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26 Bike/Ped Injuries Next to a School? No Big Whoop, Says WGN

4:50 PM CDT on May 15, 2014

Bicycle and pedestrian crashes at Addison/Western
A map from Chicago Crash Browser showing 27 crashes at Addison/Western.

WGN TV recently reported this week that 26 bicyclist and pedestrian injuries at Addison and Western, just outside of Lane Tech High school and within view of three speed cameras, "is relatively small." Reporter Jackie Bange did not clarify just how many injured Chicagoans would be "relatively large" and thus merit a public response.

She quoted the leader of the group "Citizens Abolish Red Light/Speed Cameras," who said the the 26 injuries between 2005 and 2012 were "made up" -- even though the sources were the Illinois Department of Transportation and Chicago Department of Transportation, and viewable through the Chicago Crash Browser. He asserts that the city doesn't "have any real statistics as to the so-called accidents."

Bange should know better, since the speeding problem on Western Avenue should be apparent from WGN's nearby production offices. The numbers are taken directly from police reports, not just "made up." Indeed, they probably under-report the actual number of people injured on Chicago streets while bicycling or walking, because minor crashes often go unreported.

Amanda Woodall, policy director at Active Transportation Alliance, said, "when any agency is relying on recorded data to show a picture of the type and number of crashes every day, we have to approach it with the understanding that they aren't as large as they might be. Those numbers might not be reflecting the complete picture."

Bange's report sought to see whether the city's Children's Safety Zone speed cameras are "keeping kids safe, or just a money maker." To a certain extent, it doesn't matter: As Streetsblog's John Greenfield has said before, "I don't care if the cams are an (unsuccessful) money grab, as long as they work to reduce traffic violations."

The cameras don't cost the average Chicago driver very much, nor do they make the city much money. Yes, there have been problems with how the city and its vendor has handled red light camera operations, and citizens should demand more accountability. Yet speed cameras haven't been a cash cow. They've yielded Chicago less than $3 per city-registered car over the past seven months -- less revenue than a database update has yielded for the City Clerk's vehicle registration program.

There's clearly an epidemic of dangerous speeding outside schools, and speed cameras have been the only effective tool to calm traffic. A 2004 study by CDOT showed that 78.1 percent of drivers exceeded the 20 mph school-zone speed limit within arterials -- even when children were present. Non-camera tactics, like new crosswalks, "SCHOOL" markings, and other minor changes, reduced speeding by less than one percent. But ever since speed cameras were introduced to Chicago, we've seen up to a 90 percent reduction in the number of people speeding in their vicinity.

Slower speeds go a long way towards saving lives. Pedestrians have an 80 percent chance of survival when hit by a car going 20 mph, a huge improvement over the 50 percent chance at 30 mph. Even in car-to-car crashes, higher speeds mean more crashes, more injuries, and more deaths, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [PDF]. So it doesn't matter, as Bange points out, that the 455 crashes CDOT reports outside Lane Tech -- 101 involving children -- don't distinguish between crashes involving only cars, or crashes involving pedestrians. Lower speeds will reduce both how often and how bad crashes are.

What Bange says are "small" numbers are actually over 3,000 people being hit at hundreds of intersections all across Chicago annually and 26 bicyclist and pedestrian deaths last year. Active Trans' Woodall points out that Chicago has joined other U.S. cities in adopting a "vision zero" policy, meaning that "the only appropriate and acceptable number of crashes and injuries is zero." She said Active Trans and CDOT "strive [in our work] to continue to eliminate injuries due to any type of motor vehicle crash, particularly those to bicyclists and pedestrians."

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