HERMOSA — Crashes and near-misses are so common on a narrow, half-mile stretch of Palmer Street in Hermosa that some neighbors “avoid it like the plague.”
Now, city officials will convert the street into a one-way road in hopes of finally resolving years of safety concerns.
Signs turning Palmer Street between Kostner Avenue and Pulaski Road into a westbound one-way stretch are expected to go up later this summer. Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) proposed the change in an ordinance that was approved by the City Council last month.
Neighbors, especially those who live on Palmer Street, have consistently sounded the alarm about drivers barreling down the street and smashing into cars parked on either side or traveling in the opposite direction.
“We had a series of community safety walks in Hermosa, and this was the No. 1 concern brought up: the width of Palmer Street and the numerous accidents that occurred,” Ramirez-Rosa said.
That segment of Palmer Street is too cramped to safely allow two lanes of car traffic plus parking, neighbors have said at community meetings and in conversations with Ramirez-Rosa’s office.
The claim is supported by data. Hermosa’s Palmer Street has a crash pattern that is “normally associated with narrow roadway width, high parking demand, vehicle speed and volume,” Malihe Samadi, the city’s director of traffic design, wrote in a June letter to Ramirez-Rosa.
Twenty-six crashes were reported on Palmer Street between Kostner and Karlov avenues from 2019-2021, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. Of the 26 crashes, two involved pedestrians and 11 involved parked cars.
Thomas, a longtime Palmer Street neighbor who asked that his last name not be used, installed a camera at his house a few years ago to document the crashes that have come to define the road.
Thomas’ camera has recorded several crashes, including one where a driver narrowly passed a car in the opposite direction then drove on top of a parked car before driving away. In another crash, a speeding driver ended up on Thomas’ front lawn, he said.
“So much stuff was happening, I had to document it,” he said.
Thomas, who has long supported making the road one-way, said the crashes are especially problematic given the street’s proximity to Nixon Elementary School. He also cited and the recent string of fatal crashes in Chicago involving children, including at least four kids ages 2 to 15 in June.
“What is it going to take? Is it going to take somebody getting killed for the city to do something?” Thomas said.
Alex Fleck, another longtime resident and executive director of the Hermosa Neighborhood Association, said Palmer Street’s issues have gone unaddressed for many years.
The Hermosa Neighborhood Association hasn’t taken an official stance on the change, but Fleck said she supports the one-way conversion as a resident.
“People speed by, they don’t move over, they honk, they yell at you, they stop the car like they’re gonna get out. … It’s just not a safe option,” Fleck said. “I avoid Palmer like the plague, I do.”
Studies have shown one-way traffic can reduce crashes because there are fewer opportunities for drivers to turn. But there are some drawbacks to removing one lane of traffic, according to the city’s transportation department.
Drivers are more likely to speed, and adjacent streets tend to get clogged, Samadi said in the letter to Ramirez-Rosa. One-way streets can also negatively impact travel times for residents and emergency vehicles.
After conducting a traffic study of Palmer Street in 2017, transportation officials did not recommend changing the street to a one-way. But after reviewing the street’s most recent crash data, the department is “not opposed” to the change, Samadi said.
Other side streets near Palmer, including Belden and Dickens avenues, also are one-way.
Ramirez-Rosa said his office explored a few options to improve safety along Palmer Street, including installing carriage walks, which would allow parkers to put two wheels over the curb to create more space in the street. But removing a lane of traffic was by far the most popular choice among neighbors, he said.
While Thomas supports the change, he said the city needs to do more to prevent crashes and keep neighbors safe. The street needs more speed bumps and bike lanes, as Palmer is a popular cyclist thoroughfare, he said.
“The one-way isn’t going to work unless they do something else to mitigate it,” he said.
Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: