Fatality Tracker: Hit-and-run of pedestrian on Damen overpass, but charges filed

2012 Chicago fatality stats*:

Pedestrian: 19 (9 have been hit-and-run crashes)
Pedalcyclist: 4 (1 is a hit-and-run crash)
Transit: 6

Robert Butler, a 51-year-old resident of Bellwood, Illinois, was killed in a traffic crash on Friday, September 7, at 4:30 AM, on the Damen Avenue overpass of the Stevenson Expressway. He was a pedestrian in probably the least-pedestrian friendly area in the region. The driver and his passenger were arrested; the driver, Anthony Castillo, 23, was apprehended less than a mile away in the McKinley Park neighborhood and charged with:

  • Reckless Homicide-Motor Vehicle
  • Leaving the Scene of an Accident w/Injury or Death
  • Possession of Controlled Substance
  • Failure to Reduce Speed

The passenger was charged with misdemeanor possession of cannabis. This story was originally reported by the Chicago Tribune. See a Google Street View image of the crash location after the jump, and more information on this type of highway intersection. 

View the interchange in a larger map

Infrastructure note

I’ve never walked or biked over this bridge, and I’ve only heard of how uncomfortable it is. I would probably board a bus just to cross the interchange. The interchange has a name: SPUI (pronounced “spoo-ee”). It stands for single point urban interchange. It apparently interchanges a higher volume of traffic between a highway and local road faster than other types of interchanges (the “diamond” being the most common in Chicago). It uses fewer signals. It allows right-turning traffic to turn right into an on-ramp at the same time as left-turning, opposing traffic turning left into the same on-ramp. This one has a pedestrian crossing distance of 290 feet, of which 120 feet is on refuge islands. These intersections have the distinct disadvantage of requiring a person who wants to cross the ramps to actuate a pedestrian crossing signal. I predict the entire time to cross this intersection is over 3 minutes (including wait times), a rate of 1.6 feet per second (this doesn’t include the several minutes of uphill walking to reach the intersection). Normal crosswalk signals are timed for someone who is traveling greater than 3 feet per second, but this intersection has a slightly different signal phase pattern than other types.

A similar interchange in Boise, Idaho, has a total crossing of 644 feet. It was designed with bike lanes, but with about 325 feet of “exposure”. This happens when there’s barrier on both sides of the bike lane. It’s a common problem with “centered” bike lanes, and with long, angled intersections (think Elston Avenue at Ashland Avenue, going northbound). Without a barrier like a curb or raised concrete island, bicyclists are exposed on both sides to turning and merging traffic.

In the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 meetings, attendees often expressed their displeasure and discomfort in traversing streets over expressways, and through the intersections with them. This is probably the least comfortable in the city limits.


This graphic shows how the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recommends bike lanes be installed on SPUIs. AASHTO is notorious for promoting bikeway designs that are as far from European and 8 to 80 as possible. 

* The information is only accurate as of this post’s publishing time and includes only people who died in the Chicago city limits. View previous Fatality Tracker posts.

3 thoughts on “Fatality Tracker: Hit-and-run of pedestrian on Damen overpass, but charges filed”

  1. I *have* ridden across this bridge a few times. One of those trips was on a midnight bike ride, when we crossed it around 2 or 3 a.m. As you could imagine, it’s really wide open in the wee hours, and traffic tends to fly through as fast as possible. Even at 7 or 8 p.m., traffic speeds are not for the faint of heart.

    From either direction, it’s a substantial hill climb to the intersection shown in the diagram, so if you’re riding and reach it on a green light, more likely than not, you may be somewhat winded as you’re trying to get through the intersection. As a pedestrian, I’d imagine that crossing from Archer all the way to Blue Island must feel like forever. That area is primarily industrial, and the distance from retail/residential on/near Archer to retail/residential north of Blue Island is nearly a mile. That’s how huge this crossing is.

    My first thought upon hearing about this hit and run was “what an awful place for a pedestrian to be at 4:30 a.m.” Most drivers passing through in the middle of the night go so fast that, unless you’ve got lights and reflectors on, they’re not going to see you in time. A police officer I know who used to work midnights in that district confirms that speeding is the unfortunate norm there – not surprising, since it’s an area designed for speed.

    1. Just as I recommend people bike to O’Hare airport by taking the CTA Blue Line, I would recommend people cross this behemoth (“monstrosity” might be more apropos) on the CTA Damen bus.
      If I had all the time in the world, I’d visit this intersection to get a better feel for it.

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