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Once again, car-centric streets contribute to death of a child on a bike, Julian Medina, 14

Julian Medina

This has been a terrible summer for traffic violence against kids in Chicago and its suburbs. From June through last week, at least six children had been fatally struck by drivers while walking, waiting for a bus, riding a scooter, or bicycling:  Rafi Cardenas, 2; Lily Shambrook, 3; Ja’Lon James, 11; Joshua Avina-Luna, 15; Zain Jaber, 14; and Angela Short, 14. Sadly last Sunday evening, August 28, a seventh name was added to that list, 14-year-old Julian Medina, struck and killed by a motorist as he bicycled home to his home in southwest-suburban Countryside.

According to Countryside police chief Joseph Ford, at about 6:40 p.m. Julian was on his way home, biking south on LaGrange Road when he crossed 55th Street. This is the intersection of two five-lane roads, with no marked crosswalks, let alone bike facilities, making it a hostile location for vulnerable road users.

The intersection of 55th Street and LaGrange Road in Countryside. Image: Google Maps
The intersection of 55th Street and LaGrange Road in Countryside. Image: Google Maps
The intersection of 55th Street and LaGrange Road in Countryside. Image: Google Maps

According to Ford, the involved motorist was driving an SUV, heading north on LaGrange when he made a westbound left turn with a green arrow, striking the boy. He died from multiple external injuries, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Ford said "There was no evidence of foul play," emphasizing that the driver "stayed on the scene and has fully cooperated with the investigation... this is a tragic accident of a vehicle vs a young boy on a bicycle."

However, Julian's death was preventable. Vehicle design may have played a role, since many SUVs have poor sight lines and high front ends that tend to push a struck person under the vehicle rather than over the hood. And this type of car-centric intersection really offers no safe passage for a person on bike or foot, especially a child.

LaGrange/55th looking north, the driver's perspective. Image: Google Maps
LaGrange/55th looking north, the driver's perspective. Image: Google Maps
LaGrange/55th looking north, the driver's perspective. Image: Google Maps

Streetsblog has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the crash report, which will hopefully reveal more details about what happened. But even if it turns out that Julian disobeyed his signal, perhaps in a rush to get home, his error shouldn't have resulted in a death sentence. We must create a transportation system that is forgiving when people, especially kids, inevitably make mistakes.

There's one glimmer of hope in the story. Chief Ford said the Illinois Department of Transportation was already planning a redesign of this intersection. Still, if bike and pedestrian safety had previously been prioritized at this location, perhaps Julian would still be alive today.

According to his obituary, Julian left behind his parents and three sisters. "Julian was attentive to his sisters and mom. He brought joy and a smile to your face. He loved playing soccer and video games with his cousins. He will be remembered for his kind and gentle manner."

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