WASHINGTON PARK — City transportation officials are gearing up to release a plan to reduce traffic crashes on the South Side and are looking for residents to weigh in.
A few dozen people shared safety issues and potential solutions along the boulevard during a safety workshop Tuesday at the Green Line Performing Arts Center, 329 E. Garfield Blvd.
Attendees gave feedback on traffic safety and calming measures like curb bumpouts, crossing signal timers, pedestrian islands, raised sidewalks and more; voiced a desire for active recreational space in the boulevard; and created art that may be incorporated into future bumpouts.
“Garfield Boulevard is not just a connector; it’s a destination for folks in these neighborhoods and around the city,” said Michael Kent, the Vision Zero coordinator for the Chicago Department of Transportation.
Tuesday’s session was part of the city’s Vision Zero effort, which aims to end deaths and serious injuries from traffic crashes. The program has existed since 2017 and has led to the creation of traffic safety plans for the West Side in 2019 and Downtown late last year.
Despite the effort, the city has seen an uptick in fatal crashes involving drivers hitting pedestrians and bicyclists during the pandemic. Many of the recent crashes have involved children, including 5-year-old Taha Khan earlier this month.
The South Side’s planning process is ongoing and focuses on Washington Park, Grand Boulevard, Englewood and West Englewood.
Garfield Boulevard from Halsted Street to King Drive is one of 11 “high-crash corridors” on the South Side the city will prioritize. Major crashes on the boulevard in recent years include a crash that killed two people and critically injured two others in March and a crash that damaged the Park Supper Club in August 2020.
Drivers also regularly speed and sometimes race on Garfield, visibility turning onto the boulevard can be limited and the highway-like, six-lane corridor can scare residents off from walking and biking, attendees said Tuesday.
A report summarizing crash data, South Siders’ feedback and potential safety improvements is expected by the end of the year, Kent said.
Safety improvements citywide will be supported by $100 million in Chicago Works infrastructure funds over the next five years, transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi said.
“For the first time ever, we have dedicated, local money for pedestrian safety and bike safety, all under complete streets,” Biagi told Block Club. “Folks are … giving us their knowledge, know-how and lived experience and having that produce real projects — we’ve got the funding to follow through and make things happen.”
Washington Park resident Ticina Williams has a 3-year-old son with an independent streak — he asked her on a recent walk to stop holding his hand, which she declined — so she welcomes the plans for new safety infrastructure, she said.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes; there’s something we have to do,” Williams said. “Even today, I was at the Green Line taking a bus for my first time in a minute, and had to pull my son back … because the cars were going fast.”
Williams is particularly interested in seeing more concrete bumpouts around Washington Park like the ones recently installed at 58th Street and Indiana Avenue, which have helped drivers slow down and pedestrians cross quicker, she said.
As the city moves forward on a South Side Vision Zero plan, Williams is “optimistic” officials will listen to residents’ feedback, she said.
Washington Park residents have often seen plans come and go without being implemented, but Williams’ neighbors are especially serious about holding the city accountable on Vision Zero, she said.
“I’m excited to see what else comes about,” Williams said. “This community does a lot of biking, walking, the trains, the ‘L,’ the buses — we travel a lot, and we just want to make sure that it’s safe for everybody.”
Desiree Hill-Bey, infrastructure chair for the Grand Boulevard Advisory Council, attended Tuesday’s session in preparation for a similar meeting about Cottage Grove Avenue in Grand Boulevard. That meeting is tentatively planned for October, she said.
New safety infrastructure can prevent crashes and can coincide with walkways, benches, flowers and public art along the boulevard to improve residents’ quality of life, Hill-Bey said.
“I think we put in some real good information as far as what can be done along Garfield Boulevard,” she said.
For more information on the South Side Vision Zero planning process, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What this meeting shows, and what this overall process shows, is that people do care about traffic safety in their neighborhoods and around the city,” Kent said.
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