The outside of Portage Park Elementary School at Berteau and Long is seen May 29, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

PORTAGE PARK — Interventions to slow down drivers and increase pedestrian safety around Portage Park Elementary School are in the works after complaints from parents and school officials.

The area around the school, 5330 W. Berteau Ave., can get congested when kids are getting picked up and dropped off during school hours, said parent Pat Corcoran. With almost 900 students and regular traffic passing through, the area can be a nightmare for parents, children and other drivers in the area, he said.

Over the years, he’s seen fender benders, near car crashes involving students, speeding drivers and illegal parking from parents, he said.

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An advocacy group made up of Portage Park Helping Hands, a parent nonprofit group that works with the school staff, and the school’s local school council, brought requests on how to make the area safer to the Chicago Department of Transportation earlier this year, Corcoran said.

The corners around the school will get bump-out curb extensions to calm down traffic later this year, officials said.

Other safety measures are in the works, including reduced speed limits during school hours, more speed bumps, and new signs and pavement marketings to better alert drivers to the presence of students, said Chicago Department of Transportation spokesperson Erica Schroeder.

The project is wrapping up its design phase and is expected to be installed later this year or in early 2024, she said.

“It’s important to make these streets safer,” Corcoran said. “Kids are short and cars are remarkably bigger.”

An example of curbed extensions, or bump outs, which help decrease the time it takes for people to cross a street, seen here. Credit: City of Chicago

The curb bump outs extend the sidewalk into a parking or non-moving lane. They can reduce speeds for cars and shave off a few seconds for pedestrians crossing the street, according to the transportation department’s Tools for Safety Streets Guide, part of its street calming program.

The extensions also help improve visibility between cars and pedestrians and eliminate illegal parking in the corner clearance zones, which Corcoran said has been a big issue at Portage Park Elementary.

“The bump outs will prevent cars from double parking in the intersection and sight lines will be clear so drivers and pedestrians can see each other,” he said. “Hopefully [the improvements] encourages more kids and parents walking and biking to school, which will be safer for the area and for the park.” 

Corocan said the parents group is grateful to city officials and Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) for listening to their concerns, he said. Crews were at the intersection about two weeks ago, marking sidewalks and streets and surveying the area, Corcoran said.

The intersection near Portage Park Elementary School at Hutchinson and Long is seen May 29, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

The improvements, which are being paid for by the department, have support of the school principal and Sposato, who said the improvements are a welcome way to curb speeding and erratic drivers around the school.

“The bump outs [will] help over there with all the crazy parents parking in the walkway, parking in front of hydrants, even though at every one of my schools, parents are going fast,” Sposato said.

The alderman was originally told the project could be completed this summer before school resumes for fall, but the timeline got pushed back, officials said.

While the improvements are still a ways off, Corcoran and Sposato said the street calming measures are necessary and should be replicated at other school zones.

“There is a need for more schools to have this … I hope we will see this more in the city and around parks, too,” Corcoran said.

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