CDOT Ups the Outreach to 11 With Mailing to 1.5 Million Drivers

Tips for Motorists posted in Shaun's mail room
Tips for Motorists posted in an apartment mail room. Photo: Shaun Jacobsen.

Since the third week of May, 1.55 million Chicagoans (!) have received a double-sided leaflet called “Tips for Motorists” informing people how to “make our streets safer for everyone.” The mailing, sent by the City Clerk’s office with the car sticker renewal form, was three years in the making and likely has the lowest cost of any outreach that the Chicago Department of Transportation has ever initiated. CDOT paid $8,000 for printing and contributed about $1,000 in postage fees, according to bike and pedestrian safety manager Charlie Short.

Many Streetsblog readers reported receiving it – yes, they drive cars, too. Having drivers also bike is a key part of bicycle culture and safety. In the Netherlands, most drivers also bike at least once a week, so they know how to drive safely around cyclists.

CDOT’s flyer clears up a lot of issues related to the core question, “What am I supposed to do around a bicyclist or a pedestrian?” It counsels drivers to check for cyclists before opening their car door, to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, and other common-sense safety steps that too often go unobserved.

The mailing fulfills part of the Bike 2015 Plan (“Integrate more ‘Share the Road’ material into driver education materials“). Short says he hopes to use a successful mailing with the City Clerk’s office as a way to get the Secretary of State to do something similar. Similar material could go out in license renewal notices to all Illinoisans.

CDOT safety ambassadors hand leaflets to drivers. Photo: John Greenfield.
CDOT safety ambassadors hand leaflets to drivers. Photo: John Greenfield.

A different “Tips for Motorists” brochure is available for perusal at the DMV inside the Thompson Center, downtown (but not at the second downtown DMV). “We at least want to ensure that the flyers are available at all Chicago DMVs,” said Short

Short said he started working on the widespread mailing idea with the City Clerk’s office in 2010.

A similar mailing was sent to Boston drivers in March 2012, explaining all of the new pavement markings “cropping up around the city.” CDOT’s version does the same thing, showing drawings of sharrows and bike lanes.

Will this be successful? Short said they’ve received 20-25 positive emails from “citizen’s we’ve never heard from before, folks who sought us out.” I asked Short if he’s thought about doing “A/B testing,” wherein two designs are made and sent to different people to gauge the effectiveness of the designs. Short said they’ve been so busy with the spring marketing campaign – including restriped “LOOK” stencils at crosswalks – that it hasn’t come up.

This heavy outreach program has a lot of potential and it shows that funds, or lack thereof, are rarely the reason for doing, or not doing, things that increase the level of safety for the street’s most vulnerable users. All it takes is time, patience, and staff resources.

Tips for Motorists - side by side
The Tips for Motorists leaflet, shown side by side. ## the original PDF##.
  • Anne A

    I’ve suggested this a few times in the last few years. I’m glad that it’s finally a reality in Chicago, and I hope that the Secretary of State will do it soon.

  • CL

    I’m glad they’re informing people that it’s the law to stop at crosswalks. So many drivers disobey this law that I have to think people just don’t know, especially since the law was just changed a couple of years ago. Drivers who stop are the exception — you can actually see people’s surprise when someone actually stops.

    I also like the part that says, “Drivers may not overtake other drivers stopped at a marked or unmarked crosswalk.” This happens to me all the time, and it makes me feel like some poor pedestrian is going to get killed because I stopped and then another driver swerved around me without slowing down.

  • I used to be like, “why wave for someone stopping when they’re supposed to?” – that was in Milwaukee. In Chicago, I’m so surprised when someone does stop at a crossswalk that I wave to thank them!

    I also worry a lot about drivers overtaking a driver that does stop at a crosswalk, especially (and I’m picking on IL a little bit) since a lot of drivers here don’t signal their turns. I’m thinking the overtaking driver assumes the stopping driver is turning instead of yielding to pedestrians.

  • I’ve said it before, but I believe that with bikes becoming more prevalent, riding a bike should be a part of getting a driving license.

    So many people get a driving license that it would almost have the same effect as requiring people to take a bike-safety course. It also gives drivers the experience of riding a bike with other vehicles. Like you said, Steven, this is kind of like how in the Netherlands most drivers also bike. That’s not so here, where bikes are usually sport or toys, but it could do something and would be worth trying.

    Not sure how to implement or enforce it, just an idea. When I moved to Chicago I got a driving license and had to take the written exam – no mention of bikes on it.

  • CL

    Yes, I think some people think the driver is trying to turn, but it also happens when there’s nowhere to turn. The way drivers immediately swerve around, or signal to change lanes so they can pass, suggests they have no idea I’m stopping for someone who’s trying to cross the street — they think I’m stopping for some unknown reason, and their immediate impulse is to get around me as quickly as possible.

  • Dan Korn

    Where I live, on Marshall Boulevard, the only “outreach” the city has done to motorists is to write them all tickets for parking in the bike lane, where the street signs seem to suggest that parking is allowed. I can’t get a straight answer from CDOT about what’s going on.

  • I discussed this in an article a long time ago, on Grid Chicago. I said that, as a driver, I would not stop for a pedestrian trying to cross a 4-lane road that has no median island. The reason? I could not expect the driver behind me to to stop and I could not expect the MANY drivers in the other three lanes to stop. It would be safe for the pedestrian to cross if everyone in all 4 lanes would stop.

  • CL

    I’ve started doing the exact same thing, for the exact same reason — if traffic is very light, I’ll stop, but when there are four lanes of fast-moving traffic on a road like Western, it’s just hopeless. Nobody else stops. I think pedestrians are waiting for a break in traffic that will allow them to reach the middle, and then they’ll wait for a break in traffic from the other direction. There’s really no other way to cross.

    I’d like to be able to follow the law and stop for every pedestrian, but I think we need some kind of light signal for the law to work on 4-lane roads.