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This six-block stretch of LaSalle has averaged one pedestrian fatality a year

It’s time to get serious about fixing the street between Schiller and Chicago.

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Days after a man was fatally struck by a hit-and-run SUV driver in River North, there were still chunks of road salt on the west side of LaSalle Street just north of Chicago Avenue. According to a security guard at a nearby building, city workers hosed the victim's blood off the street after the crash and spread the salt to keep the pavement from icing over in the freezing weather.

According to police, 23-year-old Phillip "Philly" Lovato Jr. was in a crosswalk at the intersection at about 4 AM on Sunday, November 20, when he was run over by the southbound driver of a white 2016 Jeep Compass with the Indiana license plate number BU3440. The driver continued south without stopping to render aid.

Levato, of the 1300 block of West 32nd Place in Bridgeport, was transported to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead at 4:35 AM, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office. Then, on Wednesday, November 23, 26-year-old Kyle Hawkins of the 2600 block of South 13th Avenue in Broadview turned himself in to Chicago police, the department says. Hawkins was charged with a felony for failing to report an accident resulting in a death.

Levato was at least the fourth pedestrian fatally struck within the last four years on this six-block stretch of LaSalle between Chicago, at 800 North, and Schiller, at 1400 North, making it one of the deadliest sections of roadway in the city. It appears that the layout of LaSalle, a broad, five-lane road that essentially functions as an extension of Lake Shore Drive, was a contributing factor in these tragedies.

On Sunday, March 24, 2012, around 2:30 AM, 32-year-old Northwestern University law student Jesse Bradley was crossing LaSalle westbound on Division when he was struck and killed by Bianca Garcia, 21 at the time, who was speeding south, according to police. Garcia, who was found to have twice the legal blood alcohol limit and a cocktail of hard drugs in her system, fled the scene but was soon arrested. She was eventually sentenced to 14 years in prison.

Then, on Saturday, August 30, 2014, at around 2:05 AM, Emily Fredbloom, who worked as a nurse at Northwestern Hospital, was crossing LaSalle westbound on Schiller when she was struck by a 51-year-old taxi driver who was traveling north, police said. The motorist was cited for failure to exercise due care for a pedestrian in the roadway, and failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash. Fredbloom died from her injuries on September 19 of that year.

And three days prior to Fredbloom's passing, on Tuesday, September 16, 2014, around 4:50 AM, a 23-year-old man was attempting to cross LaSalle at Chicago—the same intersection where Levato was killed—when a southbound driver struck him, police said. The man was critically injured but the driver was not cited.

Then on Tuesday, January 12, of this year, at about 11:55 AM, 74-year-old Georgiana Henley was crossing at LaSalle and Division when Home Run Inn pizza-truck driver Carlos Sanchez failed to yield while making a turn and fatally struck her, according to police. Henley died about two hours later. Her family has filed a wrongful death suit.

While most of these crashes took place late at night—which means poor visibility, fatigue, and/or intoxication were more likely causes than if they'd happened earlier in the day—the physical layout of LaSalle and its intersections were probably factors as well.

The problem starts at North Avenue, where the street links up with Lake Shore Drive, taking an S-shaped east-west route through the south end of Lincoln Park. Motorists coming off the Drive tend to pass through the park at expressway speeds. Then, when motorists reach the north-south portion of LaSalle, the street's wide layout and multiple lanes encourage them to treat this surface road like a highway.

—Cem Senel, building manager at 770 N. LaSalle

"LaSalle has some troubling characteristics that are far too common on arterials across the city," says Active Transportation Alliance staffer Kyle Whitehead via e-mail. "The design encourages people driving to speed while increasing the crossing distance for people walking. Corridors like Grand Avenue on the West Side and King Drive on the South Side have similar issues."

Whitehead noted that LaSalle and Chicago, where Levato was killed and the second man was critically injured, is a particularly dangerous junction. Chicago Avenue also has five lanes, and the corners of the intersection are rounded, which makes it easy for motorists to speed through turns.

"This design is particularly inappropriate in congested corridors with large numbers of people walking near downtown," he says.

So what could be done to address these problems? Whitehead says infrastructure like sidewalk bump-outs and pedestrian islands could narrow the turning radii at the intersection, shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and slow down drivers to safer speeds. Other possible traffic-calming strategies include speed feedback signs and traffic cameras (there are no cams on LaSalle north of Kinzie), although automated enforcement is so unpopular with Chicago drivers that we probably won't be seeing new installations anytime soon.

Then, if we're serious about making LaSalle safer, as well as moving people more efficiently through the corridor, a "road diet" that would swap bus and/or bike lanes for two of the five car-lanes would be another solution. The Chicago Department of Transportation generally won't remove mixed-traffic lanes on streets with more than 20,000 average daily motor vehicle trips, but LaSalle north of the river typically sees only 19,500 ADT, according to state traffic counts. Therefore, converting two of the five travel lanes wouldn't create gridlock, but getting rid of that excess capacity for cars would deter speeding.

CDOT spokesman Mike Claffey wouldn't comment on specific strategies to prevent pedestrian fatalities on LaSalle, but he pointed to the city's recently announced Vision Zero initiative, which has the goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2026 via engineering, enforcement and education.

"Through the Vision Zero process, CDOT is analyzing crash data to determine how we can make targeted investments to improve safety at specific locations," he says.

Safety improvements to LaSalle/Chicago can't come soon enough, says Cem Senel, the building manager of a mixed-use tower at the southwest corner of the intersection. Senel learned about Levato death when he arrived for church services at the building that Sunday morning. He says he's heard of a couple other cases where pedestrians were injured at this location on weekend nights.

"Late at night people just fly around the corners," he says. "It's crazy."   v

John Greenfield edits the transportation news website Streetsblog Chicago.

This story was updated Monday, November 28 to reflect new information about the November 20 hit-and-run crash.


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