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Traffic one more issue that divides 43rd Ward candidates

Submitted on Mon, 04/16/2007 – 02:40.
Story by Dara Belic

Editor’s note: Vi Daley is the winner.

Traffic in the hotly contested 43rd Ward is one of several issues that divide Ald. Vi Daley and her challenger, Michele Smith.

As voters prepare to return to the polls for the April 17 runoff, the two candidates offer different ways to improve safety in the congested Northside Ward, home to Lincoln Park.

For Daley, a former aldermanic aide who won her seat in 1999, the issue comes down to enforcement. But Smith, a former federal prosecutor, says the alderman has wrongly taken credit for a new stop sign law passed in response to the hit-and-run death of a 4-year-old in the 43rd Ward. She argues that a comprehensive plan – including an in-depth traffic control study – is the real solution.

Not surprisingly, that’s not how the alderman sees it. Daley says ward residents – both pedestrians and drivers – will be safer if police enforce a new stop sign ordinance passed in February by the Chicago City Council.

“Running stop signs is a serious issue,” said the 63-year-old Daley, who is no relation to Mayor Daley. “This is an issue that the City Council would have been derelict to ignore.”

The ordinance, which toughens penalties for running stop signs, stems from May 2006 death of Maya Hirsch as she crossed Belden Street and Lincoln Park West Avenue near Lincoln Park Zoo with her family. Police say 57-year-old Michael Roth hit the child after running a stop sign at that corner. Charges are still pending against Hirsch, who has pleaded not guilty.

Under the new stop sign law, first-time offenders – who used to pay $90 in fines and didn’t have to appear in court – must now pay between $100 and $300 in fines and appear in court. Second-time offenders must pay between $500 and $700 in fines, and third-time offenders $1,000 and do community service.

“I think the fact that Daley has made this issue a priority says a lot about her character and leadership ability,” said Yolanda Cortes, an accountant who lives in an apartment complex near the site of the Hirsch tragedy. “She certainly has my vote.”

The 52-year-old Smith, however, says far more needs to be done to make residents safer.

“We need a comprehensive plan that is dedicated to pinpointing what needs to be done to improve safety and then doing it, whether that means adding proper crosswalks to congested corners or putting crossing guards at all the schools in the ward,” Smith said.

Smith said another alderman, Ald. Tom Allen, came up with the section of the new ordinance that requires first-time offenders to pay at least $100 and appear in court.

“Ironically,” said Smith, “that is the only part of the ordinance I really like.”

“This fact definitely reveals something about her leadership ability: she doesn’t have it. She is not a strategic thinker and the ordinance, overall, is more of a political band aid than it is an effective tool in improving traffic safety in the 43rd Ward,” said Smith, who garnered 33 percent of the vote in the Feb. 27th election. Daley won the most votes with 48 percent.

Laura Goldman, mother of two and a 16-year resident of Lincoln Park, agrees with Smith.

“First of all, while we can’t possibly have cops at every corner all day long; we can have crossing guards and better crosswalks at schools and near Lincoln Park Zoo,” said Goldman.

“Young children swarm the streets everyday when they get out of school, and hundreds of people visit the zoo during the summer. I think some real research should be done to determine what exactly needs to be done in order to better protect our children and residents.”

And without the completion of a traffic control study, said candidate Smith, implementing any changes at all makes no sense.

“That is where my Pedestrian Safety Action Plan comes into play,” Smith said.

For more information about the 43rd race, check out what The Chicago Tribune’s Dan Mihalopoulos and Robert Becker wrote in the April 15 edition.

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