Wednesday, August 31, 2011

STOP for pedestrians in crosswalks

Have you heard the news? Drivers approaching a crosswalk with pedestrians present must now stop for them, and no longer merely “yield”. You haven’t heard that news? That’s not surprising; most people haven’t.
These cab drivers on Monroe Street near the Art Institute apparently have not heard about the new law.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
"When traffic control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right‑of‑way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger."
The difference is that “the driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way” was changed to “the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right-of-way” (emphasis added).

First, what’s the difference between merely yielding and stopping-and-yielding for a pedestrian? The text of the law does not define it. Interpretations vary, but this is what we believe. Before, it was acceptable for a driver to swerve around pedestrian crossing at a crosswalk, and as long as the vehicle did not hit the pedestrian, they were abiding by the law. Near hits were OK.

Under the new law, we believe that when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, the driver must come to a complete stop before reaching the crosswalk (not in the middle of it!) to allow the pedestrian to cross safely.

That is, under the new law, the driver should respond to the presence of a pedestrian in a crosswalk as if a stop sign appeared magically. Wouldn’t that be fantastic, if a pedestrian could hit a button and make a hologram of a stop sign appear? Ahhh, we can dream, can’t we?

Back to reality.

A good piece about the issue published in Medill Reports Chicago includes video of pedestrians crossing Clark Street at St. James Place (2500 North) in Lincoln Park. It’s a great illustration of how common it is for cars fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

The new law was passed in July 2010, and there was a little media coverage about it, but not much since. There has been no PR campaign to spread the word to Illinois drivers, as far as we know. Locally, the Chicago Police Department has regular “sting” operations with the goal of issuing citations, but no routine enforcement from day to day.

Importantly, some official agencies haven’t even updated their websites to reflect the new law, including the city of Chicago. On the city’s page describing their Crosswalk Enforcement Initiatives, they refer multiple times to the need for drivers to “yield” to pedestrians, and the word “stop” is never used. Here’s an example:
"The crosswalk awareness initiatives involve an off-duty, undercover police officer posing as a pedestrian crossing at a crosswalk.  If oncoming drivers don’t yield to the pedestrian—as required by law—the vehicle will be pulled over by a police spotter further down the street."
This website page should be updated to highlight and reinforce the existence of the new requirement to stop. Seemingly little details like this matter. If the city’s website doesn’t yet reflect the change, we question how much effort has been made to educate police officers who are supposed to be enforcing the current laws. Publishing old information is a failed opportunity to notify members of the media and the public about the new law.

Finally, the signs that drivers see on Chicago’s streets haven’t been replaced or upgraded. Most crosswalks’ bright yellow pedestrian signs are silent on the “yield” vs. “stop” issue. Those that do weigh in are still the old signs that tell drivers to “yield”.

Signs tell drivers to Yield Here To Pedestrians on Stockton Drive.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Signs that reflect the new law are available for purchase, and are in use elsewhere. Here's one in Champaign, Illinois:
Stop Here For Pedestrians sign at a crosswalk in Champaign, Illinois.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Is changing website wording and street signs really a priority, you ask, when the city has so many other problems it must tackle? We say that it is, because it’s a matter of public safety. 

The grim statistics according to the latest CDOT Pedestrian Crash Analysis  (PDF) is that in 2009, in the city of Chicago alone, there were 1,993 pedestrian/vehicle crashes that resulted in injuries from lacerations or bruises to death. That’s 5 or 6 crashes in Chicago every day of the year.

That’s way too much carnage, and every step that helps solve the problem is important.

We’re working toward solutions in the 43rd ward and beyond, and we invite you to join in by contacting us at

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