Meeting held on pedestrian safety issues
by BRIAN NADIG
The Hitch School Local School Council held a special meeting on June 8 to discuss pedestrian safety concerns near both the school and the Gladstone Park Metra Station.
Alderman John Arena (45th) and representatives of the city Department of Transportation, 16th (Jefferson Park) Police District and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications attended the meeting. The emergency management office recently took over the crossing guard program from the Chicago Police Department.
Several LSC members said that there have been problems with a guard not showing up for work at Bryn Mawr and Austin avenues, forcing a school administrator to take over the duty. Concerns also were raised that guards are staying too close to the curb while children are crossing.
OEMC officials said that a new crossing guard has been assigned to the school and that guards are required to give 2 hours notice if they plan to miss work so that a fill-in worker can be assigned. Officials said that guards are instructed to walk out to the middle of the crosswalk when children are crossing.
A parent said that last school year the guard assigned to Northwest Highway and Austin also would assist students across the tracks at the Metra station, which is about 200 feet from the intersection. He said that this year’s guard is not providing that additional assistance.
OMEC officials said that having the same guard monitor the intersection and tracks may not be allowed under the union contract because the locations are too far apart.
LSC parent member Maggie Baran asked school officials to look into whether families living south of the Kennedy Expressway would qualify for a program which provides bus service for children who face special hazards on their walk. There are no crossing gates at the Metra station, 5500 N. Austin Ave.
Also at the meeting, Arena said that he is working with the transportation department on identifying funds for the construction of curb extensions on Bryn Mawr at Austin. The bump-outs were one of the funding proposals on the ward’s 2016 participatory budget ballot, but the item did not receive enough votes.
Arena said that the concrete bump-outs would extend several feet into the street, reducing the length of the crosswalk. He said that they also would help slow down traffic because they would narrow the roadway.
A parent expressed concern that the bump-outs would worsen traffic flow on westbound Bryn Mawr, which becomes congested due to the high volume of vehicles in the morning heading to Taft High School and the Kennedy Expressway.
The bump-outs would reduce the amount of time that pedestrians are in the street, Arena said. "If it cuts off 5 seconds it takes (to cross), we’re actually improving traffic flow," he said.
Rush-hour parking restrictions recently were lifted on Bryn Mawr between Milwaukee Avenue and Northwest Highway to help narrow the roadway and force drivers to reduce their speed, Arena said. The lifting of the parking ban was done in part to address concerns about drivers who use the parking lane to make aggressive maneuvers.
Hitch principal A.J. Stich said that he hopes additional improvements can be implemented soon given that in front of the school there have been two car accidents and a car struck a crossing guard. "Thankfully that is the only human injury we’ve had in the 3 1/2 years I’ve been here," he said.
In other Hitch news, construction of a turf field and a new playlot for children age 2 to 5 is scheduled to start in June on the south portion of the campus and be completed by the end of the summer break.