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Requiem for a “Stop for Pedestrians” Sign: Documenting Driver-Damaged Placards

Photo: Michael Burton

There was plenty of terrific cycle-centric and car-critiquing artwork at last weekend’s 21st Annual Bike Winter Art Show, ranging from photos of Indonesian pedicab operators by Julie Dworkin, to sculptures of cars made out of old license plates by Daniel Kopald. Here’s a fun video by Bryan Manongdo including some of the art, as well as footage of Friday’s Critical Mass ride to the opening, held at Lab on Lake in East Garfield Park.

Longtime Critical Mass riders Gin Kilgore and Michael Burton, who met at a CM banner making party in 1998 and later married, contributed a touching series of 21 family photos to this year’s art show. The installation showed the growth of their son Miguel, from an infant in a Burley trailer, to a toddler with a tricycle, to a young kid with training wheels, to a pre-teen biking independently, with cycling playing a key role in each stage of his development.

Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton

But I was particularly, uh, struck, by another photo series Burton prepared for the show entitled “State Law.” The installation showed several “Stop for Pedestrians Within Crosswalk” signs that the Chicago Department of Transportation had installed in the middle of streets. These placards remind motorists that they are required to come to a complete stop – not just yield – when they encounter pedestrians crossing in a crosswalk.

Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton

However, Burton’s series depicts the signs in various states of decrepitude after being hit by careless drivers, ranging from bent to completely obliterated. One image merely shows a few bolt holes left in the asphalt where a placard was ripped out of the pavement. (Perhaps a better approach for installing the signs would be to attach them to poles on the sidewalk, as is done in cities like Washington, D.C., out of harm’s way.)

A sidewalk-mounted "Stop for Pedestrians" sign in Washignton, D.C. Photo: Eric Fischer
A sidewalk-mounted "Stop for Pedestrians" sign in Washignton, D.C. Photo: Eric Fischer
A sidewalk-mounted "Stop for Pedestrians" sign in Washignton, D.C. Photo: Eric Fischer

Chicago’s mid-street “Stop for Pedestrians” signs seem to have raised awareness among drivers that they need to respect crosswalks. In my experience, motorists tend to be courteous to a fault when I cross at an intersection where one of the placards is still intact, essentially treating them like stop signs.

Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton
Photo: Michael Burton

But as Burton’s photos illustrate, the fact that so many of the signs have been destroyed by reckless drivers is a depressing reminder that Chicago still has a long way to go when it comes to creating safe streets for pedestrians.

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