What would you do if trucks kept backing into your house? Past tenant moved out, but North Side homeowner is hoping to stay
Truckers pass close by Robert Christie’s house at North Cicero Avenue and West Ainslie Street, see the low-clearance bridge ahead and start backing up. Often not so well.
The night the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016 and a temporary bout of mass insanity gripped the North Side, a truck slammed into Robert Christie’s house. It jolted the little brick bungalow like a major earthquake.
“That was the most scary experience I’ve ever had,” said Christie, who was inside watching the game with friends. “We just heard ripping, and the truck didn’t even stop. He just drove away.”
Christie, 54, probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Things like that have been happening to the house at North Cicero Avenue and West Ainslie Street for decades.
The crashes have left the northeast corner of the house looking like a T. rex took a gigantic bite out of it. His wrought-iron fence is buckled, entire sections of it flattened. Splintered wood and chunks of concrete litter the sidewalk.
A neighbor who has lived in the same block for decades estimates that the house has been crashed into “at least a couple of hundred times” over the past 10 years.
It isn’t that Christie, an auto mechanic, has enemies who’d purposely crash into his house. It’s that truck drivers seem not to be paying enough attention to the signs that warn of a low-clearance bridge at Cicero Avenue and Gunnison Street just south of his bungalow. When they get there and realize their trucks aren’t going to make it through the underpass, they start backing up — often into Christie’s house.
“It’s funny because someone hit me recently, and he had a second driver, and even though the person was directing him, he still hit the property,” said Christie, who is originally from Jamaica.
Christie has filed numerous lawsuits against the companies that own the trucks that have hit his home, seeking compensation ranging from $2,500 to $7,300 for the damage.
Asked how much money he has recovered, Christie said, “I gain some, I lose some.”
He thinks part of the problem is that truckers sometimes back up while they’re on their cellphones. “They’re talking to somebody and not looking at the posted signs,” he said.
None of the trucking companies he has sued responded to calls seeking comment.
Christie has installed surveillance cameras at all four corners of his house so he’ll have proof when it happens.
He said the truck drivers rarely stop, not even to apologize.
“Everybody roars away,” he said.
Even if the truckers backing up avoid hitting Christie’s house, they often take out the side mirrors of cars parked on Ainslie.
“There are cars down Ainslie that get destroyed,” said Eric Turunen, who has lived two houses away for 15 years and figures his vehicles have lost 10 wing mirrors in that time.
Christie and several neighbors have asked City Hall for help. Last year, the city’s Department of Transportation installed “bump outs” on Ainslie — raised rectangles of concrete that narrow the road at Cicero in hopes they will deter truck drivers from backing up on Christie’s street.
The agency also added and improved signs that warn truckers not to head south on Cicero if their trucks are taller than 13 feet, 2 inches, a spokeswoman said.
But none of that seems to have helped, according to neighbors. Truck drivers just back up straight over the bump outs and ignore the new signs, and cars run into each other now that the two-way street has been narrowed.
“The city does goofy things from time to time, and that was one of them,” one neighbor, who didn’t want his name published, said of the bump outs that narrowed the street, giving truckers less room to maneuver.
Ald. James Gardiner (45th), in whose ward Christie’s house sits, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Before Christie lived in the house on Ainslie, it used to be a rental. Laura Levan leased the home for six months in 2003, before Christie owned it. Levan was a single mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 7. The rent was cheap, and she liked the neighborhood school. But she said she had no idea what lay in store.
“There were constantly police [stopping] or cars crashing right outside,” said Levan, who ended up breaking her lease. “It was terrifying because then we found out after we had already signed the lease that trucks were constantly crashing into the house. And where they would hit was literally where my bed sat in the back bedroom.”
She said she was too worried about the trucks to ever let her kids play outside.
Levan, now 46, said she still drives past her old house. She sees the new damages. She thinks the city should buy the property and demolish it.
Neighbors said they rarely see Christie. Some assumed the homeowner had abandoned the property.
“The poor guys have had so many fences put up,” neighbor Francisco Ordaz said. “Probably this is the year they gave up.
”Normally, they fix it. Then, within a couple of days or a week, it’s hit again.”
But Christie says he hasn’t given up on the place, that he’s waiting for insurance money before making repairs — again.
He said he had no idea about the house’s history when he bought it and that, even if he wanted to, he’d have a hard time selling the place, for which he said he paid $269,000 in 2004.
Christie doesn’t want to see his house end up being demolished.
After he bought the home, he said initially he rented out the place, but it “was getting hit so regularly that nobody would want to stay there. So I decided I would stay there.”
From 2016 to 2019, he said he lived there with his infant daughter, but she’d get scared by the trucks and now lives with her mother in Florida.
Maybe, he said, he’ll decide to move there, too. But maybe not.
Christie says he now sleeps in a bedroom that’s not next to the street. Despite the problems, he says he’s optimistic the city will come up with a fix.
“I like the property a lot,” he said. “If it wasn’t getting hit, I’d probably live there until I die.”