CHICAGO — The City Council is set to vote Wednesday to lift rush-hour parking restrictions along a 1½-mile stretch of Central Avenue on the city's Northwest Side, turning the street into a full-time single-lane street.
Ald. John Arena (45th) had already proposed lifting the restrictions between Higgins Avenue and the southern limit of his ward at Eastwood Avenue after the Nov. 13 crash that killed 2-year-old Noah Katz.
"Now that I've done my due diligence and met with [the Chicago Department of Transportation], I'm ready to move forward on this," Sposato said Tuesday. "I'm all about safety, and it looks like this could calm some of the traffic and stop people from driving like maniacs out there."
Transportation officials are pushing to remove parking restrictions — effectively eliminating a traffic lane during rush hour — on Central as far south as Belmont Avenue, but first they need approval from Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th) and Ald. Ariel Reboyras (30th), transportation department spokesman Michael Claffey said.
Cutting down lanes is part of a citywide effort to slow motorists and make roads more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, Claffey wrote in an email. Beyond reducing collisions and opening up more parking for businesses, the new designations will "enable other projects such as bicycle facilities and bump-outs," he wrote.
Arena had already planned to place pedestrian bump-outs — widened sidewalks that extend out into the street — at the intersection of Central Avenue and Giddings Street, where Katz was struck. He'll aim to get them built by the spring, his chief of staff said.
The alderman called the rush-hour parking restrictions an "old model," saying they've done little to ease congestion but instead introduce a host of other problems.
"When you open a traffic lane right at the curb line like that, you're killing your pedestrian traffic, because no one wants to walk three feet from a car that's going 40 miles per hour," Arena said. "It's incredibly intimidating to pedestrians, and some of the businesses even get water and salt sprayed up onto their properties from the cars that go whizzing past them."
Arena supports Mayor Rahm Emanuel's broad effort to squeeze traffic and encourage people to walk, bike or use public transportation, he said. He's already moved to cut Milwaukee Avenue down to one lane in each direction north of Addison Street, and he's eyeing multiple sites for pedestrian "refuge islands" in the middle of wide thoroughfares.
"I truly believe you can still get around the city in a reasonable amount of time at 25 or 30 miles per hour, instead of zooming out to 40 just so you can get to the next light and wait," he said. "When that happens, you have a safer environment that's a lot more business-friendly ... because you're getting more foot traffic."
Sposato, for his part, said he'd wait to see how Central turns out before he proposes reducing traffic lanes on any other streets in his ward. But he's encouraged by the effect of tighter lane boundaries on Irving Park Road, resulting the city's water main replacement project there, he said.
"There's been a marked improvement in safety, for sure," Sposato said. "People are actually staying in their lanes ... it doesn't look like the Autobahn out there anymore."
After the council acts Wednesday, transportation workers will likely take at least two months to remove parking restriction signs on Central, officials said.
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