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Car crash renews safety concerns about Ridge

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Thursday’s pedestrian accident on Ridge Avenue that left a father and his 5-year-old son seriously injured has renewed safety concerns about Evanston’s most heavily travelled north-south roadway.

Evanston Public Works Director Suzette Robinson says the intersection at Grove Avenue, where the pedestrians were struck by a southbound minivan as they walked to Dewey School, is not marked as a pedestrian crosswalk.

It’s also just a block in either direction from signalized intersections. And the safe walk to school maps developed by the city and School District 65 encourage the use of Lake Street, one block south, as the route to Dewey, because crossing guards are posted at its major intersections .

“My heart goes out to the child and the parent” injured in the accident, Robinson says, “but we don’t have any easy answers” about what to do with Ridge Avenue.

Top: A map showing safe walk routes to Dewey School in orange, intersections with crossing guards (shown with school crossing signs) and intersections with traffic signals (with red circles). Above: The minivan that a father became trapped under Thursday as he walked his son to school. 

She noted that she’s had informal discussions recently with an alderman and some residents along Ridge about changing the street from its current four-lane configuration to one that would have two traffic lanes, a center turn lane and bike lanes at the edge of the pavement.

But traffic studies done a few years ago concluded that the road carries too much traffic to work in that configuration — without shifting more traffic onto other north-south routes like Asbury Avenue, Chicago Avenue or Sheridan Road.

Any changes to Ridge also have to contend with many competing interests — including preservationists who several years ago blocked installation of mast-arm traffic signals to replace traditional post-top stop lights and who would resist any effort to change the traditional Tallmadge street lights or to widen the unusually narrow traffic lanes on Ridge.

A report presented to City Council last summer showed that pedestrian accidents in Evanston have declined by half in the past two decades, but more than 50 people were still struck by cars in the city last year.

From 2009 throuhg 2011 there were three pedestrian accidents along the stretch of Ridge from Church to Dempster streets — one each at Church, Davis and Lake, the public works director says.

Robinson said she’s familiar with Wilmette’s decision to reduce Green Bay Road and Sheridan Road to two traffic lanes — and that she travels down Green Bay herself every day.

The lane reduction has slowed commuting times on Green Bay, Robinson said. “I get through easily, but not quickly. I just have to make sure I’m not in a hurry,” she added.

But, at least in the view of many pedestrians who have to cross the street, hurrying is just what the current roadway configuration on Ridge seems to enourage drivers to do.

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