IRVING PARK — Two months after a woman was killed while riding her bicycle along Milwaukee Avenue and pledges were made to improve the safety of a bike lane, nothing has been done.
And bike safety activists are upset.
On Nov. 6, 37-year-old Carla Aiello of Norwood Park died after being hit by a dump truck in the 3800 block of North Milwaukee Avenue in Irving Park. Aiello, on her bike, and a truck driven by a 41-year-old man had both been traveling south on Milwaukee, with the bicyclist to the right of the dump truck, according to police.
When the truck driver turned right onto Kilbourn Avenue, it crashed into the Aiello, who rolled underneath the truck and was killed, police said.
Following the tragedy, 200 cyclists returned to the scene to draw attention to the sorry state of the bike lane in the area.
A visit to the scene confirmed the painted lines for the bike lane on the street were faded and hard to see; however, one bike enthusiast at the scene said the incident may have been more the fault of driver negligence than the fault of fading bike lane lines.
“You can argue that, although I think it’s more of a lack of awareness by the driver in this instance,” said Fidel Talavera, a cyclist and owner of Bacardi Bikes, a bike store located just blocks from the fatal accident on Milwaukee Avenue.
The day after Aiello died, Ald. Jim Gardiner (45th) told Streetsblog Chicago that he reached out to the Chicago Department of Transportation about refreshing the bike lane markings on Milwaukee Avenue.
Also on that day, Nov. 7, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) sent a tweet asking the Active Transportation Alliance for strategies to prevent truck/bike fatalities in the future.
In response, Active Trans recommended dedicating money in the city budget for infrastructure on dangerous roadways; stricter requirements for safety mirrors and side-guards on large commercial vehicles; limits on truck traffic; and limits on right turns.
Thus far, nothing appears to have happened and a visit to the scene this week of where Aiello died confirmed that not even the faded bike lane striping has been repainted.
On Tuesday, Gardiner said he’s reached out to CDOT three times since the Nov. 6 crash, but has not seen any progress.
“I reached out to a high-ranking CDOT official on three different occasions,” Gardiner said. “I demanded action on the day of the accident. I said this matter needs to be addressed as soon as possible and they agreed and said they would be helping me in terms of this matter.”
When pressed to identify who he called, Gardiner said he called CDOT Deputy Commissioner Maureen West.
“I called the day that it happened. I called probably three weeks after that call and I called yesterday and today,” Gardiner said Tuesday. “I talked to her one time and have not received a phone call back from her as of yet.”
Reached Wednesday, CDOT spokesperson Sue Hofer confirmed that West spoke to Gardiner and said the department will be tapping an outside contractor to repaint the bike lane striping once the weather warms up.
“We can’t do anything to remark the pavement right now because it’s January. The companies aren’t geared up to work in January. We can’t do it in-house, it’s special markings,” Hofer said. She added that any additional safety fixes will have to come from funds allocated to Gardiner for his ward.
Christina Whitehouse, founder of advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising, said lack of action isn’t something she’s shocked about, but said it’s likely not the fault of any one person.
“I’m not surprised,” Whitehouse said. “The reality is that many alderman are falling short.”
“Aldermen need to understand that cyclists as a demographic tend to skew political and vote based on their need for safe infrastructure and cyclists want to know which aldermen are making their lives less safe,” Whitehouse said.
Kyle Whitehead, spokesman for the Active Transportation Alliance, said his group’s Twitter exchange with Rep. Cassidy after Aiello’s death brought up issues involving trucks that his group is working on improving.
“The exchange with Cassidy was about truck safety because there was a truck involved in this incident and we’ve seen that in many fatal crashes where people were walking or biking,” Whitehead said. “A few years ago we worked with the city which passed an ordinance which forced stricter safety requirements for the city’s fleet of trucks and for trucks from companies hat contract with the city. But that only applies to a relatively small portion of trucks.”
He added that his group is in talks with lawmakers about requiring trucks to have safety mirrors and side guards.
“Safety mirrors and side guards are proven to safe lives. If there’s a side guard on a truck the person hit has a much lower risk of being pulled under the truck where they could be subject to more serious injury or death,” he said. “That’s something we are working with legislators from the local and state level on right now.”
Whitehead said any legislative requirement to improve truck safety will take time, but there are more immediate things that should be done, such as repainting the bike lane striping, adding that doing that may or may not have prevented the crash that killed Aiello.
“A quicker fix is just improving the striping that was in place already,” he said. “We’ll never know if that would have prevented this crash and even if it’s freshly painted, it doesn’t provide anywhere near the level of protection as if there was something physically preventing cars and trucks from crossing into the bike lane.”
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