tickets when warning signs are missing or obscured, or after parks are closed, or in school zones when children are not present, contrary to state law, it’s a good thing that the Tribune is drawing attention to this phenomenon. If so, the city should take steps to address the problem, as they did in the wake of Kidwell’s red light cam series.

Most of these issues can be traced to the city of Chicago’s questionable decision to propose state legislation that only allows the cameras to be installed within the eighth-mile “Child Safety Zones” around schools and parks. Instead, the city should be allowed to put cams anywhere there’s a speeding and crash problem.

However, it appears this new series is written from Kidwell’s usual perspective that it’s unfair to force motorists to pay more attention to driving safely. For instance, the coverage discusses how Tim Moyer was ticketed on five different occasions for speeding past a Northwest Side playground that was closed for construction — speed cams in park zones are only supposed to be turned on when the park is open. After the Tribune contacted the city about these tickets, they were thrown out.

The Trib uses this as an example of how the speed cam program is dysfunctional. However, the cams only issue tickets to drivers who are going 10 mph or more over the speed limit. The fact remains that Moyer was caught speeding heavily on five different occasions at the same location. Even if the cam couldn’t legally issue him tickets, he deserved them.

The Tribune’s new anti-speed cam series seems to be largely about helping drivers like Moyer who speed by 10 mph or more get off on technicalities. But the city’s default speed limit is set at 30 mph for a good reason – studies show that pedestrians struck at this speed usually survive. Why is the Tribune putting so much effort into defending the right of drivers to go at or above 40 mph, a speed at which pedestrians crashes are almost always fatal?

I haven’t fully digested all three of the articles yet, but I plan to publish a more thorough analysis in the near future. In the meantime, let’s talk about something that Kidwell and Epton largely ignored: the positive effect the speed cams are having on safety.

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Drunk Driver Who Killed Hector Avalos Sentenced to Only 100 Days in Prison


Hector Avalos. Photo courtesy of the family

At a hearing today, Judge Nicholas Ford gave Robert Vais, the driver who struck and killed cyclist Hector Avalos while drunk, a relatively light sentence of 100 days in a state prison plus two years probation. Vais must also perform manual labor as part of the Sheriff’s Work Alternative Program once a month for two years, and undergo drug and alcohol treatment.

On December 6, 2013, Avalos, 28, a former Marine, was biking back to the South Side from his job as a cook at a restaurant in River North. Vais, now 56, an administrator at Stroger Hospital, reportedly attended a staff Christmas party in Little Italy prior to the collision. At 11:58 p.m., he was driving to his home in southwest suburban Riverside when he fatally struck Avalos on the 2500 block of West Ogden in Douglas Park.

Blood drawn from Vais soon after the crash showed his blood alcohol level was 0.152 percent, nearly twice the legal level of 0.08. He was charged with felony aggravated DUI and two misdemeanor DUI charges. On September 16 of this year, Vais pleaded guilty.

30 to 40 supporters of the Avalos family, including members of the local bike community, attended today’s sentencing hearing, according to Active Transportation Alliance staff member Jason Jenkins, who has attended most of the hearings for the case. A comparable number of people were there in support of Vais.

At the hearing, Avalos’ mother Ingrid Cossio, stepfather Jorge Cossio, and younger stepsiblings Brandon and Brandi read victim impact statements. Vais’ sister, a childhood friend, and a coworker read mitigating statements. Vais was given an opportunity to make a statement and expressed strong regret and remorse, and apologized profusely to Avalos’ relatives while tears came to his eyes, Jenkins said.

According to Illinois law, aggravated DUI carries a jail sentence of three-to-fourteen years, at least 85 percent of which must be served in prison, plus fines of up to $25,000. Probation is generally not an option, except in extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, it’s noteworthy that Judge Ford gave Vais a sentence of only 100 days, plus two years probation, with no fine. The jail term will begin on November 30, which gives Vais time to put his affairs in order before he serves time.

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Witness: Officer Drove Recklessly; Judge: Cyclist Probably Had Road Rage

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James Liu.

According to a witness, an off-duty police officer swerved in and out of traffic while chasing cyclist James Liu, driving in a “really dangerous” manner. However, at a hearing yesterday, Judge George Berbas upheld a charge of disorderly conduct against Liu. Berbas argued it was likely that the bike rider – not the officer – was guilty of road rage.

The incident occurred on October 14, around 8:15 a.m., when Liu, 33, was bicycling downtown on Milwaukee Avenue to his job as a bankruptcy attorney. After he turned south on Desplaines Street, he says, the driver of a silver SUV started edging into the Desplaines bike lane as he tried to illegally pass other vehicles on the right. Liu says the motorist was getting too close for comfort, so he knocked twice on the door of his truck to alert him of his presence.

Unfortunately for Liu, the driver was Officer Paul Woods, from the traffic administration department, who was also on his way to work. The attorney says Woods immediately began chasing him in the bike lane, then rolled down his window and yelled, “I’m a f—ing cop.”

UIC associate professor Rachel Havrelock was driving her daughter to school at the time. “I saw the SUV driver swerving in and out of traffic and he seemed to be going after the cyclist,” Havrelock told me. After Liu changed lanes to head east on Washington Street, Havrelock says Woods swerved across two lanes of southbound Desplaines to blockade the cyclist’s path. “I was very shocked by what I saw,” she said.

Woods then handcuffed Liu, called for backup, and had the attorney transported to a police station. Liu was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct.

At yesterday’s administrative hearing, Liu reiterated that he knocked on the SUV because Woods was driving in the bike lane, DNAinfo reported. However, the officer testified that he was stopped in traffic when the attorney banged on his vehicle and was not driving in the bike lane. He added that he was taken aback by Liu’s action, and that the attorney also extended a middle finger at him.

Liu told me today that it’s possible he did flip the officer the bird at some point during the incident, although he doesn’t recall doing so. However, he repeated that the SUV was moving towards him in the bike lane when he knocked on it, not stationary.

In finding Liu guilty of disorderly conduct, Judge Berbas asserted that the cyclist probably knocked on the SUV due to road rage or “overreaction to a traffic situation,” DNA reported. “If a Chicago police officer is in uniform on his way to work, he really just wants to get to work, check in and do his job,” Berbas said. “I don’t think that while in his personal vehicle he’s going to be looking to instigate or start anything.”

Liu told me the judge’s logic is flawed. “His statement seems to imply that an attorney who is just riding his bike to work is looking to start something,” Liu added. “What’s my motivation?”

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Cyclist Arrested by Allegedly Road-Raging Officer Will File Civil Rights Lawsuit


According to the police, cyclist James Liu was not actually arrested but merely cited. Photo: Ben Raines

[This piece also runs in Checkerboard City, John’s column in Newcity magazine, which hits the street in print on Wednesday evenings.]

Picture yourself bike commuting downtown on Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest cycling street. After you turn south on Des Plaines Street, the driver of a silver SUV starts edging into the bike lane as he tries to illegally pass other vehicles on the right in his rush to get to work.

The motorist is getting too close for comfort, so you knock twice on the door of his truck to alert him of your presence. Unfortunately, he turns out to be an off-duty police officer, and less than a minute later you find yourself sitting in the street with your hands cuffed behind you, and your orange fixie sprawled across the asphalt.

That’s what bankruptcy attorney James Liu, 33, says happened to him on October 14 at around 8:15am, while he was trying to make his way to the office. “As soon as I tapped on his side panel, he immediately started chasing me, driving in the bike lane,” Liu says. “Around Fulton Street he rolls down his window and yells, ‘I’m a f—ing cop!’ I just look at him and shrug my shoulders, and then we continue south at a normal speed.”

Liu says that when they came to a red light at Washington Street, he changed lanes to head east. The uniformed officer then zoomed across two lanes of southbound Des Plaines and stopped his SUV at a ninety-degree angle to traffic, blocking the attorney’s path. “It was a pretty dangerous move,” Liu recalls.

The officer then got out of his SUV and demanded that the cyclist stand in front of the vehicle with his hands up, the attorney says. When he complied, the cop handcuffed him and then called for backup. “I repeatedly asked whether I was under arrest and, if so, what I was being charged with,” Liu says, adding that the officer eventually told him he was under arrest for reckless conduct.

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Ald. Reilly Has a Responsible Approach to Off-Street Parking

Rendering of new building (right) in West Loop

The proposed building is on the right. The building on the left, K2 Apartments, has 30 percent less parking than the city’s standard 1:1 ratio, but only about half of those spaces are used. Rendering: Pappageorge Haymes

When it comes to parking management in Chicago, there have been a couple of encouraging developments recently. In September, City Council passed a beefed-up revision of the transit-oriented development ordinance, which makes it easier than ever to build dense, parking-lite developments near train stations. And, recently, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) made some very sensible statements about the fact that downtown buildings shouldn’t have tons of car spaces.

It’s not as if Reilly is particularly progressive when it comes to transportation and public space issues. While he has supported some bike infrastructure in his downtown district, he recently tried to pass an ordinance forcing the Chicago Department of Transportation to remove the Kinzie protected lanes.

He blocked CDOT from installing Divvy stations on the Magnificent Mile, and he was was the driving force behind a new law that severely restricts the use of pedicabs in the central business district. And, last week, he lobbied to ban food carts from portions of dozens of streets in his ward, even though the carts offer consumers affordable food choices and add vitality to the public way.

But Reilly might be one of the most forward-thinking City Council members when it comes to promoting residential buildings without an excessive amount of car parking. He has encouraged developers to only build the number of spaces that is appropriate for the location of the project as well as the expected car-ownership rate of the residents. He has noted that buildings with many floors of garage parking make streets less attractive, and most downtown renters don’t own cars.

For example, Cardiff Mason Development is currently pitching a 38-story residential building at 352 North Union Ave. in River West, near the Jewel-Osco at Kinzie and Desplaines. It would have 373 apartments and 158 tenant car parking spaces, for a ratio of 0.42 spaces per unit. However, DNAinfo reported, the developer originally proposed a “substantially higher” number of off-street spots but lowered the number after a meeting with Reilly.

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UIC Bike/Walk Project Didn’t Get the $17 Million in Federal Funds It Needs

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UIC has proposed eliminating the cul-de-sacs to create a pedestrian plaza, streamlined walking path, and a bike path at Morgan Street and Vernon Park Place between the library and Behavioral Sciences Building.

Unfortunately, a transportation project that has the potential to positively transform the University of Illinois at Chicago’s campus was passed over for federal funding. The $29.3 million initiative, called Crossroads & Connections, would make significant changes to campus streets in order to make walking and biking safer and more convenient.

The university was seeking $17.2 million in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery funding. This discretionary grant program from the U.S. Department of Transportation finances “transformative” projects that would have at least a citywide impact on safety. The remaining funds would have come from UIC’s parking revenue, because the project would have included replacing asphalt in some parking lots with permeable pavers to reduce the amount of runoff sent to the city’s sewer system.

The only Chicagoland TIGER application to win funding this year was a railroad bridge over the Fox River near Elgin used by Metra trains. A new pedestrian bridge at 35th Street over railroad tracks and Lake Shore Drive that’s currently under construction is also funded by TIGER.

Crossroads & Connections would have addressed many dangerous and annoying situations for people walking and bicycling on the UIC campus, including several pet peeves I accumulated while studying there for four years. It would create smoother cycling connections, build new pedestrian plazas, and legitimize walking routes that weren’t being accommodated before.

The university also wants to reduce crashes and injuries by modifying high-risk intersection and crossing points. The plan notes that that 252 people were injured in crashes with people walking and bicycling, from 2008-2012 on the eastern and western portions of the campus, and while making their way between the two areas.

Ever since the Student Recreation Facility opened at Halsted and Polk Streets in the mid-2000s, people have been crossing the streets diagonally and mid-block to access dorms or student center buildings. Some of them walk over planted medians to do so.

The C & C plan calls for creating a wide mid-block crosswalk on Halsted by cutting a gap into the median and adding a “High-Intensity Activated Crosswalk Beacon,” aka a HAWK signal. When pedestrians press a button on the signal, drivers would get a red light. While this is a “beg button” of sorts, it would make mid-block crossing here safer and more convenient.

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Driver Fatally Struck 60-Year-Old Man Who Was Biking in West Humboldt Park

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The intersection of LeMoyne and Kolin from the driver’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

A driver fatally struck a Portage Park man who was riding a bike in West Humboldt Park Monday morning.

At around 9:50 a.m., Enrique Zamora, 60, was cycling east on the 4300 block of West LeMoyne Street, according to Office Nicole Trainor from Police News Affairs. The block is just east of a shopping center with a grocery store and a home improvement store.

When Zamora reached the intersection of LeMoyne and Kolin Avenue, he was struck by Sam Garduez, 44, who was driving southbound on Kolin, Trainor said. Zamora, who lived on the 4800 block of West Addison, was transported to Mount Sinai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 10:49 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Garduez, who was uninjured, was cited for failure to exercise due care, Trainor said. Major accidents is investigating.


This chart from an early September Mayor’s Bicycling Advisory Council Meeting shows that the number of bike fatalities had been low as of August, compared to recent years.

Zamora was the 6th person to die following a bike crash in Chicago in 2015. There were only two bike-related deaths between January and August of this year, an unusually low number. However, there were three other bike fatalities in September and October. Six cycling fatalities is a roughly average number for this time of year, compared to the previous six years.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 28 (11 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 6 (two were hit-and-run crashes)

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Man Dies Nine Days After Being Struck on a Bike in South Shore

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The 2300 block of East 70th Street in South Shore. Image: Google Street View

South Shore resident Jonathan Phillips, 47, died nine days after being struck by a driver while bicycling near his home.

On Wednesday, October 7, Phillips was riding on the 2300 block of East 70th Street, where he resides, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. After a driver struck him, he was transported to Jackson Park Hospital, where he died on Friday, October 16. An autopsy conducted the next day found the cause of Phillips’ death to be pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis as a result of blunt trauma to his right lower leg.

Police News Affairs did not have immediate information about the collision. I have made a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the crash report and will update this post if the police provide one.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 28 (11 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 5 (two were hit-and-run crashes)

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Motorcyclist Fatally Struck Woman in Queen’s Landing Crosswalk

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The crash site from the motorcyclist’s perspective. Image: Google Street View

A motorcyclist has been charged with reckless homicide and aggravated reckless driving after he allegedly ran a red light on Lake Shore Drive, killing a woman who was walking in the crosswalk by Buckingham Fountain.

On Monday, October 19, at around 10:45 p.m., Katrin Kutscheidt, 25, a visitor from Germany, and her male partner, 40, were part of a group of pedestrians crossing the drive in the mid-block crosswalk, which has its own stoplight, according to police. Charles Lyons, 20, was speeding and driving between cars on his motorcycle when he blew the stoplight, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Lyons struck the couple, and the impact from the crash threw them 30 to 40 feet, according to the Tribune. Kutscheidt was taken to Stroger Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The male victim was taken to Northwestern Hospital in serious condition. As of Saturday, the man was in critical condition with major internal injuries and brain bleeding, the Tribune reported. The motorcyclist was thrown from his vehicle and suffered spinal cord injuries.

At a hearing on Saturday, Lyon, of the 800 block of West George Street was ordered held in lieu of $300,000 bail, the Tribune reported. According to prosecutors, he did not have a valid license and was speeding at 76 mph when he struck the couple.

Fatality Tracker: 2015 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 28 (11 were hit-and-run crashes)
Bicyclist: 4 (two were hit-and-run crashes)