Driver injuring girl and woman in Andersonville highlights need to make Ashland more ped-friendly

The approximate route of the driver who struck the pedestrians, according to CPD. Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps
The approximate route of the driver who struck the pedestrians, according to CPD. Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

On the afternoon of Sunday, March 20, at about 2:30 p.m., an elderly driver struck a 6-year-old child and a woman, 42, as they crossed Ashland Avenue at Berwyn Avenue in the Andersonville neighborhood of the Edgewater community area, police said. The pedestrians were crossing in the south leg of the intersection in the crosswalk when the westbound driver, 76, made a southbound left turn and hit them.

The victims were taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to police. In a note to residents, local alderman Andre Vasquez (40th) said the girl was responsive at the Hospital, Block Club’s Joe Ward reported.

Berwyn/Ashland, looking west. Image: Google Maps
Berwyn/Ashland, looking west. Image: Google Maps

The driver, who was uninjured, was issued a ticket for failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, police said.

Andersonville is a relatively pedestrian-friendly area of the Far North Side but Ashland throws a wrench in that designation. When I first learned of the crash I was not surprised that it occurred at Ashland, because the street is hostile to people outside of motor vehicles. Whenever I have to cross Ashland in the neighborhood, I always opt for a crossing with a traffic light, since many drivers on Ashland speed and refuse to follow the law by stopping for people in the crosswalks.

Andersonville, as defined by Google Maps.
Andersonville, as defined by Google Maps.

Vasquez said he wants to make Ashland safer for pedestrians, and is looking into the possibility of installing a stoplight at Berwyn/Ashland, which would require a Chicago Department of Transportation traffic study to determine feasibility, Block Club reported. The ward’s discretionary “menu” infrastructure budget will be used to extend the existing median in the north leg of the intersection to create a pedestrian island.

A traffic light at Berwyn/Ashland would be a great improvement. The intersection will likely see an increase in pedestrians crossings once the Berwyn Red Line station, currently closed for reconstruction as part for the CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization project, reopens, likely in late 2024.

It’s not clear the new pedestrian island will make much difference in improving safety at Berwyn/Ashland. While this infrastructure helps people cross the street safely by giving them a place to wait if they don’t get across the road in one light cycle, the wide planter median already allows that. The bigger problem here is drivers speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians. 

Rendering of the Ashland BRT layout.
Rendering of the Ashland BRT layout.

In the big picture, a great way to reduce speeding on Ashland all across the city would be to build the Ashland bus rapid transit project, which would have converted the two inner lanes of the street to bus-only lanes with limited stops, median stations, prepaid level boarding, and other time-saving features. That proposal was shelved several years ago due to a backlash from some residents and merchants who feared it would make driving a little less convenient.

While the city’s plan called for building the bus corridor between 95th Street and Irving Park Road, the Ashland BRT route would have been even more useful if it was extended another 2.5 miles to meet up with the #22 Clark Street bus route. Like Ashland, Clark should also have its own lanes with bus-priority stoplight programming and camera enforcement to keep people from driving in the bus lanes.

Converting mixed-traffic lanes on Ashland to BRT lanes would calm traffic while making buses run as fast as a ‘L’ train, encouraging many people to swap car trips for transit rides.

Chicago’s piecemeal approach to pedestrian safety and sustainable transportation improvements leaves much to be desired but I am thankful for the efforts of aldermen like Vasquez for putting energy into making safety improvements for vulnerable road users.

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