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Hitch Sidewalk Bump-outs To Improve 'Hazardous' Intersection, Officials Say

By Alex Nitkin | August 1, 2017 8:50am
 Parents have spent years lobbying local officials for safety improvements at the busy intersection of Austin and Bryn Mawr avenues.
Parents have spent years lobbying local officials for safety improvements at the busy intersection of Austin and Bryn Mawr avenues.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

JEFFERSON PARK — Like many parents of students at Hitch Elementary, Maggie Baran has a horror story to tell about the intersection of Austin and Bryn Mawr avenues.

One morning in 2016, she was crossing Austin with her sons Michael and Jonah — now heading into 4th grade and kindergarten, respectively — when a car swerved around a stopped car and came inches from hitting them.

"We've had encounters like that since Michael was in kindergarten," said Baran, who also serves as vice chair of the Local School Council at Hitch, 5625 N. McVicker Ave. "And you hear all kinds of anecdotes from parents about times they got clipped."

But this year, city workers will break ground on a project aimed at preventing the sort of collision that almost befell Baran and her sons.

A pair of 12-foot sidewalk extensions known as "bump-outs" will swallow the Austin Avenue parking lanes on each side of Bryn Mawr, shrinking crosswalks and funneling cars into a single file on each side.

The project will also include fresh crosswalk stripes and "pedestrian crossing" signs at the four-way intersection, Ald. John Arena (45th) told parents Monday at a public meeting held to discuss the plan.

"This particular cut-through gets a lot of traffic coming from the [Kennedy] Expressway, with people trying to avoid traffic bottlenecks, and it creates a lot of hazardous interactions," Arena said. "So by creating a safer crossing, you're funneling [foot] traffic to this one place, that cars will see as an expected point for pedestrians."

After the project failed to win enough votes on the ward's 2016 participatory budgeting ballot, members of the school's Local School Council wrote a letter to city transportation chief Rebekah Scheinfeld asking for the intersection "to be evaluated and undergo needed safety improvements."

Arena relayed the plea to Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, who this month set aside $75,000 from her district's $500,000 transportation budget to see the project through. Most of that pool is typically poured into the 80 miles of road that the county maintains inside the city, but Gainer is keying in on more neighborhood-focused proposals forged at the ward level, she said Monday.

"Usually, we're just looking at large projects like bridges or traffic lights, but this year...we're looking at items that are more targeted, but have the biggest possible impacts on quality of life," Gainer said.

Another chunk of Gainer's budget will fund a similar bump-out project in Edgewater on the city's Far North Side, she said.

Both projects square with the county's renewed focus on pedestrian access and public transit, while drawing inspiration from parents like Baran instead of Downtown bureaucrats, according to county transportation Supt. John Yonan, who also spoke at Monday's meeting.

"The community knows their needs, and they know what kind of impact a project is going to have on traffic," Yonan said after the meeting. "So when you plug in the alderman and get the community involved, you can really get all hands on deck and figure out which funding streams you can use to get there."

Earlier this year, Arena announced a plan for bump-outs and bike lanes around the intersection of Central and Giddings avenues, where 2-year-old Noah Katz was fatally struck by a turning van last November.

Officials haven't offered a timeline for the Hitch project yet, but Arena suggested that the work could begin within the next few months.

"The fact that the money is lined up means that we can start pushing [Scheinfeld] to get started right away," the alderman said. "Nothing is prettier to them than a funded project."