MAYFAIR — One by one, residents shared their stories of near-miss pedestrian-auto collisions on Foster Avenue as they petitioned Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) to address safety concerns related to the heavily trafficked thoroughfare.
Steve Davern's daughter was saved by her hoodie, which his wife grabbed to yank the youngster out of the path of an oncoming car that had blown through a red light.
Others told of reckless drivers treating traffic signals as "optional" and careening up curbs to avoid vehicle backups.
"There's been too many close calls," said Davern, representing the newly-formed community group A New Foster Avenue. "The people are getting in the way of the cars on Foster Avenue."
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 70 people packed a small conference room Wednesday night at the North Mayfair Public Library to demand action from the alderman.
The majority of the discussion focused on the portion of Foster Avenue that separates Mayfair residents from Gompers Park, making it hazardous to access the green space. But neighbors east and west of Pulaski Road were united in their call for a roadway that gives equal consideration to autos, bikes and pedestrians.
"A complete street is what we would like to achieve," said Davern, referring to a policy promoted by the Chicago Department of Transportation, in which streets are designed for the safety and convenience of all users.
"We're seeking your support on this," he said to Laurino. "We're dreaming here, but you know what? It takes that sometimes."
The alderman noted that "we've been working on Foster Avenue for years," pointing to safety enhancements such as guardrails and red light cameras.
"This continues to be a priority for me," she said.
Malihe Samadi, a coordinating engineer for CDOT, said reconfiguring Foster Avenue is a challenge.
"The problem is the volume of traffic," she said, citing CDOT daily traffic counts of 34,000 vehicles traveling the stretch between Pulaski Road and the Edens Expressway.
"For the most part, the roadway is really congested," Samadi said.
Where were the counts of pedestrians? attendees asked.
"They're talking about traffic and we want to talk about people," Davern said. "They're representing the cars, we're representing the people."
Many were disappointed that Samadi devoted most of her presentation to refuting a "road diet" proposal posted to A New Foster Avenue's Facebook page. The suggestion, which would shrink the number of auto lanes to one in each direction, was simply intended as a pie-in-the-sky conversation starter, according to the group.
Instead of any significant alteration to Foster Avenue, Samadi recommended tools such as pedestrian stop signs, countdown signals and international crosswalk markings. Attendees rejected those as "run of the mill" modernizations that should be implemented as a matter of routine.
"We're not seeking a Band-Aid," said Davern, expressing frustration with CDOT.
Laurino promised to "go back to the drawing board," taking community feedback into account, but couldn't give a timetable for a follow-up presentation.
"The signal modernization could be years," she cautioned. "I don't think there's an exact panacea."
For Davern, simply getting the issue in front of Laurino counted as a small victory.
"A public meeting is not something that happens a lot," he said.
But the fight continues.
Said Davern, "We're not going to stop until the traffic slows down."