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Speed Cameras Get a Warm Welcome at Foster Avenue Safety Meeting

By Patty Wetli | July 26, 2013 11:28am
 Speeds cameras are among the "traffic-calming" measures for Foster Avenue announced by the Chicago Department of Transportation and Ald. Margaret Laurino.
Foster Avenue Safety
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MAYFAIR — If speed cameras have met with cynicism and criticism in other parts of the city, they've found more than a few fans among residents of the Mayfair community.

"They will be welcome in the 39th Ward," Ald. Margaret Laurino said.

In a meeting with constituents, Laurino outlined a number of measures — speed cameras among them — her office is coordinating with the Chicago Department of Transportation to address safety concerns on the stretch of Foster Avenue between Pulaski Road and the Edens Expy.

Traffic speeds, lack of signs and disregard for pedestrians were among the dangers residents broached at a prior forum in April, where they painted a portrait of a series of near-miss crashes that had neighbors fearing for their lives just attempting to cross the thoroughfare, particularly in the vicinity of Gompers Park, 4222 W. Foster Ave.

David Pulsipher, coordinating planner for CDOT, confirmed that the area surrounding Gompers is indeed hazardous.

As the city analyzes "safety zones" for where speed cameras will be placed — a one-eighth-mile buffer around the city's parks and schools — Pulsipher said data showed 200 crashes had occurred near Gompers between 2009 and 2011.

With added weight given to crashes involving children and excessive speed, the area around Gompers ranked 33rd out of nearly 1,500 across the city, Pulsipher said, making it a prime candidate for the first wave of speed camera deployment.

Foster "is a unique combination of being a narrow right-of-way and a high-volume right-of-way," he said. "I really think the speed camera is going to have significant effect. People are going to slow down."

Installation is expected by late August or early September, but the camera's exact location hasn't been determined, he said.

In the meantime, police have ramped up patrols along Foster, issuing 161 tickets during eight crosswalk "stings" conducted since April, according to Carlin Thomas, CDOT's enforcement officer.

"You don't have to live here, you don't have to work here ... to see what's going on," said Chicago Police Capt. Thomas Karnick of the Albany Park District.

The Police Department's Traffic Safety Unit was assigned to Foster almost daily in April and May, writing tickets for violations ranging from speeding to failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk, Karnick said.

"People flying back and forth every day, they get the hint the police are here," he said.

In addition to enforcement efforts, an upcoming resurfacing project along Foster Avenue, set to start in August, will incorporate high-visibility crosswalk markers and refreshed signs, said Luann Hamilton, CDOT deputy commissioner, who also attended the meeting.

Longer-term safety improvements will include pedestrian countdown signals as well as a new kind of traffic signal that stops autos in all directions for a few seconds to give pedestrians a head start on crossing the street. (To see one of the signals in action, head to  Western and Wilson avenues.)

Intersections at Foster and Tripp and Foster and Kostner have been initially slated for these improvements, beginning next year.

"I think everything they proposed is good. They're good practices based on sound principles," said Michael Stirk, the driving force behind A New Foster Avenue, a community group that formed earlier this year to spur increased safety measures.

The group originally called for a "complete street" approach to Foster Avenue, in which equal consideration would be given to autos, bikes and pedestrians. A "road diet" similar to the one planned for Lawrence Avenue — auto lanes are reduced to make way for bikes and wider sidewalks — was among their proposed solutions.

City engineers explored the option, but because Foster is just 42 feet wide — Lawrence Avenue, by comparison, is 60 feet wide — it doesn't have the girth needed for a road diet, Hamilton said.

"The numbers don't work to be able to do a road diet physically," she said.

Laurino emphasized that plans for Foster are still a work in progress and promised to maintain a dialogue with the community.

"We all understand how treacherous city streets can be," she said. "We're doing our best to slow people down."