Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=181391
Story Retrieval Date: 10/25/2014 9:52:11 PM CST
The American Podiatric Medical Association ranked San Francisco as the top American city for pedestrian safety in 2009, according to a report by that city's Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee. That report, released in January, says San Francisco is a good walking city because of the coalition of city and state agencies working to prevent pedestrian accidents, as well as the technology the city uses to alert drivers.
Even with top honors, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is working on a number of projects to improve. They include changing standard crosswalks to striped ones to better alert drivers. Some crosswalks also will be fitted with reflective strips. Other plans include new pedestrian signals and flashing lights. The city also hopes to continue enforcement similar to that in Chicago.
But are these efforts working? San Francisco isn’t sure.
“The overall number of pedestrian injuries decreased from 798 in 2007 to 734 in 2009,” the report says. “However, the pedestrian injury numbers captured by the San Francisco General Hospital, which conducts independent pedestrian safety research, suggests that the rate has remained stable over the past decade.”
Boston’s Department of Public Health used similar education initiatives to inmprove crosswalk use. Boston ranked No. 2 in the same APMA report. Massachusetts passed a statewide pedestrian law in the mid-'90s.
Boston’s “Walk This Way” program is credited with decreasing the number of pedestrian accidents, not just because of driver fault, but because of jaywalking.
More than a decade since the Massachusetts law was passed, Boston’s DPH said 95 percent of drivers yield to pedestrians when pedestrians have the right of way.
Here’s a multiple-choice question: Who has the right of way at a crosswalk? A. The vehicle. B. The pedestrian. C. Neither. D. I don’t care, I’ll just keep driving or dart out into the middle of the road.
D is not a good idea, but if you guessed, B, you’re right. In July 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a state law requiring vehicles to make a full stop if a pedestrian is waiting to cross, or if he is in the process of crossing, at a non-controlled (no traffic lights) crosswalk. But more than seven months later, drivers across the state are constantly violating the law.
Take a look at any crosswalk without traffic lights in Chicago and you’ll see cars barreling by, even if a pedestrian is waiting.
Take the example of the one-minute span at a crosswalk on busy Clark Street and St. James Place in Lincoln Park filmed at 8:15 a.m. March 1. Four pedestrians attempted to cross the street. The first two made it across safely. One vehicle stopped.
The third pedestrian waited four seconds before a vehicle stopped for him. As he crossed the street, two cars drove through the crosswalk, violating state law.
The fourth pedestrian waited 20 seconds until a break of traffic allowed him to cross. Nine vehicles passed through the intersection. None stopped.
Why so many violations?
According to those heading up efforts to make crossing the street safer, it’s all about driver education, and Chicago officials know there’s work to be done.
“More and more people appear to be yielding and stopping for pedestrians,” said Brian Steele, communications director for the Chicago Department of Transportation. “With that said, far too many motorists still aren’t obeying the law.”
Steele said one of CDOT’s projects to get the message out is police patrolling crosswalks and ticketing drivers who violate the law.
Drivers face a fine between $50 and $250 for each violation.
Police handed out more than 1,100 tickets to violators in 2010, according to Steele. CDOT plans to begin the program again this spring, he said. Other communities also have used police and the threat of a ticket to get vehicles to stop for pedestrians.
Evanston went so far as to add signs to 20 of its intersections warning drivers of the new law. These yellow, diamond-shaped signs look like the standard pedestrian crossing sign, but are coupled with a stop symbol embedded with text reading, “State law, stop for pedestrians within crosswalk.”
Many drivers have complained the signs are confusing and seem to relay the message of the need to come to a full stop. Those who advocated for the law say it’s better for the signs to be slightly puzzling than for a person to be hit by a vehicle in the middle of a crosswalk.
“People see the signs, slow down and pay attention,” said Ethan Spotts, marketing and communications director of metro Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance, which advocated for the state pedestrian law.
Evanston is among other communities that have worked with the alliance to get behind the state law, Spotts said. He noted West Chicago, Winnetka and Wilmette also are doing a good job educating residents.
How does Chicago stack up compared with other cities? After all, Illinois was the 12th state to pass a pedestrian safety law.
San Francisco ranked as the top American city for pedestrian safety, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Chicago was No. 5.
The California law has been on the books since 2001. An increase in the percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians in Illinois should come with time, Spotts said.
I’m a pedestrian. What should I do?
“Try to make eye contact with the motorist before you step out into the crosswalk,” Steele said. “A lot of motorists are too busy moving their car forward instead of paying attention to all the in the public way. Begin to cross the street, moving slowly when there’s an available gap. Walk out into the approaching traffic and catch that driver’s attention.”
The Illinois Department of Transportation gives these pedestrian guidelines: do not dart into traffic; look left, then right, and then left again; only cross in marked crosswalks; and make eye contact with the driver.
The department has begun to install high-visibility fluorescent yellow-green crosswalk warning signs, along with a downward facing arrow positioned close to the existing crosswalk markings, to warn drivers of an upcoming crosswalk.
But some intersections aren’t so easy.
“Supplemental signing or devices may be installed at locations with higher pedestrian traffic … or other circumstances that could require additional warnings to the motorist,” said Guy Tridgell, spokesman for IDOT in an e-mail. “Depending on the circumstances, some devices, such as flashing beacons, would require the local municipality to obtain a permit from us, while simple solutions such as an additional supplemental sign may be approved, installed and maintained by IDOT.”
Here’s another quiz for you: True or false, drivers in Illinois will eventually learn the (new) rules of the road. That answer would be true, according to Spotts.
“Five or 10 years in the future, when drivers are growing up with this law and learning it, there will definitely be a difference,” he said.
Until then, it’s up to drivers and pedestrians to understand their rights on the road, and for the passage of time to allow for change.