“Road Diet” unlikely for Foster
By JASON PORTERFIELD
Safety improvements including red light cameras, new pavement markings and improved traffic signals are being studied as possible ways to slow traffic on Foster Avenue, Chicago Department of Transportation officials told a standing-room-only crowd at a meeting held on April 10 by Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) at the Mayfair Library, 4400 W. Lawrence Ave.
Most of the discussion was focused on improving safety for pedestrians along the stretch of Foster Avenue running between Pulaski Road on the east and the Edens Expressway on the west, where the busy street bisects Gompers Park, 4222 W. Lawrence Ave., and borders on the south end of the LaBagh Woods forest preserve.
Several residents described close calls that they have had with speeding drivers and motorists who ran red lights while they were trying to cross the street.
Laurino said that her office has been working on improving safety on Foster Avenue by installing guardrails and red light cameras and increasing police enforcement at times to cut down on speeding. The posted speed limit for that stretch of Foster is 30 miles per hour.
“I don’t think that there’s really an exact panacea here that we’re going to come across,” Laurino said. “It’s always an issue that we have to revisit year after year and month after month and tweak to see if we can incorporate some of the new safety methods that have evolved.”
Residents suggested projects such as installing pedestrian overpasses and new traffic signals at intersections and installing red-light cameras at intersections. Several residents spoke in favor of the city implementing “road diet” for Foster west of Pulaski that would slow traffic by narrowing the road to one lane in each direction with a central turn lane.
Steve Davern of the recently formed group A Better Foster Avenue, which is advocating implementation of a road diet, described the group’s concept. Davern said that the focus of efforts should be on making the street more pedestrian-friendly and on the safety and convenience of bicyclists and pedestrians.
Davern said that he became involved in the effort to improve safety along Foster after his daughter was nearly struck by a Chicago Transit Authority bus that went through a red light as she attempted to cross the street.
City traffic engineer Malihe Samadi said that an average of 34,000 cars travel that portion of Foster each day and that the roadway is 42 feet wide. Samadi and that the volume of traffic and the narrowness of the street make the road diet unworkable and that a road diet likely would send more cars onto the neighborhood’s side streets as drivers seek cut-through routes to other arterial streets.
Samadi said that instead of a drastic reconfiguration of Foster Avenue, the Department of Transportation recommends a series of smaller improvements meant to calm traffic. They include new pavement and pavement markings, high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian signs, signal modernization and speed feedback signs that would tell drivers how fast they are going.
Several residents expressed frustration with the suggestions made by department, saying that they did not go far enough to slow or reduce traffic. Residents said that the road diet proposal was meant to start a dialogue and that the recommendations made by the city seem to be oriented more toward bringing Foster Avenue up to standard for moving traffic than toward making changes that would protect pedestrians.
One resident suggested that pedestrian overpasses be built to help people access the park from the south side of the street. Department of Transportation deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton said that people often have to go out of their way to use pedestrian bridges and that the cost of engineering and building such bridges is prohibitive.
Residents also suggested that red light cameras be installed. Hamilton said that the city decides where to place the cameras based on crash data and that the intersections near Gompers Park do not qualify for them.
Hamilton said that while it is unlikely that red light cameras would be installed in the area to join the cameras at the intersection of Foster and Pulaski, speed cameras could be installed based on the proximity of the street to the park and to schools. She said that speed cameras, which trigger the ticketing of vehicles traveling at more than five miles an hour over the speed limit, would ticket “many more” drivers than red light cameras and would serve as a deterrent.
Other residents said that safety along the portion of Foster Avenue east of Pulaski Road also should be considered and cited the proximity of Field Park, 5100 N. Ridgeway Ave. Laurino said that any plan for improving safety would look at the entire street.