September 21, 2009

Dear Alderwoman Young,

I hope you're well. I'm writing to report an unfortunate experience I had in the 7th Ward the evening of Saturday, September 19.

I was headed north on I-55 just after 8 p.m. when I decided to take the Truman Parkway exit. I wanted to explore a little, having never visited the area before, but quickly realized that if I went any further, I'd be lost. So I sought to find a way back to the highway. I made a quick right at Lafayette Avenue, then turned right again at the next light after that, S. 14th Street, hoping it might take me right back around to the highway on-ramp. (A look at Google Maps when I got home suggested that that's exactly what this road originally did—it would've looped me back around to Lafayette.)

Unfortunately, S. 14th—marked as a one-way street—quickly turned into an unlit, half-paved drive, surrounded by overgrown brush. (It was so dark, I didn't see the turnoff for Soulard Street, otherwise you can be sure I would've taken it.) No signage explained that I was now on a different drive—technically, according to the map I looked at later, what used to be Hoehn Street. The drive narrowed as I crested a small, completely unlit rise—only to find myself at the edge of a vast expanse of muddy gravel. The street, it seems, currently dead-ends in the unfinished lot behind the under-construction Bohemian Hill Walgreens.

Again, I was unfamiliar with the area, and from my vantage point, the only way out, since this was a one-way street, appeared to be driving across the muddy gravel toward the already-constructed parking lot. The turn behind me was very tight, and I feared someone else might inadvertently drive up behind me in the darkened area, were I to attempt backing up.

So I slowly drove across the gravel of the construction site toward the parking lot—only to find myself stuck in the mud right next to what turned out to be a new curb. It was so dark, I didn't see it beforehand. After a series of fits and starts, I finally got my car unstuck—and came down with a big crunch on the other side of the curb. I now know that was the sound of the bottom of my car hitting the curb and pavement.

I parked next to the new building, where the light was better, and got out to check the car. Nothing looked obviously broken, though it was too dark to see the underside of the car, so after moving a traffic barrel blocking the new parking lot's only entrance/exit about a foot to the left, I made my way back to the highway and drove home.

Sunday morning, I moved my car and checked the pavement where I'd been parked, and saw several fresh oil spots. This car is only a few years old and has never leaked anything in the time I've had it. So I took a flashlight and peered under the car, and it appeared that the splash guard protecting the engine had come partially dislodged. Monday morning I took the car to Dobbs. Thankfully, they were able to reattach the splash guard and perform an alignment on the car's front end to correct most of the damage—but the back end, which cannot be adjusted, remains out of camber, likely as a result of the fall.

So you can perhaps see why I might be a little upset about my experience in the 7th Ward. When I got home Saturday, I tried to find out all I could about standards for public safety around construction sites. I don't know whether Koman Properties, the site's developer, follows ANSI's A10.34 standard, which provides baseline measures for construction-site public safety and security, but I was dismayed to realize that almost none of the precautions on ANSI's list had been observed. The very first requirement? "Restricting public access to the jobsite—a site security plan." Other practices listed include "100 percent fencing of the project site," "Use of easy to read signs," "Daily inspection of fences, locks and gates," "Daily inspection of traffic control devices," and "Night lighting or security service." The area of the site I ended up driving into had none of those things: no fences, no gates, no roadblocks, no signage, no lighting, no security.

This could've happened to any nighttime visitor to your neighborhood unfortunate enough to turn onto S. 14th Street—especially given how close the site is to the highway. Unfortunately, it happened to me, and I feel lucky not to have been seriously injured as a result. I'd like to ensure that this doesn't happen to anyone else.

Can you give me a call at your earliest convenience so we can discuss this further? During business hours, I can be reached at my office; alternately, I can always be reached on my cell or by email.

I would also suggest you take a nighttime drive by the construction site yourself to view the property's current condition. Though things certainly may have changed in the last 48 hours, my guess would be that the property still lacks the safety measures detailed above.

Thank you for any help you might be able to provide in resolving this matter.


cc: Alderman Lewis E. Reed, NSO Sandy Colvin, NSO Program Manager Joe Thele, Director of Streets Todd Waelterman, Koman Properties President James Koman