Effective “Stop For Pedestrians” Signs Worth The Minimal Replacement Cost

Stop for pedestrians in crosswalk sign installation
A city crew installs a “Stop for Pedestrians” sign on Diversey Parkway in 2012.

An article in Monday’s Tribune confirmed what we already knew: Chicago’s “Stop for Pedestrians” signs have been taking a beating from careless drivers. In 2012, the city began installing the placards by crosswalks at unsignalized intersections. The Trib reported that 78 percent of the 344 signs installed have been replaced after motorists crashed into them.

The Chicago Department of Transportation estimates that a total of $265,000 has been spent so far to install and replace signs. Material and labor for replacing a sign at one location costs $550. Usually, two are replaced at the same time, which costs $920. Even so, the amount the city has spent on sign replacement comes out to roughly five cents per Chicagoan.

CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld told the Trib that this minimal expense is worthwhile. “The signs have gone a long way in increasing driver awareness of the four-year-old state law” requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians, she said.

Deputy Commissioner Luann Hamilton said the same thing at a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council Meeting earlier this month: “I think it’s worth $920 to put them out there, even at the frequency of every 6-12 months.”

The price tag for installing and replacing the signs pales in comparison to the price of losing life and limb to crashes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that pedestrian fatalities cost the Illinois economy $168 million in 2005. CDOT estimates the social and economic cost of each crash as $53,000 per injury, or $3.8 million per death [PDF].

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman endorsed the value of the placards, telling the Trib that his ward has “replaced our fair share of these signs, but people are slowing down and stopping” as a result. An Active Transportation Alliance study confirmed that signs are working. The report found that three times as many drivers stopped for pedestrians at Cook County crosswalks with the signs than at crosswalks without them.

The signs themselves aren’t the problem here. Rather, it’s the reckless drivers who are running them over. If CDOT ever decides that replacing the signs is too expensive, here’s a more cost-effective alternative: crosswalk enforcement cameras. Washington, D.C. has installed the cams at 16 marked crosswalks to ticket drivers who fail to stop for pedestrians. A poll found that nearly 60 percent of people who don’t drive think the crosswalk cameras are a good idea.

Currently, the Chicago signs are bankrolled by menu money in wards where the alderman supports the initiative, which means that some parts of town aren’t getting their fair share. Scheinfeld said the fact that motorists are taking out so many of them shows that more traffic education and enforcement is needed on a citywide basis. “[The signs] are highlighting that there is a need to improve motorist awareness and rules-of-the-road compliance.”

  • what_eva

    Can’t remember if the comment was here or on DNA, but someone pointed out that the traffic stings that have been done around these zones should be bringing in over $200k in revenue. City should do more of those stings and put the ticket revenue into a fund dedicated to replacing and expanding these signs. Naturally, if a driver is caught knocking one down, s/he should be charged for the replacement.

    I wonder if there are any studies about whether these are more effective in the middle of the street vs at the sides where they might not be hit as often. eg, in front of Masonic hospital on Wellington, these same signs are set on the side of the street (one on each side). They’re still plenty visible to me, but it’d take a true comparison to find out if that’s still effective.

    One more note, I must admit to having clipped one of these once (didn’t knock it down). I was driving north on Lincoln, there are a couple between Fullerton and Wrightwood. There was a cyclist in the bike lane riding on the left half of it outside the door zone. No oncoming cars, no pedestrians. Had the sign not been there, I would have simply crossed the center line to pass the cyclist. I thought I had enough room to pass by pulling as close to the center line as I could. I had enough room between the cyclist and my car, but then, *bam*, the sign hit my mirror. I drive a CR-V, so it’s not short, I thought I had clearance over the sign, but I was wrong. Lesson learned, if I’m passing a cyclist there, I wait until I’m clear to cross the center line.

  • I have full faith in the industrial designer complex of the United States that a better, more durable sign can be engineered.

    Perhaps there’s an ideal height that would pass under most cars’ mirrors but still be at the right height to be visible.

    Maybe it buckles differently so a CDOT or Streets & San crew can re-affix it to the base.

    Why does the sign’s “paper” (or whatever material) detach from the backboard so “easily?” (See this example from Montrose.)

    Is any company devising a temporary raised crosswalk that can be installed as easily as these signs? My bigger question: what other items are available in “safety products” catalogs that we aren’t using?

  • I agree that there is a need to improve motorist awareness and rules-of-the-road compliance. What I don’t see is how you would ever do it, without actually requiring retests and studying by ADULT drivers in the driver’s-license renewal process. Right now if you don’t have tickets you don’t even have to go in in person for years at a time, and the learn-to-drive methods that were prevalent ten years and longer ago basically boiled down to “Your uncle will show you what to do; you’ll take the written test without looking at much beyond a list of signs and pass it fine; you’ll be extra careful to drive like a blue-haired old lady on your practical test and then drive the way “everyone drives” for real later after you have your license.”

    In my own family I witnessed teenagers being instructed in — and memorizing — completely contrafactual driving “laws” by their parents and relatives in the driver’s-ed process, because even the people TEACHING have never opened the Rules of the Road book.

    What can we do? Billboards? There’s a limit to what you can convey in that kind of spacem and no guarantee you’d reach more than a minimal number of drivers.

  • Alyssa

    Great idea regarding traffic stings in crosswalk areas and saving funds for crosswalk infrastructure. I imagine at least some the people ticketed in those stings would change their behavior. Though it wouldn’t be a lot, charing driver behavior in any number is a good thing.

  • Alyssa

    changing*

  • Velocipedian

    And how many were runover by buses? How about removing parking near the crosswalks and having a painted or curbed crossing sidewalk extension? Anyone been to Maine where people stop the second you hint at crossing through a crosswalk? That’s the cultural shift we need.

  • bump out bers

    I know it would cost more, but what about something more durable and permanent–like protected pedestrian islands with a high enough curb or strong enough pole that it would damage a car stupid enough to knock it down?

  • Not damaging a car that knocks one down is one of the design requirements — they’re built to be breakaway, so they don’t slow the (colliding) car enough to cause any follow-on accidents as that car interacts with OTHER cars.

  • forensicgarlic

    How do I get one of these installed? Crosswalks on both Chicago and Grand in West Town could definately use these reminders for drivers.

  • Call your alderman’s office and/or 311 to request them. Keep in mind that CDOT generally doesn’t install the signs on four-lane streets due to the “double jeopardy” issue — the danger posed if a driver in a curbside lane stops for a pedestrian, but a motorist in the adjacent lane doesn’t see the ped.

  • forensicgarlic

    I swear on clybourn at 4 way points I saw these, but it might have been a lane and a half.

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