Streeterville Intersection a High Crash Corridor: CDOT

Two people have been at Illinois & Columbus in separate incidents this summer

Talk to a few people who walk near the intersection of Columbus and Illinois and you will start to notice a common theme: fear.

Cars whiz by so quickly, many said it sometimes feels like an expressway. Near-misses between cars and pedestrians happen regularly.

Most know this intersection as the road that leads to Navy Pier and other Lakefront hotspots, but it's becoming a highway to death for some that commute through here.

Hector Placencia, 47, was killed on a rainy morning June 27 at the intersection just north of  NBC Tower, in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood.

He was on the sidewalk, headed towards his job at a restaurant in Navy Pier, when a speeding cab driver lost control and struck Placencia.

The Placencia family's attorney, Larry Ruder, said family members are still coming to terms with their loss.

"There's a certain tragic nature to the way he died, because he was doing at the time of the incident what we all do. We're walking to work, we're thinking about our responsibilities for the day, doing absolutely nothing wrong, and then his life is ended by a reckless cab driver," said Ruder.

In May, 26-year-old Justyna Palka was walking east on Columbus, crossing Illinois, when a bus turned right into her and killed her. Palka was in the crosswalk and had the right of way.

Drivers in both the Placencia and Palka cases were subsequently cited.

Northwestern University Professor and transportation expert Joseph Schofer believes the wide layout of the intersection might actually encourage speeding.

"It's a race track. It looks like a race track," he said.

Right now, cars are not allowed to park on the street on either Columbus or Illinois. Schofer believes adding parking could help slow things down.

"Because street parking adds side friction, it narrows the lane," he explained.

Stalker Speed Research Projects allowed us to use one of their calibrated and certified radar guns to see for ourselves just how fast some cars were going. Within one hour, our producer clocked at least 10 cars that were traveling more than 40 miles per hour on Columbus. The speed limit is 30 MPH.

A recent study by the Chicago Department of Transportation deemed the stretch of Columbus between Water and Ontario Streets -- which includes Illinois Street -- as one of five high crash corridors.

In 2009, there were two incidents involving pedestrians, and 22 crashes overall.  In 2010, there weren't any reported incidents involving pedestrians, but there were 11 crashes overall.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has already made some changes to the intersection, including making the "No Turn on Red" sign more clear, and adjusting signal timing so that pedestrians can get a head start.

C-DOT Spokesman Brian Steele points out this corridor is being monitored to determine what other changes could be made here to ensure safety.

Steele insists, given the thousands of cars and pedestrians who make their way through the intersection daily, this is still a safe roadway.

Hector Placencia's attorney Larry Ruder hopes those changes will make a difference.

"If we could prevent one other death, one other serious injury, that would be the ultimate outcome that is best for everybody," he said.

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