Eyes on the Street: “Stop For Pedestrians” Signs Take a Beating

Stop for Pedestrian sign
A tilting sign at Montrose/Hamilton.

Chicagoans by now have noticed dozens, if not hundreds, of signs in the middle of two-lane streets telling people driving and bicycling about the state law requiring them to stop for people in crosswalks. The statewide law went into effect in 2010, and Chicago passed an identical law in 2011. Transportation departments, residents, and the Active Transportation Alliance have been working hard ever since to educate people about the law, and these signs represent the best effort so far because of their immediate effect.

You’ve probably also noticed that nearly every single one has been hit by a car, some so badly that they were removed, including some in the 47th Ward. Montrose Avenue from Rockwell to Clark has over 20 signs in varying degrees of uprightness. When does a damaged sign, which costs $400 to install, get replaced?

Stop for Pedestrian sign
A heavily-scuffed sign at Montrose/Hamilton.
Stop for Pedestrian sign
Higgins said the sign at Lincoln/Leland kept getting damaged and was replaced 2-3 times. The ward is looking into installing a pedestrian island.

Bill Higgins, a transportation planner in Alderman Ameya Pawar’s office, said, “Initially, CDOT replaced some after being badly damaged. This year they’ll completely remove them if they’re becoming a hazard and we can replace them” next year. The replacement delay is because aldermen’s menu funds are typically allocated by June, and “the money is spoken for even if those projects aren’t under way.”

Higgins said he’s trying to work with CDOT to test adding a “stop for pedestrians” sign to the same poles with yellow diamond signs next to the roadway at crosswalks. “I’m wondering if that would help spread the knowledge about the law, especially on larger roads where we can’t put them,” he said. Higgins listed Western Avenue and Irving Park Road as places where constituents are requesting the signs.

Higgins said he’d like to see a Chicago “where these signs aren’t necessary,” adding that, in states where this law’s been on the books for a long time, “there are cities where you can step off the curb with confidence and have cars stop for you.”

  • Anonymous

    I was nearly creamed by a driver suddenly swerving to avoid one of those signs on Broadway while I was riding my bike. I rarely see drivers obey these signs, either.

    I strongly support the city’s effort to convince drivers that pedestrians have priority on the streets, but I wonder if these signs have had any positive impact.

  • In some cities you can walk into the crosswalk with confidence that someone will stop, but they’re not in any North American cities I’ve been too…

    What does it say that they’re going to take them out since they get beaten up? They really should install raised pedestrian crosswalks. They’re like speed bumps along the street. Add in a small dip for bike tires or something… I don’t really know how to slow cars down/make them stop at crosswalks other than physical enhancements, but those have negative aspects, too.

  • Chicagio

    I agree. I think the only thing that will help is more enforcement. I seem to remember a story a few years ago where the CPD was having some “hidden” officers watch a few select intersections and hand out tickets.

  • The one in front of my building has been smashed several times. I think it’s good that they’re right there in the middle of the street, even if they do get hit. That will, or should, make drivers think twice about blasting through the crosswalk the next time.

  • Logan Square Driver

    Unfortunately, these signs have had a large impact where they’re installed in Logan Square. I can’t drive on California near the Blue Line stop without getting caught in a line of cars that seem to think that a green sign means they now need to stop for those who can’t be bothered to buy a car! Fortunately, at least for now, the folks who are choosing where to install these signs (the aldermen, I presume) recognize that the rest of the neighborhood belongs to us drivers, and aren’t putting any west of California!

    As much as I hate these signs, I have to admit it is kind of fun to have targets when I drive down the street! I can only hope that they’ll go the way that most bike lanes go in this city: something that generates a lot of hoopla when it’s installed, but never gets maintained and eventually fades into nothing!

  • CL

    I don’t know how people miss a big, neon, stationary sign. The people who hit the signs were probably texting.

  • Brian

    I don’t understand why people walk out into the middle of the street in front of cars and expect to not get hit! Maybe people need some physics lessons. But a society where cars just stop on a dime because idiots step in front of them isn’t going to happen. So to pedestrians, enter at your own risk!

  • Logan Square Driver

    That’s right Brian! Or should I say Brain, since you clearly have more of one then anyone who thinks that the law should protect them from us drivers! Don’t they know that stopping and starting takes gas, and gas, if you haven’t noticed, is really expensive right now?

    Survival of the physics – that’s what I say! Who ever has the biggest and heaviest armor wins, which is just as it should be!

  • Logan Square Driver

    I never miss those signs. I hit them every time.

  • CL

    Of course, if you jump out in front of a car that is right there, you can’t expect the driver to be able to stop. But I constantly see cars keep going when they have enough time to slow down — they just don’t want to stop.

  • Brian

    I may start trying to run down the signs, they don’t like they could cause too much damage to my SUV. Reminds of times I would blow through a toll both and watch the wooden gate snap and break into pieces. The best is when the toll both attendant would step out and try and stop me!

  • Because you have to stop! It’s your duty to stop for people to cross the street! Pedestrians do not have to wait for there to be a break in traffic to stop. They have absolute priority to cross the street whenever they feel like. They are the most vulnerable road user. That is what this law is for.

  • Anonymous

    In my hood, I do get a near 100% compliance from drivers. But traffic is already slow on Clark, with bikes, buses, pedestrian and cars all co-mingling.
    Want to go fast? Take Ashland.

  • Anonymous

    How ironic: your avatar is a walking stick-figure.

  • CL

    Is your neighborhood Andersonville? I notice that most cars do stop for pedestrians there. I think it’s partly about expectations. When I drive in Andersonville, I find myself expecting that people are going to step into crosswalks, even when my car is right there, without even really looking — and I’m often right. (And that’s fine, because I stop, but it’s unusual behavior — in most places, pedestrians hesitate and watch to see if anyone will stop.) Pedestrians are confident there. Cyclists are the same — I expect them to do whatever they want, and I have to sort of crawl along, driving defensively as I scan for what’s going to be in front of me next.

    And that’s all fine — Clark is lovely — but I take Ashland whenever I can. I wish I could take the Ashland bus instead of the 22, because the 22 is slow for the same reasons (plus the many, many stops)

  • Anonymous

    Andersonville indeed. That stretch between roughly Winona and Hollywood is an example of where various traffic users seem to co-exist peacefully. That is largely caused by car traffic being slowed down to a more ‘human’ speed by pedestrians, bicycles, narrow roads, and of course a surplus of car traffic itself.

    It certainly helps that Ashland runs parallel to Clark and provides a smoother alternative for cars. And with the median creating islands between traffic, Ashland is really not that hard to cross as a pedestrian or bicyclist. You just don’t want to be riding or walking on Ashland itself. And with streets like Paulina and Ravenswood running parallel to Ashland, you don’t really have to either.

  • Karen Kaz

    Interesting that the Lincoln/Leland sign was replaced several times and eventually removed (as shown in the picture above) – yet CDOT Bike Ambassadors felt the need to have one of those bike “enforcement actions” at that same intersection about a month or so ago. Cause yeah, bikes are the problem, not 2000 lb. cars paying so little attention that they can’t keep from running over a sign in the middle of a crosswalk in a heavily pedestrian area.

  • Anonymous

    I love these signs — I intentionally cross the street near them on clybourne because it feels way safer than without the sign reminding cars that it’s not OK to kill me because I’m using the street.

  • Fbfree

    In British Columbia, one of the most common ways for a driver to fail a driving exam is to fail to stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk. It’s an automatic fail. You can expect a driver to stop for pedestrians in BC.

  • In the US (or Wisconsin, at least, where I took my test at 16), and I could be corrected, there were no purposeful obstacles put in place for the test. I took mine during a snowstorm in a small town. There were no pedestrians or bikes to watch out for. No freeway driving. There should be more “obstacles” put in the way during the test, such as someone waiting to cross the street. The test was all of 10 minutes long. Not enough.

  • Adam Herstein

    When I visited Vancouver, BC and Portland, OR last year, people on cars routinely stopped for me – behind the intersection, even!

  • Adam Herstein

    Could these signs be getting hit by buses, too? I talked to someone that said a bus driver tried to go around a turning vehicle, and ran over one of these signs.

  • BlueFairlane

    Ten minutes may be too short, but a lot of what you suggest would be expensive to include. I took my test in a very rural Kentucky county, for instance, where we’d have to wait a very long time for somebody to cross a street. You’d have to have two people giving each test, then … and there’s the further downside that you’d have to pay one of them to cross a street in front of a student driver. There are ways to make the test more rigorous, I’m sure, but you have to consider the cost to small governments.

  • BlueFairlane

    There’s a sign on Fullerton just west of the Kennedy where I’ve seen exactly that happen.

  • Of course, you could also just pass the cost onto the licensee… it costs $35 for a license when I got one. If you only have to take the test a few times in your life (I don’t even know if you do?), then charging something higher ($150?) for a license to pay for the extra effort is not a big deal.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Bikes ARE one of the problems. I have never encountered a cyclists yet who takes these crossings seriously regarding the actual PEDESTRIANS, forget the signs.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    And hand out tickets to cyclists as well.

  • Leggy Mountbatten

    Wow, lots of snarky comments here, but let’s see – put a sign in the middle of what are narrow two way streets near where cars ( and trucks, did you forget them?) are turning, and after thousands upon thousands of them pass, the signs get hit. Why is this a surprise?

  • Anonymous

    You have only my word to take for it, but when I am commuting on my bike, I stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

  • Karen Kaz

    I go through this particular intersection twice a day, every day, and always stop for pedestrians. I have seen very few bikes cause problems at this intersection, but I have seen plenty of cars barrel through the crosswalks. (It doesn’t help that it’s a weirdly-shaped intersection that people want to treat like a normal 4-way stop.)

  • Anonymous

    I get off the bus at Wrightwood & Stockton, and have noticed a big reduction in cars blowing around buses and through the crosswalk as a bunch of people disembark and begin to cross the street. Not that it stops all of them… some jerk in sportscar the other day went whipping around the bus and nearly took out a half dozen people as he blew through the crosswalk.

    The sign there did get damaged or removed a couple months ago. I submitted a request to the city via the Chi Works app and a new sign went up withing 10 days or so.

  • James

    I just moved here from the east coast (Philly) and having spent lots of time in Philly and NYC, I don’t understand the way Chicago drivers treat pedestrians and bikers. Cars around here just blow through stop signs and crosswalks while peds are in them. Especially cars turning right or left act like they have the right of way when really they don’t. I nearly got smashed by a car the other day, so I smacked that womans car with my umbrella – shortly after she got pulled over and I went on my way, knowing she got what she deserved. Bikers barely stand a chance even in the bike lanes. Now the biking culture here also seems to be different than the cities I’m used to… bikers should be following the same traffic laws as cars, but they just seem to think they are invincible to stop signs and traffic lights, and don’t yield to pedestrians. Animals!

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