WEST RIDGE — Business owners on Devon Avenue, a bustling strip filled with jaywalking pedestrians and speeding motorists, want more safeguards to protect their customers after a series of deadly accidents.
"It has been a problem ever since I can remember," said Ahmed Khan, whose family owns Par-Birdie Foods on the busy east-west arterial street.
Two deaths in the last year and several car accidents prompted Khan and his father, Liaquat Ali, to pen open letters to Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), asking her to erect pedestrian crossing signs within crosswalks.
On Nov. 12, Tsering Dorjee was struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist, leaving his homemaker wife behind with three children.
Earlier in the year, an 81-year-old woman was killed while crossing Devon.
Motorists say it's common for pedestrians to step into the street in the middle of a block, and pedestrians say it's equally common for motorists to speed past crowds waiting at crosswalks.
"I’ve experienced and seen and heard about too many close calls," Khan said. "You’re either a second or an inch away from something happening."
Silverstein responded to both letters and said she's working to repaint several faintly painted crosswalks to help ease her constituents' concerns.
"Devon Avenue is definitely a busy street," she said, and the ward is working with the city's Transportation Department to identify the most dangerous intersections to erect "Stop for Pedestrian" signs.
At the intersection where Dorjee was killed, the signs have already been installed.
Silverstein, in her first term as alderman, said sidewalks will be expanded during the Devon Avenue streetscape project starting this year.
But the project, broken into five four-block chunks, won't be completed until 2021, and residents are skeptical the increased visibility of crosswalks and expanded sidewalks will curb accidents.
The city designated the majority of Devon Avenue's business district as the most dangerous stretch of road on the North Side, according to the Transportation Department's 2011 pedestrian crash analysis report. A section of North Broadway in Uptown was designated the second most dangerous.
Amie Zander, executive director of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, said complaints about the lack of pedestrian safety intensified after Dorjee's death.
At a November meeting among business owners, Rogers Park district police, the chamber and several business owners expressed concern.
Muhammad Hameedullah Khan, who's lived in the area for 35 years and was once the publisher of the now-defunct Pakistani Unity Times, said the new signs have made only a small difference.
"On weekends there are a lot of people — and a lot of cars," he said.
The density of Indian and Pakistani populations and businesses attract people from "all over the Midwest," he said.
Uma Arora has owned a clothing shop at Maplewood and Devon avenues for 40 years.
She said she witnessed the commotion in the intersection after Tsering was struck and killed.
Since the signs have gone up, she said she's noticed pedestrians and motorists change their behavior.
"Now people are more careful, [drivers] are more aware," the 63-year-old said. "It's getting better."