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Residents demand a safer Ridgeland

  • Written by Tim Hadac

  Worth resident Mary Sue Prendl is not a fan of riding her bike on Ridgeland Avenue.

  “Ridgeland is so inhospitable to people who ride bicycles,’’ she said. “It’s like trying to ride your bike on an expressway.”
  She was one of approximately 40 people who showed up last Thursday night as officials held a Ridgeland Avenue Corridor study meeting at the Palos Heights Recreation Center.
  Prendl said she planned to take full advantage of the opportunity to provide input on the plan.
  “Like some people, I’m just seeing these maps for the first time tonight,” she said after the gathering. “But they said we have a couple of weeks to look over everything and get back to them through the website. I will, and so will my neighbors.”
  The safety of bike riders was a prevailing theme at the meeting, which was attended by Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, Worth Mayor Mary Werner and Palos Township Trustee Brent Woods.
  All the pedestrian— and bicycle-friendly amenities promised for the Ridgeland Avenue Corridor will be useless if government officials don’t stop motorists — particularly drivers of semi-trailer trucks — from routinely speeding on the roadway, a Palos Heights resident said.
  “I’ve lived at the corner of 124th Place and Ridgeland for 31 years, and I’ve seen [Ridgeland] go from two lanes to four lanes,” said Don Schuble. “This [corridor study] is a great idea, an excellent idea. But my concern is the increase in truck traffic on Ridgeland, as well as the speeding—drivers who routinely go 50 miles an hour (10 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit).
  “How is the county going to get around that? How will they ensure the safety of pedestrians and people riding bicycles?” he asked.
  The Ridgeland Avenue Corridor Study “focuses on improving access to transit and developing recommendations that ensure the safe and efficient movement of people while supporting the local residents and economy,” according to materials written by officials at Teska Associates, Inc., the lead agency hired to drive the study forward. “The primary goal is to improve active transportation throughout the area, making Ridgeland Avenue a corridor of choice due to the progressive character of the environment, which includes many quality shops, businesses and public places.”
  The term “active transportation” typically refers to walking, biking and public mass transit—often as a means to encourage physical activity and reduce congestion and emissions from cars and other vehicles.
  The $200,000 study is partially funded by the Regional Transportation Authority and is a planning initiative of the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways. It encompasses a seven-mile stretch of Ridgeland, from 79th to 135th streets.
  The draft plan, available online at ridgelandcorridor.wordpress.com, calls for construction of off-street paths, underpasses and bridges that would accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists alike. It also suggests landscaped medians, curb bump-outs and other measures designed to slow down traffic to ensure compliance with speed limits.
  Schuble’s concern was addressed, in part, by Tara Fifer, a highway engineer for the Cook County Department of Transportation and Highways.
  “We do not restrict truck traffic [on county roads], regardless of whether the surrounding area is commercial or residential,” she said.
  Others at the meeting picked up on Schuble’s point and suggested that county commissioners craft and enact legislation to restrict truck traffic on Ridgeland. The study area includes parts of districts represented by three of the 17 county commissioners: Elizabeth “Liz” Doody Gorman (R-17th), Joan Patricia Murphy (D-6th), and John P. Daley (D-11th).
  Schuble said he has fought the battle over traffic volume and velocity for years with city and county officials, but the problem has only worsened.
  “Now we’re getting semi traffic, heavy semi traffic, almost like you would see on the Tri-State Expressway. They’re using Ridgeland as a pass-through, as a fast road that allows them to avoid Cicero and Harlem avenues. I can’t tell you how many times things on our walls at home have shaken and actually fallen.”
  Schuble said he has even used a radar gun to clock traffic on Ridgeland and found that trucks and others routinely speed at all hours.
  “We have children walking home from Shepard High School—where my children went—down the easement side. They’re taking their lives in their hands,” he said. “People that are trying to drive out of the side streets and merge onto Ridgeland or just walk across the street—we have people using the walking trail over by Trinity College—it’s a nightmare.”
  Schuble alleged that Palos Heights police write tickets for speeders on the west side of Ridgeland Avenue, near the Westgate Valley subdivision, but ignore speeders north of 127th Street.
  “We’ve begged the city to put patrols on Ridgeland Avenue, and it’s fallen on deaf ears,” Schuble claimed. “It’s very frustrating, and I’ll say this—if there was this kind of a traffic concern near Ishnala or Navajo Hills, the city would put a stop to it immediately. Immediately.”
  When asked by The Regional News for a response to Schuble’s allegations, Palos Heights Police Deputy Chief William Czajkowski said that the department deploys its resources uniformly throughout the city and does enforce the speed limit on Ridgeland. “We can and do conduct traffic studies in response to citizen concerns about speeding,” he added, saying that when studies show patterns that are problematic, the department takes action.
  The city police cars often seen across from Shepard High School are there to ensure that before- and after-school traffic flows smoothly and safely, he added.
  Gorman said she found the study “interesting” but had not yet been briefed on the plan and was “still mulling it over.”
  Her initial reaction, she added, was “…where’s the funding? That’s an important part of this, of course.”
  Echoing what Gorman said was Chicago Ridge resident Bill Johnston, who said that “without political will and without adequate funding, this study will sit on a shelf somewhere and gather dust. In my 72 years, I’ve seen that happen more than I can remember, from big plans like the Crosstown Expressway to smaller municipal projects that never happened.”
  The study in final form is expected to be ready by May.