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South Side corridor a hot spot for pedestrian crashes

79th   Cottage Grove corner with high number pedestrian crashes. Tuesday September 4 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

79th & Cottage Grove, a corner with a high number of pedestrian crashes. Tuesday, September 4, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 6, 2012 1:50PM

Antonio Barnes has a strategy whenever he’s near one of Chicago’s most-dangerous areas for pedestrians: a four-lane stretch of Cottage Grove Avenue between 79th and 80th streets on the South Side.

“I stand like two squares away from the curb,” said Barnes, 30. “It’s scary just standing on the corner, just waiting on the bus.”

That’s because drivers don’t seem to notice the people streaming in and out of clothing, grocery and liquor stores at both intersections — or other pedestrians who are waiting for buses.

“Drivers here, they’re talking on the phone. They’re not paying attention, and they’re running lights,” said Samella Parker, 61, a bus commuter. “Everybody’s in a hurry. You get the right of way but you gotta run across the street if you don’t want to get hit.”

Barnes and Parker are smart to be cautious around there.

Four of the 20 most crash-prone intersections for pedestrians in Chicago lie within a two-mile corridor along 79th Street, according to a Chicago Department of Transportation analysis.

And 79th and Cottage Grove and 79th and Halsted are among the four intersections with the highest number of fatal and incapacitating injury crashes involving pedestrians from 2005 to 2010, according to state transportation department data analyzed by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Both recorded eight serious pedestrian crashes in that period.

The intersection of 80th and Cottage Grove had more than a half-dozen serious-injury crashes in that time, too.

State and city data show the area bounded by 63rd Street to the north, 79th Street to the south, California to the west and Stony Island to the east is a massive hot spot for pedestrian crashes, including hit-and-runs.

On Feb. 28, for example, Alliyah Kalimullahdun, 15, came out of a CVS store near 80th and Ashland and was hit by a minivan as it headed north on Ashland. The driver got out of the van, stopped to look at the teen lying in the street and then got back in the van to speed away. The teen died from massive head trauma and road rash on her face and arms.

Police say the driver, his passenger and the minivan haven’t been found.

Also this year, 72-year-old Juanita Myles died after being hit by a driver with a revoked license. Myles was walking near 63rd and Carpenter in the afternoon on Jan. 17 when she was hit.

The driver, 26-year-old Kimberly Owens, didn’t stop after hitting Myles. Police found her a week later and charged her with failing to report an accident and driving on a revoked license. Myles died from her injuries five days after the crash.

Between 2005 and 2009, hit-and-run crashes accounted for 33 percent of all pedestrian crashes and 40 percent of all fatal pedestrian crashes in Chicago, according to the city’s 2011 Pedestrian Crash Analysis report. By comparison, hit-and-run crashes account for 20 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes nationwide.

The report analyzed factors linked to fatal and serious-injury pedestrian crashes citywide and found that “areas in Chicago with higher incidences of crime were more likely to see higher numbers of these most serious pedestrian crashes.”

Another factor: 53 percent of pedestrian crashes within high-crash corridors happened on four-lane roadways compared to 26 percent of crashes citywide.

City officials hope to combat pedestrian crashes in those corridors by putting them on “road diets” — reducing the number of lanes of traffic to force drivers to slow down.

“Studies have shown that when roads are more narrowly defined, drivers slow down,” CDOT deputy commissioner Luann Hamilton said. “The more friction that’s being created between them and parked cars and the bike lanes, the space is more narrowly defined and drivers tend to slow down in the intersection.”

On Cottage Grove, speed isn’t the only problem, according to people who live nearby. Red-light running is common at both 79th and 80th streets — even though 79th and Cottage is equipped with red-light cameras.

Kimicoe Bosley lives above a clothing store near that intersection. She says she frequently watches cars “creep” into the middle of the intersection on a red light, late at night. Drivers watch for cops, don’t see them and cruise on through.

It’s reason enough for Bosley, 33, to be careful while walking down the street to catch a bus to work at Midway Airport.

“I’ve been on the South Side my whole life and I know 79th has a reputation for being one of the craziest streets,” Bosley said. “You have to be careful because it’s crazy out here. You have to be aware of everything around you.”

Contributing: Chris Fusco

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