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An SUV driver killed Martha Velazquez on Columbus in Ashburn. A road diet is planned.

4:02 PM CDT on May 31, 2022

The 2900 block of West Columbus Avenue, looking southwest. In some locations the grassy parkway has been eliminated to make room for parking cars. An upcoming four-to-three conversion road diet on this stretch will help calm traffic. Image: Google Maps

On Friday, May 27, a hit-and-run SUV driver fatally struck Martha Velazquez, 34, on the 2900 block of West Columbus Avenue in the Ashburn community. A four-to-three conversion road diet was already planned on this stretch prior to the tragic crash.

The Martha Velazquez case

According to Police News Affairs, at about 8:30 p.m., Velazquez was crossing Columbus, a southwest-northeast diagonal street. Columbus is currently a four-lane "stroad," which encourages speeding. On this block, the grassy parkway has been removed in some locations to make room for car parking, which means there is no buffer between car space and pedestrian space.

According to police, the driver of a black SUV was traveling southwest when they struck Velazquez, and then fled the scene, turning northbound on to Whipple Street (3030 W.)

Velazquez was transported to Christ Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. She was the thirteenth person fatally struck while walking on Chicago streets this year.

Diagram of the collision from the crash report. Velazquez was struck in front of her home.
Diagram of the collision from the crash report. Velazquez was struck in front of her home on the 2900 block of West Columbus. (Address has been obscured for privacy purposes.)

The traffic crash report provided more information about the case. It indicates that the driver struck Velazquez directly in front of her home on the north side of Columbus as she was crossing the street northbound.

The crash report indicates that there there is relevant security camera footage from two nearby properties. The report also lists the license plate number of a red Kia, labeled "witness" in the above diagram, whose driver may have seen the crash.

The railroad crossing location. Image: CDOT
The railroad crossing location, where Columbus will be lowered below the tracks. Image: CDOT

The planned redesign of Columbus

According to a recent report from Urbanize, the Chicago Department of Transportation is planning to reconfigure Columbus between Western (2400 W.) and Kedzie (3200 W.) avenues in conjunction with a railroad grade separation project at Maplewood Avenue (2530 W.) The Belt Railway line currently crosses this intersection at grade, and there have been 45 reported crashes there since 1956.

The current at-grade rail crossing at Columbus and Maplewood. Image: Google Maps
The current at-grade rail crossing at Columbus and Maplewood, looking southwest. Image: Google Maps

The project will lower Columbus below the tracks and construct a new railroad bridge above the road. Maplewood and Campbell (2500) avenues will be cul-de-sac-ed, so that they no longer intersect with Columbus.

Columbus road cross section under the new rail bridge. Image: CDOT
Columbus road cross section under the new rail bridge. Image: CDOT

Although the footprint of Columbus will be widened somewhat overall, the $86 million project includes a four-to-three conversion road diet, since it will convert the current four-lane street to one mixed-traffic lane in each direction, plus a turn lane. CDOT will also paint non-protected bike lanes, and the sidewalks will be widened. Construction is slated to start in early 2023, and wrap up by late 2024.

Typical Columbus Avenue cross-section at non-viaduct locations. Image: CDOT
Typical Columbus Avenue cross-section at non-viaduct locations. Image: CDOT

It's disappointing that CDOT isn't installing physically-protected bikeways on Columbus, since it's a useful diagonal route, and painted lines do little or northing to keep drivers out of bike lanes. However, visually reducing the number of lanes available to drivers should calm traffic somewhat, which will hopefully prevent motorists from taking more lives on this stretch. But tragically this street redesign didn't happen soon enough to save Martha Velazquez.

Fatality Tracker: 2022 Chicago pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on surface streets

Pedestrian: 13
Bicyclist: 3

Note: Streetsblog Chicago’s traffic death numbers represent fatal crashes on Chicago surface streets, based on media reports and/or preliminary Chicago Police Department data.

2022 Chicago pedestrian fatality cases

2022 Chicago bike fatality cases

    • On May 4, 2022, a Nissan Versa sedan driver fatally struck Nick Parlingayan, 22, on his bike at Milwaukee and Kilbourn avenues in Irving Park.
    • On April 16, 2022, an allegedly intoxicated hit-and-run Volkswagen Jetta driver fatally struck Paresh Chhatrala, 42, near Madison and Peoria streets in the West Loop.
    • On February 28, 2022, a BMW sedan driver ran a red light at Balbo Drive and DuSable Lake Shore Drive in the Loop, fatally striking Gerardo Marciales, 41, on a Divvy bike.

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