Ana the Crossing Guard Confronts Dangerous Drivers to Keep Kids Safe
[The Chicago Reader publishes 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.]
The six-way intersection of Grace, Bernard, and Elston in the Irving Park community is a tricky junction. Located just west of the Abbey Pub, it’s a relatively wide roadway where the two residential streets meet up with a busy northwest-southeast thoroughfare.
Since there’s no stoplight, crossing Elston can be challenging for anybody on foot. But it’s especially hazardous for students from John B. Murphy Elementary School, a block west, and Chicago International Charter School, about two blocks east.
The city has taken some steps, however, to address this. A few years ago the Department of Transportation installed buffered bike lanes on Elston, which shortened pedestrian crossing distances, and a few months ago workers put a refuge island in the northwest leg of the intersection, where the kids traverse the street.
But the most important safety feature of this intersection is Ana the crossing guard (she asked that we use her first name only)—a petite firebrand of a woman who’s been protecting youngsters here for more than eight years.
Observing her afternoon shift last week, I was impressed by Ana’s grit as she marched into the street with her handheld stop sign, taking no guff from drivers who failed to halt. But I saw several motorists ignore her orders and even shout at her as they sped by, which shows that, despite infrastructure improvements and the best efforts of city workers like Ana, we need to do more to ensure that the rights and safety of pedestrians are respected, especially at tricky junctures like this one.
Ana, who marked her 14th anniversary as a crossing guard this month, spoke glowingly about the job, which pays Chicagoans between $17,000 and $22,600 a year for morning and afternoon shifts. “I love it,” she said. “The same people pass by you every day, and you become acquaintances. The biggest kick is watching the kids grow up. I see them when they’re little, and before I know it they’re graduating. It’s like, where has the time gone?”
Ana was just a kid herself in 1965 when at age seven she immigrated to Chicago with her family from Porto Alegre, a city of 1.5 million in southern Brazil. Her father, a machinist and upholsterer, brought his wife and seven children to the north side in hopes of finding a better life. “That was a great thing he did for us,” Ana said.
After working as a file clerk as a young woman, Ana got married and became a stay-at-home mom. When her son went to high school she started the crossing guard position, and she currently splits her time between protecting students and planting annuals and pulling weeds at her home garden, around the corner from the intersection.
While she says her job is rewarding, it has its share of challenges. “There’s no respect for us out here from drivers,” she said. “They don’t understand that we are sacrificing ourselves to go into the middle of the street and stop a moving car. People think I’m doing a lot of yelling, but I’m trying to get their attention, like, ‘Hey, please wake up.’ So many people are on their phone nowadays.”
Fortunately, neither Ana nor any of her charges has been struck while she’s been stationed at Grace, Bernard, and Elston, but the intersection has seen its share of crashes. A few months ago, she says, a northbound motorist coming from Bernard struck another vehicle and wound up crashing into a pole on the west side of the junction. “Both of the cars were totaled, and one of them lost a couple of wheels that bounced and rolled up Grace,” she said. Luckily this happened around 11 AM on a weekday, when no children were present.