DUNNING — Traffic near a school where two girls were hurt in a hit-and-run crash in February should be slowed by allowing rush-hour parking along Austin Avenue to force cars to travel in one lane in each direction, according to a city study.
The study by engineers from the Chicago Department of Transportation found that conditions did not warrant the installation of a stop sign or traffic signal in the 3400 block of Austin Avenue near Newport Avenue where a 7-year-old girl and her 14-year-old sister were hurt in a hit-and-run crash Feb. 16 just outside Chicago Academy, which includes both a high school and elementary school on its campus, police said.
Instead, engineers recommended allowing rush-hour parking on Austin Avenue from Belmont Avenue to Addison Street to "improve safety along this corridor by reducing sideswipe and rear-end crashes and also calm traffic by physically narrowing the travel lanes," also known as a "road diet," according to the study.
Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) said he would support that recommendation.
"It makes sense to me," Villegas said. "And it won't cost any money."
After the sisters were injured near the intersection, which has no traffic signals or stop signs, Villegas asked officials with the Chicago Department of Transportation to expedite a study of traffic in the area in an effort to improve safety. Villegas said he first requested the study a year ago.
Matthew Lucchini, 26, was charged with drunken driving, leaving the scene of an accident, failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk and negligent driving in connection with the crash that injured the sisters, police said.
At the time of the accident, Lucchini was a physical education teacher at Locke Elementary School in Montclare. He now is on leave from his position, according a Chicago Public Schools spokesman. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 12, court records show.
Although police first identified Lucchini as a Naperville resident, court records show he lives in North Center, within the city limits as required of most Chicago Public Schools teachers.
Another accident occurred near Cornelia and Austin avenues on March 16 when a teenage boy riding a bike lost control and struck a parked car, Villegas said.
City officials plan to install additional speed limit signs and school crossing signs near Chicago Academy, which is run by the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership, to warn drivers to slow down, according to the study.
Villegas unveiled the recommendations at a community meeting Thursday, where he said some residents were disappointed by the lack of a recommendation for a stop sign.
But if a stop sign was installed on Austin Avenue, it could increase rear-end crashes, increase congestion and "create a false sense of security for pedestrians that every vehicle will stop," according to the study.
Between 2012 and 2014, one pedestrian was hit in an accident that took place as students were leaving school. Four other crashes occurred at the intersection in the same time period, according to the study.
In addition to removing the parking restrictions, Villegas said he was working with city officials to reassign a crossing guard now stationed at Roscoe Street and Austin Avenue — where there is a traffic light — to Cornelia and Austin avenues, where there are no traffic control devices.
Once the rush-hour parking restrictions are removed, there would be enough space to have a bike lane in each direction, according to the study.
Installing bike lanes from Belmont Avenue to Addison Street would cost $50,000 and cross over into the 30th Ward, represented by Ald. Ariel Reboyras.
Villegas said he would put the proposal for bike lanes on the participatory budget vote set to start later this month, and let residents of the ward — which includes Portage Park, Dunning and Belmont-Cragin — decide whether to use the alderman's discretionary budget to fund the project.
In addition, the study found that the area might qualify for a speed camera to catch lead-footed drivers.
Villegas said residents who want a speed camera should contact his office by email at email@example.com or by calling 773-745-4636.
"Those cameras are a real deterrent," Villegas said. "Those $100 tickets hurt."
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