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IDOT to lower speed limit on 47th Street

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August 20, 2009 By JANE MICHAELS

The Illinois Department of Transportation has agreed to lower the speed limit to 30 from 35 mph along 47th Street between Gilbert and East avenues in La Grange, following a pedestrian fatality in May.

Rep. Jim Durkin, R-82nd, of Western Springs announced Aug. 20 that IDOT officials agreed to the change following a traffic speed study completed earlier in the week, just nine days after the La Grange Village Board authorized the study Aug. 10.

“My history of requests from IDOT, my batting average, hasn't always been this good. This is a welcome decision,” Durkin said, acknowledging the joint effort of Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-21st, of Chicago, in pressing for the speed reduction.

The decision followed meetings between IDOT representatives, La Grange officials and Durkin and Zalewski. Neighborhood residents also clamored for increased safety measures at a town meeting, after a young mother of two children, Cari Cook of Countryside, was struck while crossing 47th Street at 8th Avenue May 19.

“IDOT understood we can't allow that tragedy to happen again. They listened to us and expedited a traffic study,” Durkin said. “We weren't going to let this carry on for an unreasonable amount of time. We wanted to get something back by the time school started.”

Durkin said new speed limit signs are expected to be posted by Sept. 2.

“We needed to slow things down,” he said. “The goal is to extend that reduced speed limit all the way down to the county line through Western Springs.”

Durkin said he will push for a study to also reduce the speed limit in Western Springs to 30 from 35 mph, based on first-hand experience.

“I live four houses from 47th Street, and I've seen enough car accidents in the past eight years that I know we need to slow things down,” he said.

In addition, Durkin said he and Zalewsi are supporting La Grange's efforts to reduce the speed limit on Ogden Avenue with its narrow sidewalks and throngs of students walking to and from two elementary schools and a junior high. Official have suggested reducing the speed to 25 from 30 mph on Ogden Avenue which, like 47th Street, is maintained and controlled by the state.

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Husband questions enforcement on 47th Street

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August 11, 2009

The La Grange Village Board Monday agreed to fund three traffic studies to improve pedestrian safety at two crossings and along 47th Street where Cari Cook was struck and killed east of La Grange Road in May.

Matt Cook, Cari's husband, acknowledged the initiatives, but pressed for details of the studies, when they would conclude and what would be done to protect pedestrians in the meantime.

"I've visited 47th Street where I lost my wife half a dozen times in the last few weeks," Cook told the board. "On the signs that show how fast cars are going, I saw some at 46, 49 and 51 mph. I haven't seen any increased enforcement.

"Are we doing anything more than before with regard to enforcement?"

Village President Liz Asperger responded that enforcement of the speed limit, currently 35 mph, continues to be a priority while the approval process advances to lower the limit to 25 or 35 mph on the state-controlled road.

"Unfortunately, unless a squad car is parked at every corner, we won't get everyone who violates the law," Asperger said.

Cook, who lives just south of La Grange in Countryside, also questioned the status of a citizens commission to improve pedestrian safety, which had been proposed by board member Mike Horvath, who was absent Monday.

Asperger said the group is still in the planning stages while officials determine the commission's make-up and role. Membership should include school officials and parents, who likely will be more available soon after school begins Aug. 24, she said.

Although Asperger suggested the commission would play a key role in communicating pedestrian safety measures and educating residents, Cook said the group also should do more by compiling citizen concerns and brainstorming solutions.

Board member Jim Palermo said he frequently visits 9th Avenue and 47th Street to gauge the effectiveness of increased signage there as the first step in enhancing the crosswalk.

"Forty-seventh Street remains problematic. More needs to be done with enforcement," Palermo said." We're getting there with engineering studies, curb cuts and traffic studies. But education are enforcement are key in the weeks, months and years ahead to ensure safer streets in La Grange."

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Motorist in Cari Cook death pleads guilty to traffic charges at early hearing without Cook family present

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The motorist charged with two minor traffic offenses resulting from an accident in which a young Countryside mother was struck and killed May 19 while crossing 47th St with her two small children pled guilty Monday to both charges in Cook County Circuit Court in Bridgeview.

But family members and friends of Cari Cook, the 29-year-old woman who died in the accident, were not in attendance when the motorist, Mary McPhillips, 45, of Chicago, pled guilty at a traffic division hearing before Judge Maureen Feerick for failing to exercise due care for a pedestrian and improper lane usage.

Although the Cook group, numbering about a dozen, arrived in time for the scheduled hearing at 10:30 a.m., McPhillips and her attorney had arrived earlier and persuaded the judge to conduct the hearing during the court's 9:00 a.m. session.

La Grange Police Chief Mike Holub today said officers planning to attend the 10:30 hearing also were not informed of the switch.

In response to McPhillips' guilty pleas, Judge Feerick assessed her court costs and granted supervision, according to John Kenney, the village prosecutor, who was present at the hearing. Kenney said he did not recall that any additional fines were imposed and explained that supervision involves a period of time during which a motorist must maintain a clean driving record or face further court action. He said he also did not recall how long a period of supervision was ordered by the judge.

The hearing concluded and McPhillips departed before the group arrived at the courthouse, Matt Cook, Cari's husband, said today.

Cook said he others in the group were "extremely disappointed" at missing the hearing.

"We were denied the closure that the family really needed," he said. "It is what we really expected to have, some closure. We wanted to be there to support my wife and close the door on this chapter."

Kenney said that traffic court operates under different rules than those used in criminal cases, where a victim's family has the right to express their feelings and concerns before a sentence is meted out.

Although McPhillips was found responsible for Cook's death, she was not charged with any criminal counts in the accident. An investigation by state, county and village police determined that McPhillips had not acted in reckless or negligent manner resulting in Cook's death, Kenney said.

Nonetheless, Matt Cook said he is troubled by a legal system that addresses traffic violations without taking into account the full scope of the tragedy that resulted. "The traffic violations may be minor, but a loss of life is not," he said.

Court supervision is not adequate, Cook said. But he was at a loss to suggest might further penalties should have been imposed.

Asked to comment on what McPhillips told the judge upon entering her guilty pleas, Kenney said that her demeanor was "serious" befitting the occasion. But Kenney said he did not hear any expressions of remorse from McPhillips regarding Cari Cook's death.

"If she did say something it was out of my earshot," Kenney said.

McPhillips' guilty pleas likely open the door for a civil lawsuit seeking compensation related to the accident. Matt Cook today declined to comment on whether further legal action was planned.

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