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

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.”

  • JacobEPeters

    Lane Tech parents were so appalled at the frequency of accidents not just at the intersection, but along this stretch of Western that they lobbied for the pedestrian refuge island that is on Western south of the intersection. Intended as an area of refuge and a small form of street calming. My sister goes here, and classmates being hit by speeding vehicles is a very real occurrence which has rocked the school on multiple occasions. Mark Wallace should be ashamed of himself for placing the well being of his speedometer over the well being of students, through his attempts to eliminate a program which is already improving road safety around schools and parks.

  • Here’s a good Mark Wallace quote, from The Expired Meter: “As of the date the city council passed the speed camera ordinance there were no recorded incidents based on IDOT and CDOT data of any children being killed around parks or schools (by a vehicle crash) in the last 26 years.” In reality, from 2009-11 alone, there were 15 crashes in safety zones that resulted in the death of a child, according to CDOT.

  • JKM13

    Thank you. I happened to watch this segment and was impressed how openly they expressed their agenda here. Later in that segment they presented the amount of “camera flashes” as evidence of this being a money grab, completely ignoring the obvious rebuttal that this showed why these cameras are necessary. CPD does not enforce traffic violations and as a result people drive as recklessly as they feel they can get away with.
    Unfortunately, people overestimate their driving abilities, leading to 124 traffic deaths in Chicago and over 1,000 in Illinois.
    What annoys me about this is how typical it is of Chicago media. They promote this lazy cynicism against Chicago government on programs that actually have merit, but ignore where the real issues are with municipal government.

  • mikelyist

    If you can trust a guest poster, you can add 3 injury reports from me personally from minor hit and runs that have occurred during my time cycling. One of which I was told not to fill out a crash report by a police officer.

  • Mike

    CDOT is working on a Safe Routes to School project at Lane Tech.

  • Mishellie

    That’s a fantastic phrase.

    We should definitely be fighting people who only care about the well-being of the speedometer.

  • jeff wegerson

    I drive by that stretch irregularly around 3:30pm to my car mechanics up the street. One day while driving under the speed limit I noticed the camera going off on cars going the other way on the other side of the street. Hmmm, I said to myself, they didn’t seem to be going that fast. Then I realized the central fact about speeding around schools; the limit when kids are present is 20 mph!!!

    If you have ever tried to never exceed the speed limit in the city you know how actually hard it is to do. Not too hard where the limit is 30. But where it really bites you are those places where you would think it’s 30 but it’s really 25 or even 20 as by Lane there. Ridge between Howard and Peterson is 25, not 30. But people drive it as if it was 30. Meaning often driving 30, 35 or even 40 at times.

    And then how convenient it is to consider teens as adults and not kids. Yet teens may actually be more willful and less mindful than the 10-12 year olds. When school is out and that stretch of Western is “crawling” with kids, 20mph is exactly the right speed.

  • cjlane

    First: The guy who is disputing 3-4 ped/bike injuries per year is an obvious buffoon. That ‘GN gave a crank like that any voice at all is embarrassing.

    BUT, this:

    ” the actual number of people injured on Chicago streets while bicycling or walking, because … near-misses often go unreported.”

    Of course “near-misses” go unreported. I think that CPD’s attitude of “you don’t want to fill out a report” is completely deplorable, but if anyone thinks that they should track “That car got awfully close to me, but there was no actual contact (other than me slapping the trunk as they drove past)”, then I would side with the cops *laughing* (right in your face) at that. A “near-miss” is not a reportable event, unless you believe that the driver was affirmatively attempting to run you over, which is pretty rare (not rare enough, of course).

    AND, this:

    “What Bange says are “small” numbers of people are being injured at thousands of intersections all across Chicago. Together, they added up to 124 traffic deaths last year.”

    1. 124 is the number of crashes with fatalities (it’s been further revised to 121, apparently). The number of fatalities is higher than that (not sure how much higher).

    2. That is *totally* mixing the numbers. Bange was talking about bicyclist and pedestrian injuries, that fatality number is *mostly* people in cars. Per the streetsblog fatality tracker, there were 26 ped/bike deaths in Chicago in 2013–which is 26 too many, but is *way* less than 124.

  • Alex Oconnor

    “Citizens Abolish Red Light/Speed Cameras” also known as Citizens Advocating Reckless Lying to Slam into Citizens / Children

  • cjlane

    “In reality, from 2009-11 alone, there were 15 crashes in safety zones that resulted in the death of a child, according to CDOT.”

    How many of those were passengers in cars rather than pedestrians? All of them, or just most? Whatever the fact, it doesn’t make Wallace’s argument any better–if you can’t pay the fine, don’t cross the line (of the speed limit).

    The pedestrian refuge on Western at Cornelia is great and was *totally* necessary, as it prevents drivers from using the crosswalk to drive up to the left turn at Addison (which was a frequent occurrence and totally unsafe).

  • Sorry, forgot to mention that all 15 were ped or bike fatalities. I’ll edit the comment.

  • “How many of those [15 kids killed in safety zones from 2009-11] were passengers in cars rather than pedestrians?” I don’t have that data, but there were 1,660 ped and bike crashes involving kids in safety zones during that time, and 876 serious or fatal crashes involving peds and cyclists of all ages in safety zones during that time.

  • Jim

    This was a great piece by WGN pointing out how the cameras are only for money. And Steve, you quote a 10 year old study and the Same rhetoric about people surviving a crash, blah blah blah
    Come up with something original- would you please?

  • How can you ignore that speed cameras reduce speeding and that speeding is the crash type most likely to involve incapacitating injury or death?

    There are easier ways for the city to earn money and this is happening right now as Quinn and Emanuel are working to raise income and property taxes with nary a protest.

  • Sorry, a few things got lost in translation during the editing process — I’ve cleaned them up now.

  • That’s good to hear. Can you tell us more?

  • Fred

    Even if they are purely revenue generators, I am for them. I’d much rather have scofflaws fill the budget deficit than an income or property tax. If they happen to save a life or prevent an injury, that’s just an added bonus!

    The city needs money. Why not tax scofflaws? How else can we tax them? If you choose to break the law rather than be a law abiding citizen, you can pay for the privilege.

    I don’t understand why politicians don’t just embrace these cameras as revenue generators. Do people go crazy when fees go up to increase revenue?

  • Jackson

    Bike riders should be insured…They are way too militant, and for the most part a bunch of goofs who talk sh*t to those in cars, but when confronted about their bad moves such as not stopping at stop signs, get whiny…Weak!

  • ocschwar

    As a Lane Tech alumnus, I find this infuritating. The area right around Lane is a wasteland of strip malls and quicky lube shops, and people are constantly speeding and endangering the students.

  • ocschwar

    Here’s an original thought: if you don’t want to be fleeced by the City of Chicago, DON’T DRIVE LIKE A MANIAC WHEN YOU DRIVE BY LANE TECH.

  • Mishellie

    Or like in general. I would say in general, don’t drive like a maniac.

    Less tickets = more money

  • Mishellie

    My not stopping at a stop sign doesn’t (and can’t) injure, nearly kill, or kill anyone. Ever. Your speeding? It does.

  • cjlane

    “My not stopping at a stop sign … can’t … injure … anyone”

    Even reading in the implied “except myself” this is demonstrably false. It is perfectly possible for a pedestrian to be injured by a cyclist blowing off a stop sign. And there was a pedestrian killed by a cyclist in SF last year.

  • cjlane

    100% co-sign. Impose all sorts of “choice” fees, especially if they are for things that are violations of laws/rules or otherwise quality of life items.

  • Fred

    This is really the next generation business model. It has been prevalent in software (often called ‘Freemium’) for awhile and is now the airline industry has really adopted it. Provide some basic service, then allow users to pay for premium add-ons. For the airline industry, those add-ons are checked bags, meals, snacks, and beverages. How can the government embrace this model?

  • Mishellie

    Well yeah… I’ve never hit anyone though because I stop for pedestrians. I just don’t necessarily stop at empty stop signs. There’s a difference.

    The likelyhood of a pedestrian hit by a bike dying is tiny. Whereas wih a car? It is much, much,
    Much, MUCH more likely. How many pedestrians have been killed by cars in this city this year ALONE? (hint: it’s like 15×1)

  • cjlane

    Yes, but you went with hyperbole, needlessly (“can’t injure anyone ever” just isn’t true). Thus giving the anti-bike folks something to hang their hat on.

  • cjlane


    Reads a lot better now.

    We all know people who have been involved in minor accidents that aren’t reported for whatever reason. Most of us know someone who’s been brushed/clipped by a mirror or a bumper while biking or walking. There is no doubt that there is under-reporting of incidents, and would be even if the cops actively encouraged full reporting of every incident (mainly bc few want to take the time to fill out a report over something that amounts to a scratch).

    I don’t really get why the data on the accidents that *do* get reported isn’t far more granular–how is it possible that we know (and I know this is in fact a data failure) there were ‘455 crashes CDOT reports outside Lane Tech — 101 involving children’, but we don’t know how many included injuries, how many included serious injuries, who was injured, where the injured were when injured? It’s appalling.

  • “we don’t know how many included injuries, how many included serious injuries, who was injured, where the injured were when injured?”

    *I* know these things because they are in the crash data that I’ve obtained from the Illinois Department of Transportation and published them on http://chicagocrashes.org. However, this dataset, in three enormous tables, is pretty unwieldy for me to deal with and I’ve published all that I have time to publish.

    (Aside: the data I have published online doesn’t include where the injured were when they were injured because the data doesn’t include the narrative from the Illinois Motorist Crash Report.)

  • cjlane

    “doesn’t include where the injured were when they were injured because the data doesn’t include the narrative from the Illinois Motorist Crash Report”

    Based on a couple of the crashes that I know some details about, it seems that the injured/uninjured includes people in the involved automobile (mostly in the ‘uninjured’ column of course).

  • Yeah – the crash table, which is what powers the Chicago Crash Browser, counts total injuries, total fatalities, and the number of three different injury levels. The person table, which I haven’t integrated into the CCB, will tell you which person in the crash had which injury. It identifies the driver, any passengers, the bicyclist or pedestrian (including those who may have not been firstly impacted). The vehicle table, also not integrated, tells you in which vehicle (but not bicycle because that’s not a vehicle) the people were.

    The “where the injured were when they were injured” – by this I understood that as “where on the road”. Is that how you meant it?

  • cjlane

    ” Is that how you meant it?”

    I meant both.

    And it’s great that you’ve put together that data, but it’s still ridiculous that it has to be assembled from three (or more) datasets.

  • Thanks. They all come together and use good data practice so they’re linked by a shared ID, but it’s often beyond the realm of the time I want to dedicate to it and my skills.


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