Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chicago's dangerous crosswalks

We were very saddened to read earlier this week about the death of Coral Kier, 86 years old, of Lake View, after having been struck by a taxicab while she was crossing Sheridan Road. According to the Chicago Tribune article linked here, she was in the crosswalk on Sheridan Road at about 11:00 am on Monday morning, August 22, when a taxi driver who was turning left (south) onto Sheridan from westbound Briar Place struck her. She died less than 24 hours later.

We are all vulnerable as pedestrians in Chicago. Anyone who has walked on our sidewalks and in our intersections has troublesome stories about being honked at, yelled at, or cut off by motorists overeager to make a turn. Our senior citizens, many of whom walk slowly and have slower reaction times, are among the most vulnerable. A pothole in the sidewalk that a younger person can easily step over can be a big hurdle for someone with a walker or cane. In winter, an unshoveled sidewalk may mean that a senior citizen has to avoid venturing outside altogether.

Older pedestrians face enormous hurdles navigating Chicago's streets. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)

We traveled to the Lake View intersection where the incident occurred to see whether the street is accommodating to pedestrians. Frankly, it was not bad by Chicago's standards. There were curb cuts so that pedestrians could avoid stepping off and onto curbs. The crosswalk paint was visible. There were traffic lights for the cars, and pedestrian lights signalling Walk or Don't Walk. There were even bright signs on numerous corners notifying drivers that senior citizens may be present. The only thing it could use is a countdown timer.

Intersection of Sheridan Road and Briar Place, facing east. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)

So how could the taxi driver nevertheless hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk in broad daylight? Briar Place is a  one-lane, one-way side street that is only one block long before it reaches the intersection with Sheridan. Perhaps the light had turned yellow as he was approaching and he was rushing to complete the turn before the red light? Maybe he was distracted by his smart phone or radio dial and looked away completely while he was driving? It seems safe to assume that excessive speed was a factor; otherwise, wouldn't he have been able to stop before he hit her?

Sign alerting drivers of the presence of senior citizens on Sheridan Road. (Photo: BikeWalkLincolnPark)
The taxi driver was issued two tickets after the incident. It's astounding that a driver who hits an elderly woman with a metal object weighing about 4,000 pounds is simply issued two tickets and sent on his way. Is there no difference between being guilty of something like failure to renew one's license plates, say, and causing someone physical injuries that lead to their death? When this is the normal pattern, the message to drivers is this: As long as you can afford to pay a few hundred dollars in fines, you can feel free to drive distracted and at excessive speeds, and even cause people to die.

1 comment:

  1. What a poignant commemoration and wake up call. Thanks to Bike Walk Lincoln Park for this post.