There’s a steady stream of pedestrians most days between 3 and 6 p.m. at the corner of Cicero Avenue and Madison Street.
It’s a busy intersection thanks to the CTA bus stops on both streets and two El stops not far away. All that foot traffic has caused safety concerns for pedestrians and bicyclists, landing that Austin corner and another along Cicero on a newly-released list of the “10 most dangerous intersections in Chicago.”
The corner of Cicero and Chicago avenues also made the list, compiled by the Active Transportation Alliance. This isn’t the first time an Austin intersection has received such a distinction. In 2012, the neighborhood ranked No. 2 out of Chicago’s 77 community areas for the most life-threatening pedestrian traffic crashes, according to a list compiled by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDT).
The Active Transportation Alliance list was compiled from data gathered by the Illinois Department of Transportation between 2006 and 2012. During that time, there were 156 car crashes at Cicero and Madison, and of those crashes, 31 involved pedestrians or bicyclists.
At Cicero and Chicago, there were 155 crashes — 38 of which involved pedestrians or bicyclists. It’s not surprisingly these Austin corners are among the most dangerous city wide, experts say.
“Some engineers years ago were way too simplistic when designing complex intersections,” said Joseph Schwieterman, professor and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaulUniversity.
An increase in the number of drivers who think they can multitask even at a busy intersection hasn’t helped either, Schwieterman added.
“(Engineers) assumed motorists would be hyper-attentive 24 hours a day, and that was wishful thinking,” he said, adding that it isn’t likely that reworking intersections to make them safer will lower the number of pedestrian accidents.
“The city set kind of an unreasonable goal, saying they want pedestrian accidents to go to zero. That’s more of a moral statement than it is a realistic policy objective, said Schwieterman, referring to Chicago’s Pedestrian Plan, an initiative introduced in 2012 by the CDT.
It aims to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent every five years and eliminate pedestrian fatalities within 10 years. On average, there are roughly 3,000 crashes a year involving vehicles and pedestrians, resulting in an average of 50 deaths each year, according to the department.
The CDT did not answer questions about how city officials intend to make the Austin intersections safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. But in a written statement, Peter Scales, the department’s director of public affairs, noted that the Chicago Pedestrian Plan identifies needed infrastructure treatments, such as improved crosswalks and signalization.
Improvements, according to Scales, are being made across the city, and the goal is to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within 10 years. There have been 21 pedestrian deaths so far this year, and in 2013, there were a total of 29 pedestrian deaths, according to reports.
Alfonzo Peterson, a counselor at the University of Illinois at Chicago Community Outreach Intervention Project, which is located at Madison and Cicero, said he has seen a number of accidents near his office.
“(It’s) one of the busiest parts of the city as far as negative activity,” Peterson said, noting how prostitutes and drug dealers often walk through the area.
And he adds that although the speed limit is 30 miles per hour, people tend to go 50 or even 60 on the weekend. Peterson said police need to be more visible because when drivers see the patrol cars, they’re more inclined to drive slower.
Ald. Jason C. Ervin (28th) said the Madison/Cicero intersection has been a concern for some elderly constituents.
“Madison is troubling, and I have seniors that have complained mostly about driver behavior,” Ervin said. “There’s some definite driver education and there’s some definite pedestrian education that needs to occur.”
Ervin said he plans to work with the transportation alliance to make the intersection safer. Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) did not respond to calls or emails for a comment about the Cicero and Chicago intersection, which resides in her ward.
Kyle Whitehead, campaign director for Active Transportation Alliance, holds a similar view.
“Nobody knows the intersections better than the people that live in those communities, so our initial step is to try to just learn more about what their experience is like with the intersection,” Whitehead said.
The alliance’s “Safe Crossings Campaign” will gather input from businesses in the area, as well as community organizations and city officials, in an effort to develop solutions. The first step in the process, Whitehead explained, is to survey each area for its specific needs.
“We’re looking to get out in the field because what works at one intersection is not going to necessarily work at another,” he said. Cynthia Hudson, the alliance’s community liaison, said the group will be exploring such things as countdown timers at every corner.