Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do refuge islands discourage drivers from stopping for pedestrians?

I was on Clark Street today checking out the new bike lanes currently being installed on that street. I was on foot, so I used the pedestrian refuge island just south of North Avenue to cross Clark. Here's a vintage picture of the island from July 2011:
Pedestrian island on Clark Street at Germania Place, being used in July 2011. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
Since then, a "State Law/ Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk" sign has been installed at the southern tip of the island. You would think that the dual presence of the crosswalk and the sign would "make" drivers stop for pedestrians who are trying to cross the street. But curiously, I noticed that drivers there seem to be LESS inclined to stop.
I waited with this woman as vehicle after vehicle rolled through without stopping. She and I were clearly poised and ready to cross, looking expectantly at the drivers, so there was no mistaking our intention. I was standing forward of her, right next to the street, clearly intending to cross in that direction. Only after several vehicles passed without stopping did I decide to snap a picture.

Most drivers did not stop for pedestrians wishing to cross Clark Street at Germania Place in spite of the large signage, not to mention the red light they were facing a few yards away, at North Avenue. (Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
I know a one-time observation isn't very scientific. However, after crossing a few times and observing others as they crossed, I believe that fewer drivers were stopping at this location than they are now at locations on Stockton, for example, where there are also two lanes and a sign, but no island.
Pedestrian crosswalk on Stockton Drive at Lincoln Avenue, next to the Nature Boardwalk.
(Photo: Bike Walk Lincoln Park)
I have two possible theories on this:

1/ The sign says the driver has to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, and from the driver's perspective, the person on a pedestrian island is not IN the crosswalk, but instead is ON (what looks like) a sidewalk. That raises the question: Is a pedestrian island considered part of the crosswalk?

2/ The driver sees that the person on foot is in a safe place and in no immediate danger of being struck, and therefore is less likely to slow down or stop since there's no "need" to do so. This is not an excuse, just a possible explanation for the psychology lying behind the behavior.

What do you think?

(Edited to include this next paragraph.) This issue bothered me enough that I went back to the Clark and Eugenie island to check it out during quieter, non-rush hour periods. It was only then that I noticed that the crosswalk striping on the street is only lightly marked currently and doesn't yet have the clearer, brighter markings it will eventually receive. But will that make all the difference? Do drivers need to see the intersection, anxious pedestrian, refuge island, upright sign AND crosswalk striping before they'll stop? I'll check back on all this after the full markings are in.

-- Michelle Stenzel


  1. I think it's because there is more room for their car on either side because of the median. The signs work because they are in the middle of the road, and motorists slow down because they see an obstruction in the road.

    1. Yes, maybe. But isn't the median/pedestrian island an obstruction? Also, on Stockton, drivers have plenty of room to "shy" away from the sign, too. --M.S.

  2. Off topic, but how do the bike lanes look? A viable alternative heading north from the Loop once Clark is two way?

    1. It will be a buffered lane with an "inside" buffer next to the parked cars. The sections that are nearly complete look pretty good. The intersections are still being installed (or were not done yet on 8/21), so it's hard to say. I'll definitely provide a bike lane review once it's complete! -- MS

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