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

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.

Rush hour parking restrictions on Central would be removed in the 45th Ward (purple) south of Lawrence, but would remain in place in the 38th Ward (pink).
Rush hour parking restrictions on Central would be removed in the 45th Ward (purple) south of Lawrence, but would remain in place in the 38th Ward (pink).
Rush hour parking restrictions on Central would be removed in the 45th Ward (purple) south of Lawrence, but would remain in place in the 38th Ward (pink).

Arena added that in mid-2015 ward residents voted via the participatory budget process to use the district’s discretionary “menu money” to install pedestrian bump-outs at several locations, including the crash site. Spurred by Noah’s death, the ward 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 logic being that clearing the parking lane 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, Brugh said. Therefore, the 45th Ward is currently negotiating with 38th Ward alderman Nicholas Sposato to only have the restrictions lifted in the 45th Ward on Central south of Lawrence.

Arena’s office recently told ABC the cost for the bumpouts would be about $80,000. However, Brugh said today that on further review they’re estimating the cost will be closer to $130,000 for a full bump-out on the north side of the east leg of Giddings as well as a half bump-out on the southwest corner, where Noah and Rachel were struck.

"All of the tools we have will not be effective unless drivers adjust their behavior,” said Arena in a statement. “Minding stop signs, reducing our speed, and staying focused on driving by actively looking for pedestrians and cyclists will have the biggest effect on safety in our city."

Arena is spot-on that the onus is on motorists to make sure their decisions don’t lead to the injuries or deaths of innocent people like the Katz’s. However, it worth noting that well designed infrastructure, such as bump-outs, can encourage drivers to watch their speed and physically protect vulnerable road users.

“This is one more senseless loss of life that underscores the urgency of our mission with Vision Zero,” stated CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey. “Every traffic fatality represents a preventable tragedy, never more so than when such a young life is lost. We are committed to working with [Arena] to make improvements that will move us toward our goal of eliminating these type of preventable tragedies in the 45th Ward and all across the city.”

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