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North LaSalle Street Is a Deathtrap for Pedestrians. How Can We Fix It?

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LaSalle and Chicago, where Phillip Levato Jr. was fatally struck. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

Days after a man was fatally struck by a hit-and-run SUV driver in River North, there were still chunks of road salt on the west side of LaSalle Street just north of Chicago Avenue. According to a security guard at a nearby building, city workers hosed the victim’s blood off the street after the crash and spread the salt to keep the pavement from icing over in the freezing weather.

According to police, 23-year-old Phillip “Philly” Lovato Jr. was in a crosswalk at the intersection at about 4 AM on Sunday, November 20, when he was run over by the southbound driver of a white 2016 Jeep Compass with the Indiana license plate number BU3440. The driver continued south without stopping to render aid.

Levato, of the 1300 block of West 32nd Place in Bridgeport, was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 4:35 AM, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. Then, on Wednesday, November 23, 26-year-old Kyle Hawkins of the 2600 block of South 13th Avenue in Broadview turned himself in to Chicago police, the department says. Hawkins was charged with a felony for failing to report an accident resulting in a death.

Levato was at least the fourth pedestrian fatally struck within the last four years on this six-block stretch of LaSalle between Chicago, at 800 North, and Schiller, at 1400 North, making it one of the deadliest sections of roadway in the city. It appears that the layout of LaSalle, a broad, five-lane road that essentially functions as an extension of Lake Shore Drive, was a contributing factor in these tragedies.

On Sunday, March 24, 2012, around 2:30 AM, 32-year-old Northwestern University law student Jesse Bradley was crossing LaSalle westbound on Division when he was struck and killed by Bianca Garcia, 21 at the time, who was speeding south, according to police. Garcia, who was found to have twice the legal blood alcohol limit and a cocktail of hard drugs in her system, fled the scene but was soon arrested. She was eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison.

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SUV Driver Killed Phillip Levato, 23, at Chicago and LaSalle, Fled the Scene

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

Police are searching for the driver of an SUV who fatally struck a 23-year-old man on the Near North Side early Sunday morning and sped away from the crash site.

On Sunday at about 4 a.m. Phillip Levato was walking in the intersection of Chicago Avenue and LaSalle Street, according to police. There he was struck by the driver of a southbound white 2016 Jeep Compass with Indiana license plate BU3440, police said. The motorist continued south without stopping to render aid.

Levato, of the 1300 block of West 32nd Place in Bridgeport, was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 4:35 a.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

Police have said they do not believe Levato was intentionally struck. They’re asking ask anyone with information about the crash to call Major Accidents at 312-745-4521.

Nearby resident Annette Elmore told WGN near-crashes are common at this intersection. “If you’re not careful, the cars here are speeding so fast, they’ll run you over flat,” she said. “People come whipping around this corner and aren’t looking at the pedestrians.”

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 20 (nine were hit-and-run crashes)*
Bicyclist: 6 (one was a hit-and-run crash)

*Streetsblog Chicago’s fatality tracker is based on news reports. On November 2, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that there had been 29 pedestrian fatalities in the city as of September 30, according to preliminary police data. CDOT has not released data on the number of hit-and-run pedestrian crashes.

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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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Police Officer: Video Shows Driver Who Killed Noah Katz Stopped at Stop Sign

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Noah and Rachel Katz. Photo courtesy of the family

The driver who killed two-year-old Noah Katz in the Portage Park community area Sunday afternoon was charged with running a stop sign, as well as other misdemeanors. But according to a police officer said recently recovered video shows the motorists actually stopped at the sign, a source said this afternoon.

At about 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Noah and his mother Rachel Katz, 39, were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue, 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. However, the police recently told 45th Ward alderman John Arena they do not expect the charges to be upgraded, Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh told me on Wednesday.

It’s now clear why that’s the case. According to the source, the officer said the police department’s Major Accidents section recently recovered video footage that clearly showed that Vasquez stopped at the stop sign on Giddings at Central before making the left turn and running over the child. It’s possible that the footage came from a security camera in the parking lot of the Jewel at the northeast corner of the intersection.

“What I heard was that there was a vehicle parked on the street that may have obstructed [Vasquez’s] view” of Noah and Rachel, the source said.

Police News Affairs has not released any information about the video, according to Officer Nicole Tanehill.

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CDOT, CTA and Other Departments Provide Updates on Winter Preparations

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The CTA’s #50 Damen bus. Photo: Serge Lubomudrov

There may have been a high of 74 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday in Chicago, but city departments and agencies want to remind residents that colder days are ahead, and let them know what preparations are being made for the coming deep-freeze.

“As we have seen with recent weather emergencies here in Chicago, dealing with extreme weather is not just preparing for an emergency situation, but also having a plan of action in responding and recovering from that situation,” said Office of Emergency Management and Communications’ Rich Guidice.

Ever since Michael Bilandic lost reelection after a failed response to the blizzard of 1979, Chicago mayors have been obsessed with keeping streets clear after snowfalls. According to the city, Streets and Sanitation maintains a fleet of over 300 snow-plowing trucks, including 20 new trucks this year. In addition, the department has approximately 374,000 tons of salt stationed at salt piles throughout the city.

To clear the way for plowing, Chicago’s annual winter overnight parking ban takes effect from December 1 to April 1, from 3:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., regardless of whether there’s snow. The ban affects about 107 miles of streets. Violators face a minimum $150 towing fee, a $60 ticket and a storage fee of $20 per day.

The CTA says their employees have received extensive training in dealing with winter weather emergencies. Customers can stay abreast of storm-related route changes or major delays through informational displays at rail stations and some bus stops, as well as Twitter, Facebook and the agency’s website. Riders are encouraged to sign up on the website for winter service alerts.

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Competing Lawsuits Filed in Frank Cruz Hit-and-Run Case; Driver Still at Large

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The intersection of Maypole and Pulaski, where Frank Cruz was fatally struck. Photo: John Greenfield

[Last year the Chicago Reader launched a weekly transportation column written by Streetsblog Chicago editor John Greenfield. We syndicate a portion of the column on Streetsblog after it comes out online; you can read the remainder on the Reader’s website or in print.]

Almost three months after Francisco “Frank” Cruz, 58, was fatally struck on his bicycle by a hit-and-run van driver in West Garfield Park, police still haven’t made an arrest. That’s despite the fact that a security camera captured an image of the vehicle that hit him, which was marked with the phone number for a local real estate company.

Last month Cruz’s mother, Isabelle, made her own attempt to bring her son’s killer to justice, filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, Advanced Real Estate, as well as the as-yet-unidentified driver. But last week a separate lawsuit was filed on behalf of a man named Kevon Williams, identified by his attorney as Frank Cruz’s son and as the special executor of his estate. Now, the potential conflict between the two competing suits threatens to delay possible compensation and closure for the fallen cyclist’s family.

On August 17 at 10:19 PM, Cruz, a security guard and contractor, was biking home to North Lawndale from a liquor store next to the Pulaski Green Line station, where he’d stopped after work to pick up beer, according to a friend who was with him shortly before the crash. As he rode south at Maypole and Pulaski, the northbound van driver made a left onto Maypole, running over and crushing the cyclist, according to police. Video indicates that the motorist didn’t brake, but instead fled west on Maypole. Cruz was pronounced dead at 11 PM at Stroger Hospital.

Even though the Chicago Police Department has the image of the van, and there were several witnesses present, the investigation remains open and the driver is still at large, according to the CPD.

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After Noah Katz’s Death, Ald. Arena and CDOT Commit to Fixing Intersection

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Noah and Rachel Katz. Photo courtesy of the family

In the wake of the crash that tragically took the life of two-year-old Noah Katz and injured his mother Rachel, 39, as they crossed the street on Sunday afternoon in Portage Park, safety improvements are planned for the intersection.

At about 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Noah and Rachel were crossing east in the crosswalk on the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue, 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 injuries that were believed to be non-life-threatening.

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 personal injury attorney Michael Keating (a Streetsblog sponsor) the multiple counts reflect the fact that there were two victims.

Keating added that the fact that Vasquez’s speed contributed to the crash could eventually lead to more serious charges. If, after further investigation, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office determines that the driver acted “recklessly,” he could potentially face felony charges.

However, the police recently told 45th Ward alderman John Arena they do not expect the charges to be upgraded, according to Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh.

“I am deeply saddened by Sunday’s tragic [crash],” said the alderman in a statement. “It is every parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child, and I send the family my deepest condolences.” He noted that a crowdfunding page has been created in support of the family. So far over $22,000 has been raised.

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Driver Who Killed Noah Katz, 2, In Portage Park Charged With Misdemeanors

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Giddings and Central, looking west. The driver made a left turn into the south leg of the intersection (left side of this image) striking Noah Katz and his mother. Image: Google Streets View

A two-year-old boy is dead and his mother is injured after a driver blew a stop sign and failed to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk while turning left in Portage Park, according to police.

At around 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Noah Katz, 2, and his 39-year-old mother were crossing eastbound in the south leg of the southernmost intersection of Giddings Street and Central Avenue, police said. Alexander Vasquez, 48, was driving a van westbound on Giddings.

Police say Vasquez failed to observe the stop sign and made a left turn at a high rate of speed, striking the toddler and his mother in the crosswalk. Neighbors told WGN that Vasquez dragged the boy several feet before stopping. One witness said that it appeared the driver was going to flee the scene, so he got out of his car and yelled at Vasquez to stop.

A nurse who happened to be on the scene attempted CPR on Noah Katz, WGN reported. The child was pronounced dead on the scene and his mother was transported to Lutheran General hospital in Park Ridge with injuries that appeared to be non-life-threatening, police said.

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The crash took place at the southernmost intersection of Giddings and Central. the nearest stop sign east of the crash site is at Linder. Image: Google Maps

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.

Stuffed animals, flowers, and candles have been left at the intersection as a memorial. Neighbors told CBS that diamond-shaped “yield to pedestrians” signs at the intersection have not been effective.

The neighbors said more stop signs should be installed in the area to calm traffic. There is a stop sign one full block east of the crash site at Giddings and Linder Avenue.

A spokesman for local alderman John Arena’s office told CBS that the ward has been trying to improve traffic issue on Central for years. The alderman plans to work with the city’s transportation department to improve safety in the area around Giddings/Central, pending more information about the crash, the spokesman said.

“I don’t understand why a two-year-old gorgeous little tiny guy had to be killed like that,” neighbor Sharon Sands told CBS.

Update 11/14/16 4:30 PM: A reader noted that, about a quarter north of this crash site, Caroll Brown, 76, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing Central at Ainslie Street in December 2015. It appears that the driver was never apprehended.

Fatality Tracker: 2016 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths
Pedestrian: 19 (eight were hit-and-run crashes)*
Bicyclist: 6 (one was a hit-and-run crash)

*Streetsblog Chicago’s fatality tracker is based on news reports. On November 2, the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that there had been 29 pedestrian fatalities in the city as of September 30, according to preliminary police data. CDOT has not released data on the number of hit-and-run pedestrian crashes.

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What the Lockbox Law — And Trump Win — Mean for Local Transportation

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Local leaders say don’t panic — yet — about how the Trump presidency will affect Chicagoland transportation.

It’s hard to predict what last night’s election means for the future of sustainable transportation in the U.S. But as Streetsblog editor-in-chief Ben Fried wrote this morning, the fact that the Republican party doesn’t rely on city dwellers for votes, and the president-elect’s rural base doesn’t include many fans of better transit and walkable, bikeable streets, is not a good sign.

Amid all the shock over the unexpected election results, news of another significant development for Illinois transportation got lost in the shuffle. Voters in this state passed the so-called Safe Roads Amendment ballot initiative by nearly 80 percent, far more than the 60 percent needed to make it law.

This controversial amendment to the Illinois constitution will require that all funds collected through gas taxes, tolls, driver’s license fees, and city stickers be captured in a “lockbox” to prevent them from being used for non-transportation purposes. The ballot question asked citizens if they supported earmarking this revenue for “administering laws related to vehicles and transportation, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or other forms of transportation, and other statutory highway purposes.”

Originally the Metropolitan Planning Council, the Active Transportation Alliance, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology supported the amendment, arguing that it would grow the overall transportation budget, which could mean more money for walking, biking, and transit. They also argued that the lockbox would help build support for raising the gas tax by insuring the revenue would go to transportation, not other needs or pet projects. Initially, I was a supporter as well.

But Chicago’s two major newspapers oppose the initiative, arguing that the campaign was fueled by cronyism between lawmakers and road-building and labor interests, and that politicians shouldn’t need a constitutional amendment to force them into fiscal discipline.

Other organizations and progressive commentators, including Streetsblog’s Steven Vance, pointed out other additional issues with the amendment. They argued proponents has misrepresented how much money had been previously diverted from the transportation fund, and that tying lawmakers’ hands on spending decisions could cause problems if a real financial crisis or natural disaster arises.

They noted that the language of the legislation didn’t specify whether walking, biking, and transportation funding would be eligible for funding, or whether local governments would be able to spend transportation revenue on things like streetlamps and snow plowing. Eventually the Center for Neighborhood Technology dropped their support for the amendment, as did I.

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What’s the Significance of the Color Scheme for the Argyle Shared Street?

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The Argyle Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

In a recent post about the grand opening of the Argyle Shared Street, a pedestrian-priority makeover of Chicago’s Southeast Asian shopping and dining district, I wondered out loud whether the red, green, and orange hues in the new streetscape were inspired by the vivid colors of the Vietnamese cuisine for which the strip is famous. Later I ran the question by Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, who put me in touch with Ernest Wong, an architect with Site Design Group, which designed the shared street.

“While I appreciate the reference to food and the vibrancy of Vietnamese cuisine, the streetscape elements took on a more cultural reference,” Wong explained via email. “We were following the graphic colors from the original [Argyle ‘L’ station] signage posts that were selected through a community process.

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A pedestrian island, high-visibility crosswalk, and neighborhood identification pillar was added on Argyle at Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

Wong said that, in general, however, colors have significant meanings in Vietnamese culture:

For instance, orange represents energy, green represents calmness/springtime and new beginnings, red is a celebratory color, which represents good luck and scares away evil spirits, and yellow (and red) are traditional colors for prosperity.  Golden yellow has its own meaning with references to royalty, but has taken on a new meaning of freedom and patriotism for a lot of the Vietnamese expatriates. 

So there you have it. While the streetscape palate may bring to mind gỏi cuốn spring rolls and bánh mì sandwiches for hungry visitors, it has a much deeper significance for the folks who turned Argyle into a bustling retail district. Hopefully the slower vehicle speeds and increased pedestrian space created by the people-friendly redesign will make the strip even more successful.

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