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Advocates: Vast Majority of Palmer Square Residents Want Raised Crosswalks

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.

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