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Making roads, especially 47th Street, safer takes everybody’s cooperation

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It’s a basic four-lane road. Except it isn’t so basic.

47th Street is, like many arterial roadways in the Chicago area, a busily traveled thoroughfare that slices through several communities. But for many of us who live in La Grange, 47th street is a lightning rod of sorts, attracting controversy and, sadly, tragedy.

People are injured and killed on streets virtually every day in this country and probably even in our major metropolitan area. But when residents are hurt or die from injuries sustained when crossing one particular street in the village, it becomes a big deal.

There are still flowers and a cross marking the spot where young mom Cari Cook was killed crossing 47th with her children in 2009. This last weekend, a local tennis tournament was held in the name of Emily Kandemir, who died in 2003 when crossing her bike at 47th Street and Willow Springs Road. Headlines in this newspaper refer to a 9-year-old girl who was struck by a car as she and her brother attempted to leave Waiola Park after this year’s July 3 fireworks show.

That girl’s mother, Bobbie Goettler, says the need to emphasize safety along 47th Street is as strong as ever.

“As my husband said, ‘You don’t want every crosswalk on 47th Street to be a memorial.’ It’s time to prevent the next major accident,” declares Goettler, who says that her daughter is slowly improving after suffering a concussion and some brain swelling.

As I’ve written in this column before, I’ve seen countless near-misses involving vehicles and pedestrians, joggers and cyclists on 47th. I can’t stand the idea of letting my children cross that road unsupervised, no matter how old they are.

That sentiment is shared.

“After my daughter was hit, I talked to several parents who said, ‘I hate that street. I will never allow my kids to cross it alone,’” Goettler says.

That said, there are two sides to every street, as it may be.

Michael Holub, chief of the La Grange Police Department, says that 47th Street is unique because of the spacing of the lights. ”It’s a long way between marked intersections,’ he says, noting that, in comparison, stoplights are closer together across Ogden Avenue.

Still, he notes, cars barreling down 47th Street at high rates of speed aren’t the pinpointed cause of serious accidents involving pedestrians. Several traffic studies conducted in town have shown that the average vehicle speed along 47th is 33 miles per hour, according to Holub.

In the final analysis, myriad factors have contributed to accidents on 47th and the general unease residents feel when navigating that route on foot or on two wheels.

For one thing, while they may not be speeding, many drivers are prone to distraction.

“In general, you have so many people on their cell phones and impatient when they drive, wanting to get there even a half second earlier,” says Goettler.

Pedestrians and cyclists can be more careful, too. Just recently, I saw a dad pushing a jogging stroller who I felt cut it way too close when he crossed 47th without a light or crossing. Earlier this month, during the power outage when the streets were pitch black, I was scared out of my wits to encounter a man — dressed in dark clothing without any reflectors — jogging into a crossing at 47th as I was trying to make a left-hand turn after 9 p.m.

Holub has witnessed similar situations: “I saw a young mom yesterday, with two kids in a wagon crossing 47th Street one block off the light at La Grange Road.’”

In my admittedly humble opinion, it seems that a combination of safety measures may help cut down on trouble along 47th Street. People of all ages can and should look both ways when crossing and only cross when it’s totally clear. Drivers should drive defensively, reducing distractions and exercising patience.

Continued strong enforcement by police and extra patrols during special events like the fireworks or Pet Parade can also help guard against future incidents. Meanwhile, a proposed crosswalk at 47th Street and Waiola Avenue is awaiting final funding and implementation, something I hope will make people more cautious all the way around.

“I definitely think a crosswalk is needed. Waiola is a popular park and there are so many families with children that live north of 47th who would like to go there,” says Goettler.

Ultimately and hopefully, keeping 47th street safety in the public consciousness can help make it safer as well.

“You’re not going to be able to use that roadway as if it were a side street but if people are talking about it, it may raise awareness,” says Holub.

Goettler, as she helps daughter recover, also underscores a collaborative, multifaceted and proactive approach.

“It’s not just raising awareness for officials, but raising community awareness, in the fact that this little girl was hit. In a community like this, which is so family focused, you can pull together to effect change.”

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Cari Lyn Cook (Stevens)

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