This story has been updated with additional details from witnesses and police.
UPTOWN — The death of a 3-year-old girl on the back of her mom’s bike in Uptown has devastated neighbors and cycling advocates, who said drivers of semi-trucks like the one that hit the child shouldn’t be using their streets in the first place.
The child — identified as Elizabeth Grace Shambrook by the Cook County Medical Examiner — was on the back of her mom’s bike Thursday morning in the 1100 block of West Leland Avenue with the child’s father on a bike behind them, witnesses and the child’s father told police, according to a report.
The group approached an “illegally parked Com Ed truck” and the mother and child continued east between the semi and ComEd truck, the report states. As the semi “began to move forward,” the mother “became startled, over-corrected her bike and hit the step” of the semi-truck “causing her to lose balance and fall,” the police report said.
“While wearing a bike helmet,” Elizabeth Grace “became trapped under the rear wheel of the semi-truck and was rolled over by its tires.” She was taken to Lurie Children’s Hospital and pronounced dead.
The driver of the parked ComEd truck was issued two tickets for parking in a bicycle lane and parking within 30 feet of a stop sign, according to police.
A spokesperson for the electric company said the driver was in the area for work and it is looking into the incident.
“ComEd was issued a permit by the Chicago Department of Transportation to perform work in the area, however our investigation into the accident is ongoing,” ComEd spokesperson John Schoen said.
The truck driver who hit the child does not appear to have been issued any tickets.
Semi-trucks are prohibited from using DuSable Lake Shore Drive, so trucks routinely use side streets throughout Uptown, neighbors said.
Wes Griffith has lived on Leland Avenue within a block of the crash for four years and said he and his neighbors have “all seen this coming.”
“We all knew there was going to be an accident here at some point,” he said. “You have all the cars that are parked on the curb, and then people park next to those cars, and you’re trying to navigate cars going opposite directions through half of the road.
“Nobody can see, people aren’t paying attention. You’ve got parents loading their kids into the car as people come around the vehicle. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
At the scene, a reporter saw the driver of a car transportation truck approach the intersection where the crash occurred on Winthrop and struggle to clear a right-hand turn onto Leland. The driver ran over a cone placed in the bike lane by authorities to indicate where the ComEd truck had been parked.
Another neighbor, Heather Willett, said staff from The Christopher House, a preschool at the northeast corner of the crash site at 4701 N. Winthrop Ave., “all ran out” during the aftermath of the crash.
Willett said she and Griffith came back out to the crash site in the afternoon to “try to help direct traffic” around the semi-truck until it could be towed.
“It’s a recipe for disaster 2.0,” Griffith said. “How traumatic is it [for the Christopher House students who] watched a kid get hit by a truck, and it’s just going to sit here as [they’re] trying to walk out?”
Willett said Griffith called the alderman’s office “a couple of years ago” and “tried to see if we could stop semis from coming down this street.”
“Every morning you hear semis going up and down this street,” Willett said.
Officials told Griffith Leland would have to be turned into a boulevard to stop semis from using it, and “for some reason they can’t do that,” Willett said. In Chicago, commercial vehicles cannot be driven on boulevards.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lived on a boulevard, and I’ve never had semi-trucks just going up and down a residential street,” Willett said. “We’re right in front of a school. There are residents out and about all the time.”
The tragedy has galvanized neighbors to speak out about other issues at the intersection.
“Something needs to be done about this 1100-block stop sign because people are blowing it every single day,” neighbor Nicole Feuerbach said.
Feuerbach lives on the west corner of the crash site and was with her 3-year-old son when she heard sirens and ran to her window.
“Within seconds” of seeing the aftermath, she called Ald. James Cappleman’s (46th) office to get paperwork to start a petition to add speed bumps to Leland, Feuerbach said.
Feuerbach needs 65 percent of the block to sign the petition before she can return it to the Cappleman’s office, but she’s hopeful “most neighbors will sign it.”
Neighbor Loretta Malone said she was eating breakfast nearby when the crash happened. She didn’t see the crash, but she heard a truck stop and screaming; looking outside, she saw the child in the car seat and the truck, she said. She called 911.
“Having cycled for many years myself in Chicago, I can’t imagine trying to navigate between that ComEd truck and the moving, delivery, semi-truck, whatever that is — very disorienting,” Malone said.
Malone said officials have been doing work on the street, but Thursday was the first time she’d seen the ComEd truck that blocked the bike lane and the stop sign.
Kyle Lucas, of street safety advocacy group Better Streets Chicago, said the position of the ComEd truck was “super dangerous for a lot of reasons.”
“It’s partly blocking a crosswalk. It’s preventing visibility of the stop sign. It’s obstructing the bike lane,” Lucas said. “There’s three major problems right there.”
Griffith said he also called Cappleman’s office Thursday and was told the Chicago Department of Transportation “did an assessment and they’ve made some recommendations” regarding the intersection.
“I appreciate that we’ve made recommendations, but we haven’t implemented anything,” Griffith said.
This is the second child to be killed in a crash recently in Chicago. Last week, a driver hit and killed 2-year-old Raphael “Rafi” Cardenas while the boy was in a Lincoln Square crosswalk.
Malone said she’s not sure what could be done to make Chicago’s streets safer, but the solution will have to come from all angles.
“Cyclists have to be informed and safe. And then, you know, drivers have to see us,” Malone said. “I don’t know that there’s an easy solution. [Thursday’s victims] were on a side street, wearing helmets, minding their business, so, they were doing all the right things, right?”
The fatal crash occurred along a stretch of Leland Avenue that is designated a “neighborhood greenway,” or a low-stress bike route that is removed from busy streets.
Leland Avenue in Uptown was also made a “shared street” the past two years, where only local traffic was allowed to give neighbors more outdoor space during the pandemic. That designation has not yet returned this summer.
Leland Avenue west of Clark Street will be added to the neighborhood greenway route, with plans for curb bump-outs, bike-friendly speed humps and a contraflow bike lane from Clark Street to Damen Avenue.
Work on the bike infrastructure is expected to begin this year.
Leland Avenue east of Clark Street, where the fatal crash occurred, only has unprotected bike lines marked by paint on each side of the street. Cappleman said in a statement he is looking to add bike and pedestrian safety measures to the road.
“Our office has already been working with the Chicago Department of Transportation to create traffic safety measures to reduce vehicular speeds and increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists traveling down Leland,” Cappleman said. “We will be reaching out to CDOT to see what further measures can be put in to avoid further accidents.”
Chicago Family Biking and Better Streets Chicago will hold a family-friendly “Walk + Roll for Safe Streets” from Lincoln Square to Uptown to honor Rafi and Elizabeth Sunday.
Participants will have a moment of silence for each child and call on city leaders and drivers to “commit to making Chicago streets safe for all.” It begins at North Leavitt Street and West Eastwood Avenue in Lincoln Square at 10:15 a.m. and people will walk and bike the 1.4 mile route to North Winthrop and West Leland avenues.
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