Austin has second most fatal and serious pedestrian accidents

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Austin ranks no. 2 out of all 77 Chicago community areas for the most life-threatening pedestrian traffic crashes, and the structure and size of specific streets may be to blame.

The neighborhood saw 130 fatal and serious injury pedestrian crashes in 2011, with 903 crashes overall, according to a crash analysis report recently released by the Chicago Department of Transportation. Both numbers are second only to the Near North Side, where there were 139 fatal and serious crashes.

A part of Cicero Avenue that runs through Austin — from Harrison Street to Chicago Avenue — was listed second among the 12 most dangerous street corridors in Chicago neighborhoods.

And three Austin intersections had some of the highest number of pedestrian crashes last year: Chicago Avenue and Cicero Avenue, Madison Street and Cicero Avenue, and Chicago Avenue and Central Avenue, according to data collected by the Chicago Sun-Times.

Department officials did not respond to requests to be interviewed about about how many pedestrian crashes there have been so far this year in Austin or what steps city officials are taking to improve safety on the West Side.

Joseph Schwieterman, an urban transportation expert at DePaul University, said certain details about the Austin community and its roadways may be causing accidents.

Cicero, Madison and Chicago are all wide streets with bus routes, which may reduce a pedestrian’s chance to safely cross the road, Schwieterman said.

“Cicero is a challenge every where; it’s seen as the fast alternative to the expressways,” he said. “Madison is, of course, a big auto-oriented road that needs better traffic flowing.”

Schwieterman added that bus routes can cause people to crowd for bus-entry and choke up traffic. When combined, crowds of people and vehicles can create a dangerous environment, he said.

The crash report said high-crime areas saw more serious-to-fatal pedestrian accidents. This makes sense to Schwieterman, who said crime-ridden areas are usually poorer areas, where public transportation is used more and the chance for accidents naturally increases.

“There’s more young people that congregate in those neighborhoods and more people (who) use buses in poorer neighborhoods,” Schwieterman said.

But the statistics surrounding pedestrian crashes in Austin may not be well-known.

Malcolm Crawford, founder of Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center located on Chicago Avenue two blocks west of Central Avenue, said he didn’t know the intersection had 23 to 29 pedestrian accidents last year — among the city’s highest in any one intersection.

“It probably is the case, and I just haven’t heard anything,” Crawford said.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said he has not heard complaints from constituents about dangerous intersections in Austin and suggested that both pedestrians and drivers should be more careful.

“Pedestrians need to respect vehicles, and vehicles need to respect pedestrians,” Ervin said. “There’s many situations when folks walk out on the street or people are trying to rush to a location.”

Ervin said numbers might be higher than other neighborhoods because of Austin’s relatively large population. Austin is the largest neighborhood of all 77 Chicago neighborhoods.

Ald. Deborah Graham (29th), Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and Ald. Michael Chandler (24th) didn’t respond to requests to be interviewed.

There are some steps that city officials can take to improve safety.

Pedestrian islands, usually located in the middle of four-lane roads, can create a “buffer” for pedestrians and allow more time for crossing large, busy roads, Schwieterman said.

He added that building visible crosswalks — possibly made of cobblestone — can make them more visible to drivers, reducing the chance for motorists to see pedestrians as they make a turn.

The Chicago Department of Transportation drafted a plan to reduce pedestrian crashes. It addresses some of the same solutions Schwieterman suggested, including making more visible crosswalks and pedestrian islands throughout the city.

Specifically for neighborhoods, the plan calls for more street additions like speed bumps and curbs that “bump-out” to create more space for people waiting for a bus and reduce a pedestrian’s crossing time.

The city plan outlines specific goals for neighborhoods, but transportation officials weren’t available to confirm what if any action is planned in Austin.

Ald. Ervin said he thinks the department is “attempting to implement the plan” but also sees another area of focus.

“We have to think of the attitudes of drivers and attitudes of vehicles,” he said. “People have to be conscious of who they’re sharing the road with.”

Schwieterman agrees.

“There’s a general lack of respect among pedestrians of traffic signals, particularly in some of the poorer neighborhoods,” he said.

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