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People’s CDOT: Why does city drag its feet on installing safety infra, but instantly remove infra put in by residents?

If the 44th Ward wants to give Streetsblog more info about exactly why the city chose to swiftly dismantle a pedestrian safely project at Cornelia/Elaine, we're all ears.

11:42 AM CDT on June 23, 2023

The Lakeview intersection before and after the city removed the planter boxes. Photos : The People’s CDOT

Have you ever noticed how cautiously the city of Chicago often approaches street redesigns that would make conditions safer for pedestrians, bike riders, transit users and, heck, even drivers?

For example, Milwaukee Avenue, the city's busiest cycling street, has seen at least six people killed by drivers while biking in the last two decades, but most of the corridor lacks protected bike lanes to shelter cyclists from motorists. The Chicago Department of Transportation hopes to install about a mile of more PBLs in West Town and Logan Square, but not until after there's an open house on the project next Monday, June 26, from 6-8 PM at the Wicker Park Bucktown Library, 1701 N Milwaukee Ave. And bike advocates expect that anti-PBL merchants and neighbors will show up to try to derail the project, which very well could happen.

But some safe streets activist have gotten tired of waiting around for the city to move forward with safety infrastructure projects. They're calling themselves The People's CDOT, and their anonymous Twitter account declares, "We make concrete changes to our streets."

Cornelia and Elaine in Lakeview. Image: Google Maps

There was evidence of that recently. This week the group posted photos of Cornelia Avenue (3500 N.) and Elaine Place (730 W.), a T-shaped intersection on residential streets in Lakeview. Four attractive concrete planter boxes, featuring sunflowers and other foliage, plus many orange reflectors to alert drivers to their presence, were installed around the southeast corner of the junction. They discouraged drivers on Elaine from whipping around the corner onto eastbound Cornelia, protecting pedestrians in the crosswalk (and cars parked at the southeast corner.)

Photo: The People's CDOT

But the next shot showed what appeared to be a garbage truck on Cornelia, and no plant boxes around the crosswalk. Instead there were a couple of small piles of gravel and soil.

Photo: The People's CDOT

"When we demand safe streets infrastructure it takes the city YEARS to act," The People's CDOT tweeted. "But when we take action? The city urgently finds the resources to destroy." They suggested asking longtime 44th Ward (the local district) chief of staff and recently-elected alderperson Bennett Lawson to explain "why these are being removed, [and] when will Chicago get bump-outs at all intersections?"

So I tried to do that. I called the 44th Ward Service Office and asked to speak to someone about why the city removed the flower boxes. "They were dangerous," the person who answered the phone insisted. She was apparently referring to the risk of reckless drivers getting damage to their cars' paint jobs because they failed to slow down around the concrete boxes.

When I said I was looking for additional info on the situation, the person gave me the ward's general email address, and abruptly hung up the phone. Roughly 48 hours later, I still haven't gotten a response to my emailed questions about why the planters were removed, and if there are any other plans to improve pedestrian safety at this location.

But someone from The People's CDOT did answer my questions about the planter boxes via Twitter messages, albeit anonymously. "This specific project is just part of our larger effort to bring safe streets infrastructure to Chicago at the request of neighbors in the community," they said. "Drivers here routinely run the stop sign, park in the crosswalk, and speed, all near an elementary school [Nettlehorst, 3252 N. Broadway] and a block from a park [Wendt Playlot Park, Roscoe Street and Elaine]."

The person argued that ward offices and CDOT have ignored requests from residents and have taken years to consider measures like speed humps at some locations. (The Illinois Department of Transportation is often to blame for thwarting efforts by alders and CDOT to improve safety for pedestrians and bike riders on IDOT-controlled city roads.) "Lives are being lost and the lack of urgency from CDOT and our city is disheartening and disturbing."

"This kind of infrastructure is quick and affordable to install but the mayor, CDOT, and alders lack the will and vision required to address a public health crisis with expediency," The People's CDOT rep said in conclusion.

So is it accurate to say that some alders – maybe Bennett Lawson included – aren't sufficiently focused on improving safety for all road users? If the 44th Ward wants to give Streetsblog more info about exactly why the city chose to swiftly dismantle a pedestrian safely project, we're all ears.

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