CDOT & CPD Launch Annual Crosswalk Safety Stings

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A plain-clothes police officer (blue top) crosses the street. Photo: John Greenfield

You might have noticed many square, black bases bolted in the center of Chicago streets, which held “Stop for Pedestrians” signs before they were taken out by motorists. These testify to the fact that many local drivers don’t operate safely around crosswalks.

In an attempt to change that behavior, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Police Department once again launched a pedestrian safety campaign, including crosswalk stings and ads reminding drivers to stop for people in crosswalks. As part of last year’s campaign, the police department wrote more than 1,200 tickets to motorists who failed to stop, resulting in $120 fines.

Earlier today, the city held a press conference at Clark Street and Germania Place in Old Town, where the police were conducting a sting. There’s a pedestrian island here, with chunks of concrete missing due to careless drivers, and “Stop for Pedestrians” signs were installed a while ago at crosswalks on the north and south legs of the intersection. Signs further north and south of the intersection warned drivers of the crosswalk enforcement event. Unfortunately, one of them was partially blocking the bike lane on Clark.

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What would Alanis Morisette have to say about this? Photo: John Greenfield

Plain-clothes police officers repeatedly crossed the street, while another officer in a squad car stood by, waiting to chase down drivers who failed to yield. In general, motorists were stopping when pedestrians were in the crosswalk, and sometimes even when the crosswalk was empty. Occasionally, the cop in the car would zoom out of his spot with lights and siren on to ticket an offender.

A nearby resident I spoke to said that drivers are generally pretty good about yielding to people on foot at this location. However, CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said this intersection was chosen for the sting because there have been some crashes here. Similar “crosswalk awareness initiatives” are planned citywide at 60 crossings near schools, senior housing and business strips. The program is funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

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Active Trans’ Ron Burke, Scheinfeld and IDOT’s Bola Delano face the cameras. Photo: John Greenfield

“On average, roughly 3,000 pedestrians are hit by motor vehicle [drivers] every year in Chicago, resulting in an average of 30 deaths per year,” Scheinfeld told reporters. “This is unacceptable. Our goal is to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent over the next five years, and to eliminate pedestrian fatalities within ten years.”

Scheinfeld cited CDOT safety initiatives like bumpouts, speed humps, and countdown walk signals as part of that effort, along with the Safe Routes Ambassadors program, which educates school children about safe walking and biking. 800 “Stop for Pedestrians” PSAs are going up on CTA buses, 100 are being installed in bus shelter posters, 50 are being displayed on news racks, and 40 are going up on solar garbage compactors. Notably, each ad includes an image of a bicyclist, which implies that lawbreaking behavior by bicyclists is a comparable threat to pedestrians as dangerous driving, when that’s obviously not the case.

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A CDOT “Stop for Pedestrians PSA on a solar trash compactor. Photo: John Greenfield

Active Transportation Alliance director Ron Burke noted that nearly one out of every three traffic fatalities in Chicago is somebody on foot. “Every day, there are about seven or eight traffic-related pedestrian injuries in the city of Chicago, and that’s too many,” he said. “We can do much better. About 13 percent of all trips in Chicago are on foot. We need to move beyond the legacy of designing streets to move as many cars as fast as possible.” He asked reporters to inform the public that the law requiring motorists to stop for people in the crosswalk applies to all crosswalks, not just ones with “Stop for pedestrians” signs.

I asked Scheinfeld if CDOT has any strategies to keep the “Stop for Pedestrians” signs from being taken out so quickly by reckless drivers. She said the department does survey the locations carefully before installing the signs, to make sure there will be appropriate turning radiuses for cars. “But the fact that they are being hit is evidence that we have a problem with speeding, and that [drivers] are not going slow enough to be able to judge their distances from the signs,” she said. “In some ways, this brings attention to the very issue that we are trying to bring attention to.”

She added that aldermen are often open to using their discretionary funds to replace the signs, which cost $400 each installed, as of 2012. “They hear from their constituents that it is raising awareness, and communities are asking for these,” she said. “People feel safer with them and they’re seeing changes in motorists’ behavior.”

  • Why do they tell drivers they are enforcing the law ahead…? I’m guessing the reason most people ignore the law, in spite of a sign right in the road telling them what the law is, is because people know CPD rarely enforces this law, and when they do it’s during a “sting.” So why tell them where the stings are?!

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    It used to be that if a crosswalk started to look shabby, you’d just call your alderman’s office and requested it be repainted. It took maybe two weeks to get the job done. Looks like the city doesn’t care much to repaint crosswalks on a regular basis. I suppose if Ms. Scheinfield’s staff had chosen a nearly invisible crosswalk it would have drawn more attention to the situation.

    Also regarding the photo of the cyclist and car, why not a friendly reminder to cyclists? Even if they don’t cause as many collisions with pedestrians, they still have to obey the law. Just because my neighbor does not close his dumpster, doesn’t mean I don’t have to follow the law too, even if I generate 1/20th the trash my neighbor does.. Laws are laws.

  • Wewilliewinkleman

    Why tell cyclists where the stings are?

  • High_n_Dry

    Do you mean something like the sign on the trash compactor? Or the sign *in* the bike lane?

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Regarding the photo of the cyclists and the car, it IS a friendly reminder to cyclists. The car AND the cyclist are BOTH stopping for the pedestrian. GET IT?

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Because we’re a bunch of pansy apologists, who have to give a potential offender every possible opportunity to avoid getting busted so as to avoid any cries of “foul”.

  • Fibinaccignocchi

    Oh my god dude, find me the stats on all the pedestrians that are killed and injured by cyclists in Chicago every year and then we can talk.

  • rich

    why not go after the cab drivers who continuously go thru red lights, especially on Ohio and Michigan?

  • skyrefuge

    Because the point of this whole thing is not to generate revenue. It’s a public relations campaign to disseminate information about the crosswalk laws, in order to induce a cultural shift in driving/cycling practices, and thus, save lives. The “stings” are just one element of that campaign, and partly there in order to induce news organizations (The Trib, Streetsblog) to show up to the press conference and file a story on it. Those stories surely accomplish far more in terms of education than handing out tickets to a few individuals.

    It’s telling to see here the vindictive approach favored over the informative approach though!

  • David P.

    I’d suggest it’s because the goal is to get people to stop for pedestrians, rather than simply to maximize the number or tickets written. I think that not stopping for pedestrians (or anything else) is substantially a cultural thing that requires a sustained enforcement over years to change (look at California for an example); I wish CPD would do much more than they do.

  • David P.

    Cyclists do not present nearly the threat to people on foot that cars do, but they do pose a threat nonetheless. I see quite few cyclists yield to people in crosswalks. I was long pretty decent but last year realized that ‘decent’ wasn’t good enough and started trying to be really attentive. Occasionally I have to stop in the middle of the road, blocking car traffic, to allow people to cross who have been waiting in extravagantly marked crosswalks as car after car rockets by. I think that road users have a higher obligation to take care around more vulnerable users, and people on foot are the top of the heap when it comes to vulnerability.

  • I agree. However I also believe that getting people to stop relies on the random unknown element. As in, if you know where the speed cameras or even common speed traps are (as I used to in my rural hometown!), you would just speed elsewhere with some risk but still less than if you know where the enforcement is happening.

    And also dislike that the sign is in the bike lane (and the safer part of a bike lane) in the photo above…

  • David P.

    I’m not sure which has shown itself to be better over time, but I agree with you that not knowing whether there is enforcement has value. I definitely agree about the poor placement of the sign.

  • whetstone

    I got a shout-out from a driver for stopping (on bike) at a crosswalk to let pedestrians (with a stroller!) cross after the previous car had blown through. That was nice. I realize that, on a bike, I’m slower, smaller, and more nimble, but I stop anyway for the reason you point out, and to reinforce the behavior for road users generally.

  • Kevin M

    RE: And also dislike that the sign is in the bike lane (and the safer part of a bike lane) in the photo above…

    Agreed! What the hell is that about? There’s no sign blocking the automobile area of the lane. If I see such a sign when I’m on my bike, I’m going to kick that shit to the curb.

  • Ironically, a few hours after hearing about this initiative, a cop car zipped through a crosswalk as I was crossing. Do you think he fined himself $120?

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