Last week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a report showing that all traffic fatalities increased significantly on U.S. roads from 2014 to 2015, by 7.7 percent to reach 35,200, the worst death toll since the 2008 economic crash. Streetsblog USA’s Angie Schmitt pointed out that, while Americans drove 3.5 percent more during this period, that’s “not enough to explain the rising death toll.” U.S. pedestrian and bike fatalities rose even more during that period, by 10 and 15 percent, respectively.
Illinois saw a similar 7.5 percent increase in traffic deaths last year, with 923 fatalities in 2014 and 998 deaths in 2015, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
In 2015 there were 46 Chicago pedestrian fatalities and 7 biking deaths, according to preliminary numbers from the Chicago Police Department, which may differ from IDOT’s final numbers for our city, which won’t be released until this fall. That represented a 43.8 percent increase in pedestrian deaths over 32 in 2014, and a 16.7 percent rise in bike fatalities from six in 2014, according to IDOT figures.
At a Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting last February, Chicago transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld acknowledged the spike in pedestrian deaths between 2014 and 2015. However, she said the city’s pedestrian fatality numbers for recent years was “still a decrease if you look at a 10-year trend.” Despite that long-term decline, I’d argue that the nearly 44 percent year-to-year rise isn’t an acceptable number for a city with a stated goal of eliminating all traffic deaths by 2022.
The Chicago Department of Transportation is behind in many of its stated goals to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety by changing infrastructure, as outlined in the its Chicago Pedestrian Plan and Complete Streets Design Guidelines. For example, in the Pedestrian Plan, published in 2012, CDOT set a target of eliminating all channelized right-turn lanes, aka slip lanes, by 2015 because these enable drivers to make fast turns around corners, endangering pedestrians.
So far I’ve only heard about slip lanes being eliminated at two Lakeview intersections, Lincoln/Wellington/Southport and Halsted/Grace/Broadway. In both cases the changes resulted in a backlash from motorists, because the improvements to pedestrian safety made it a bit less convenient to drive.