CDOT Commissioner: This Year’s Spike in Pedestrian Fatalities “Is Very Troubling”

A minivan driver fatally struck Kiare Woods, 3, as he was walking with his aunt in April.
A minivan driver fatally struck Kiare Woods, 3, as he was walking with his aunt in April.

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Drivers fatally struck 18 pedestrians on Chicago streets by April 30 of this year, according to preliminary Chicago Police Department data released by the Chicago Department of Transportation last month. That’s up from the 2012-2016 average of 12.4 pedestrian deaths during the same four-month period – a 45 percent increase. April was a particularly deadly month, with nine people killed on foot, compared to the five-year average of 3.4 fatalities. Drivers fatally struck another three pedestrians in May 2018, according to media reports, bringing the unofficial total to 21.

Recent pedestrian fatality numbers. Image: CDOT
Recent pedestrian fatality numbers. Image: CDOT

The rise in pedestrian deaths so far this year is in line with a recent national rise in traffic fatalities, blamed on more driving due to cheap gasoline and the improving economy, an increase in cell phone use by drivers, and other factors. There were 132 total traffic deaths in Chicago in 2017, up from 119 in 2016. The number of pedestrians killed also rose last year, with 46 fatalities compared to 44 in 2017 and a five-year average of 38.2 deaths.

According to CDOT, 10 of the 18 pedestrians killed as of April 30 of this year were on High Crash Corridors or in High Crash Community areas, as identified by the city’s Vision Zero Chicago Action Plan. Many of the crashes, and all of the April fatalities, involved drivers speeding drivers who lost control of the vehicle and killed people standing on the sidewalk. 8 of the 18 crashes involved at least one of the five dangerous driving behaviors identified in the Vision Zero plan. In addition to speeding, these include intoxicated and distracted driving, running red lights, and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Many of this year’s pedestrian fatalities involved older residents or children. Seven of the 18 pedestrians killed were over the age of 60. Three-year-old Kiare Woods was killed while walking in a West Englewood crosswalk with his aunt. A driver who careened off the road in South Deering fatally struck Janice Gilmore, 67, while she was waiting for a bus.

“The latest traffic crash data is very troubling,” said CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld via email. “While we talk about statistics, it’s much more than that. Every one of these cases represents a personal tragedy that should have been avoided. Each one underscores the importance of our Vision Zero mission.”

Scheinfeld said the numbers show that the department needs to work with sister agencies, community organizations, and residents “to push even harder to change the culture that tolerates speeding and other dangerous driving behaviors, such as distracted driving. These behaviors are unacceptable, reckless and unnecessarily put people’s lives at risk.”

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago’s own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

  • planetshwoop

    The fatalities are one number to measure; I’d also be interested to know if non-fatal incidents are up as well. There are likely multiple causes as you cite, but cell phone usage is likely a contributor.

    I’d love to go to a conference about automobile insurance underwriting, to see if this is being talked about. Apple/Google have no incentive to fix this. Until they do, the deaths will continue, I think.

    Even if it isn’t mandatory, having a “disable my phone if I’m going more than 15mph” feature seems like a good hedge against lawsuits from dangerous driving.

  • Jeremy

    Scheinfeld said … “to push even
    harder to change the culture that tolerates speeding and other dangerous
    driving behaviors, such as distracted driving.”

    Does this mean the mayor and aldermen will push for more traffic cameras? Probably not. They are scared of the backlash.

    Given the recent report in the Sun-Times about the multiple moving violations the mayoral candidates have accumulated, I don’t expect anything to change regarding pedestrian safety.

  • Carter O’Brien

    As bad as this is, did you all see this story? 300+ pedestrian fatalities in 3 1/2 years?!!

    https://usa.streetsblog.org/2018/06/01/fed-up-with-an-apathetic-city-hall-phoenix-complete-streets-volunteers-resign-en-masse/

  • Not Politically Correct

    There is nothing to better to explain why more pedestrians are dying more then every. They cannot wait for a single light cycle change GREEN as this light was there for pedestrians to cross safety every 45 Seconds! As these pedestrians are ready to commit suicide on multiple level. #Sad https://twitter.com/zerovisionphila/status/1003850275805892609?s=21

  • Carter O’Brien

    Wrong angle to make your point, as we can’t see what the light was showing for the traffic moving in the opposite direction.

    But you are correct, there are certainly lots of poor pedestrian choices happening out there. My personal non-favorite are the ones who don’t respect left turn arrow right of way, as when cars are trying to make their left turn but can’t get through, they gum up everything. See Roosevelt and Wabash for a 6 – 12 examples of this every light cycle during the evening rush hour.

    But but but, there is also the little recognized fact that many terrible pedestrian street crossings are actually by people who just parked their cars and then cross from the middle of the block.

  • Courtney

    Eh. Given the little city space pedestrians and bikers receive, I’m not crying any tears of sympathy for folks in cars who have to wait another minute for the next light cycle. They certainly don’t care when they create traffic and slow down buses or when they purposefully do not allow the buses back into traffic.

  • Courtney

    Actions speak louder than words. Will CDOT and IDOT do more to create safer streets and stop prioritizing car traffic?

  • Carter O’Brien

    At Roosevelt and Wabash the entire dynamic is just off. While I won’t weep for a car missing a light, as a cyclist and a pedestrian that intersection is a disaster, even after the street treatment.

    The behavioral element is just baffling, as pedestrians behave completely differently a stone’s throw away at Roosevelt and Michigan, where there are pretty much no issues with people waiting for cars to turn with the left turn arrow. It has to be the street design and the traffic light placement, I just don’t get it & I’ve been paying attention since I was in high school in the 80s!

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