LINCOLN SQUARE — Lincoln Square neighbors have rallied around the family of 2-year-old Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas, who was riding a mini-scooter in the neighborhood when a driver hit and killed him last week.
The crash occurred around 5:55 p.m. Thursday near the 2200 block of West Eastwood Avenue, a few blocks from where Lincoln Square’s Maifest kicked off weekend celebrations.
Police said Rafi was riding his scooter through the intersection of Eastwood and Leavitt Street when a woman in a Mitsubishi driving west on Eastwood hit him. Eastwood is one way going west and Leavitt is one way going north. Both crossings have stop signs and there is a pedestrian crossing warning sign on one corner.
Streetsblog reports the boy’s devastated father pulled his son out from under the car.
Rafi was taken to Lurie Children’s Hospital and pronounced dead. Police are investigating but did not issue any citations to the driver or release further information about the crash, police spokesperson Kellie Bartoli said.
Rafi’s father, Henry Cardenas, is a Chicago Public Schools teacher. Colleague Tamara Ahmed launched a fundraiser Saturday to support Rafi’s family, which already has raised more than $24,000.
“Please lift this family up in prayer as they deal with this unimaginable loss,” Ahmed wrote in the fundraiser. She declined further comment.
In a statement, Ald. Matt Martin (47th) asked neighbors to donate to the GoFundMe and reiterated he was committed to street infrastructure that better protects pedestrians and cyclists.
A 62-year-old bicyclist was also hospitalized last month after a driver hit him at the intersection of Lincoln and Wilson avenues, a few blocks from where Rafi was killed.
“Tragedies like Rafi’s death are what drives our approach to infrastructure,” Martin said in a Facebook post. “Children should be able to walk and roll around their neighborhood safely. That is why we focus so much investment on pedestrian safety, especially around our parks and schools. We will keep working to make Lincoln Square and the 47th Ward safer for pedestrians, keeping Rafi in our thoughts at all times.”
Neighbors in the area with single-family homes and apartment buildings said the area does not get much traffic because of the one-way roads but they occasionally have trouble with unsafe driving. Drivers don’t fully stop at most intersections and sometimes cut through those side streets when traffic is backed up on nearby streets, neighbor Brian Burcham said.
“And if streets are already shut down for like Maifest and stuff, people are always dodging into the back roads even more so,” Burcham said.
Mike Schultz lives just down the street from where Rafi was killed and said the area doesn’t have as much car traffic as other corners further south.
“But I did see more traffic coming through here last week. It looked like it was getting diverted and people were going to Lawrence from here,” Schultz said.
Neighbors said better enforcement of traffic violations, a crackdown on distracted driving and bringing back the ward’s shared streets program permanently would help keep the roads safer for everyone.
“This is a really busy area for walking dogs, kids on bikes and scooters and runners because it’s residential and it’s close to Winnemac and Welles parks and playlots,” neighbor Cady Bruzan said. “I wouldn’t call this intersection super busy but people drive like their kids don’t live here.”
Christina Whitehouse, founder of advocacy group Bike Lane Uprising, has repeatedly demanded that the city expand its network of protected pedestrian and bicycle paths instead of leaving it to alderpeople to do ward by ward. People are also driving larger vehicles much faster while distracted by their phones in blatant disregard for public safety, Whitehouse said.
“The city doesn’t prioritize safety when it comes to driver recklessness,” she said. “We need to increase visibility for drivers to see us and for drivers to be slowed down.”
Whitehouse said the number of crashes this year involving pedestrians and bicyclists is “emotionally draining.”
“It’s just one right after the other, after the other, after the other,” Whitehouse said. “What is the number that’s going to make it stop? What number does the community have to hit for change to happen, for this to be addressed seriously?”
Rafi’s funeral is Tuesday in suburban Arlington Heights. In lieu of flowers, Marina Ross and Henry Cardenas are asking people to send contributions in Rafi’s name to Lurie Children’s Hospital.
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