Active Trans Study Vindicates Reilly’s Opposition to “Distracted Walking” Ordinance

Between 2013 and 2016, only 1.2 percent of Illinois car/pedestrian crashes  involved a person on foot using a cell phone. Image: Active Trans
Between 2013 and 2016, only 1.2 percent of Illinois car/pedestrian crashes involved a person on foot using a cell phone. Image: Active Trans

While I’ve called out downtown alderman Brendan Reilly recently for his proposal to completely ban cycling on the Chicago Riverwalk, he has also done some good things for sustainable transportation in the past. My favorite example was the time he helped kill a proposed crackdown on so-called “distracted walking.” Last year aldermen Ed Burke (14th) and Anthony Beale (9th) introduced the legislation, which would have fined pedestrians between $90 and $500 for looking at a smart phone or other electronic device while crossing the street.

“Frankly it’s the drivers who aren’t paying attention more often then the pedestrians,” Reilly told the Sun-Times at the time. “I have personally landed on the hood of a taxicab in a mid-block intersection.” Partly as a result of Reilly’s pushback, Burke and Beale’s ordinance went nowhere.

The wisdom of Reilly’s position on the distracted walking ban was highlighted yesterday when the Active Transportation Alliance released its latest Chicago Regional Crash Report, based on Illinois Department of Transportation crash data.

There’s been non-stop hype linking the recent rise in pedestrian fatalities to distracted walking. Some of it came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which knew at the time that deadly SUV design was the real culprit.

A victim-blaming tweet from NHTSA.
A victim-blaming tweet from NHTSA, implying that smart phone use by pedestrians was the reason for the spike in fatalities.  

But the Active Trans study found that, out of the 20,117 people on foot struck by drivers in Illinois between 2013 and 2016, a mere 1.2 percent of the victims were using cell phones. In other words, Reilly was right: The distracted walking phenomenon is largely a myth.

In reality, as the downtown alderman noted, driver behavior was usually to blame for car/predestrian crashes. “Many pedestrians involved in crashes were legally crossing the street in a crosswalk, and most often the primary and secondary causes of the crash are related to driver behavior,” wrote Active Trans’ Kyle Whitehead in a blog post. “Speeding and failure to stop for pedestrians are the most common factors.”

As such, the real solution to bringing down pedestrian, crash, injury, and fatality numbers isn’t punishing pedestrians (or bicyclists), but rather creating an environment that reduces the potential for speeding and other forms of reckless driving, and protects vulnerable road users.

Active Trans is asking the next governor our state and legislators in Springfield to earmark $50 million for walking and biking, which would only be 2 percent of Illinois’ transportation budget. They’re also pushing for the reform of IDOT’s car-centric policies, which prioritize moving cars quickly through public space, rather than safe, efficient transportation and livable cities.

You can endorse Active Trans’ Bike Walk Fund proposal by signing their online petition.

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  • Curtis James

    Active Trans, did you notice that between 2015 and 2016, the percentage of incidents involving phones tripled? Have you done any follow-up to that? This is now late 2018, and I doubt that the trend has decreased. People should not be texting or talking on cell phones while crossing the street. No one, not drivers, cyclists, or pedestrians, should be distracted while passing through intersections.

  • Tooscrapps

    More people have now have smartphones and use them, big surprise.. That doesn’t mean using a phone is a contributing cause of the crash or that the pedestrian didn’t have the ROW.

    As far as I’m concerned, if you have the ROW, you can do whatever you want while you walk across the street.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Using phones are a contributing factor to gridlock, which is a problem. Every day I exit crowded CTA stops in rush hour, and I can always tell who on the stairs or escalator is on a phone, because they are going half the speed of everyone else and are causing a bottleneck.

    Having been in CA recently, I can tell you that there is no doubt in my mind that pedestrians are vastly more intelligent in how they use the streets. People don’t just wander across the street whenever it’s more personally convenient, and people do actually respect streetlights. In turn, motorists are over-the-top respectful of pedestrians. In Chicago we seem to have a problem of a significant % of people not having any respect for anybody else whatsoever.

  • Tooscrapps

    Oblivious people have always blocked sidewalks and escalators. I haven’t seen any noticeable uptick with the dawn of smartphones. The people standing on the escalators are going to stand no matter what.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You can’t be serious. On a rush hour train in 2018, upwards of 75% of riders are glued to a phone. Unlike a book or a newspaper, it is relatively simple to get up and exit without ever breaking eye contact with a phone. And of course this slows everything down. It may not be a life or death issue, but it absolutely has an impact.

  • Tooscrapps

    Sorry nope. Your 75% doesn’t mean anything, since that is on the train. Getting off the platform is slowed down by narrow stairs, users fighting the tide coming up (parting the sea as I call it), and going through turnstiles. A few people looking at their phones isn’t slowing down the shuffle through these choke points.

    Able bodied people are not standing on and blocking escalators more because of phones. These maniacs are going to stand no matter what. Just now they have something to look at while they inconvenience everyone else.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Your argument is exactly the same one people made 10-15 years ago who insisted that drivers distracted by their phones had no noticeable impact to cyclists and pedestrians. The data simply wasn’t being measured. But with time it was, and it eventually supported what all of us could see with our own eyes. This will ultimately be no different.

    I’m referring to the people who never actually stop looking at their phones, the ones who are on them entering the station (not as big a deal), taking the stairs, walking on the L platforms/not going to the back of the bus, and then these same people do the same thing exiting, where they most certainly are jamming up the system. Real world impact is this slows down service. The people who aren’t ready to exit a train or bus when it reaches the destination are gumming up the works.

    You don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of a bottleneck, because to your rebuttal of “A few people looking at their phones isn’t slowing down the shuffle through these choke points,” that is in fact exactly what a bottleneck does. And it’s called a bottleneck because just one small choke point can radically change the dynamics. Except it is no longer just a few people. And there is no social stigma (apparently) against it, at least not the way there was back when that guy trying to read a newspaper while slowing everyone up at a turnstile or bumping into people on the sidewalk had people yelling at them to wake up and pay attention. Remember those days? I do. But I’ve been going in and out of the Loop since the 80s.

    Real world impact to me, personally, is that I routinely miss an already erratic bus thanks to yokels clogging up the stairs exiting at the Library stop. It happened to me this morning, which is *far* from a rarity in my morning rush hour commute.

    “Able bodied people are not standing on and blocking escalators more because of phones.” And what do you base this on, outside of wishful thinking? I see this every day. Is it so hard to simply acknowledge that being self-absorbed in a space that requires mass public movement is, if not criminal, than certainly unwelcome behavior? You do realize that phones have scientifically proven to slow reaction times to things happening around users, right? Why would this not be the case with all users of the public way?

  • Tooscrapps

    You condescension is not becoming.

    “Your argument is exactly the same one people made 10-15 years ago who insisted that drivers distracted by their phones had no noticeable impact to cyclists and pedestrians.” – Not at all. You are state your observations, and I am stating mine.

    People are slowed down at the stations by the structural choke points that exist. A few people looking at their phone while they wait in the queue at these isn’t (in my mind) noticeably affecting the flow rate through them.

    Able bodied people have been blocking escalators (and stairs) since before the rise of smart phones. How do you explain that? The “yokels” clogging the stairs aren’t doing it because of phones, they are doing it because they lack common sense and manners.

    Keep on yelling at those clouds.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You’re arguing from a point of emotion if you think I am in any being condescending, Mr. “Nope”. There were bad drivers before smart phones as well, but that doesn’t change the fact that driving while using a smart phone is dangerous, and is happening increasingly due to smart phone saturation.

    The science is coming in, and it affirms what common sense tell us, people walking around while on their phones are measurably distracted. There’s an impact to this, and it will eventually be measured as well.

    You can throw your hands in the air and say nothing can be done, which is really what “yelling at clouds” refers to.

    But I guarantee you something will eventually be done. It will either be hamfisted and top down, like the technology solutions people have which would shut off various features of smart phones while people are driving, or people who advocate for pedestrians and cyclists can be proactive and not so dismissive.

    And did I mention science? It’s coming in:

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1806.06454

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235197891500565X

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095756415000689

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29604515

    https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/19/4/232

  • Tooscrapps

    I never said people who use phones while walking aren’t more distracted than those who are not. I just believe if they have the ROW, look at a phone doesn’t matter. More to the point, I merely refuting your argument that the cause of slowdowns when exiting platforms and stations or on escalators is a result of people on their phones.

    The studies you cite (condescendingly) doesn’t address the issue we are speaking about. They study pedestrian behavior at intersections, not on stairs or escalators. You are equating pedestrian behavior on a sidewalk/crossing a street to exiting
    platforms and stations which have entirely different flows and factors. Who cares if a person has diminished attention while waiting in a slowly moving queue? They don’t need to have a heightened sense of attention to shuffle forward. Inattention is not the limiting factor here, the choke point is.

    What your science and observations don’t address is whether or not people would walk slowly on stairs, stand on/block escalators, or any number of annoying habits that inhibit flow if phones weren’t a thing. The fact is, the above have been going on before the rise of pervasive phone use.

  • Carter O’Brien

    You are entitled to your opinion about how distracted pedestrians aren’t a problem. I will stick with my observations, which are supported by science. Not once did I say phones are the *only* cause of slowdowns on the CTA. That would be insane.

    “Who cares if a person has diminished attention while waiting in a slowly moving queue?”

    As stated, those of us making connections with other transit modes care. Those of us that believe public transit is important should care, because with every step backwards in terms of user experience, that’s lost ridership and CTA struggling to balance its budget.

    All of the reasons you mentioned regarding why transit-pedestrian flow choke up are correct. You can rest your case on the idea that “things have always been that way,” but smart phones are new. They have been proven to distract people and delay response time. Logic dictates adding slow and distracted walkers make it all that much worse. Is this the most pressing issue of the day? Absolutely not. If you find that referencing actual science is condescending, not much I can do there except to say have a nice day.

  • Tooscrapps

    Again, the science you cite doesn’t apply here. You’re taking studies from a completely different environment and applying it where you wish.

    The queue is already moving slowly to narrow stairs or through a turnstile. A few people looking at a phone doesn’t make it go slower! You don’t need 100% of your attention and a quick response time to walk slowly in line.

    I’m not saying an able bodied person selfishly standing on/blocking a escalator isn’t the difference between making or missing a connection: it can be. People have been and continue to do those things because they are rude or oblivious, not because the rise of phone use.

  • Carter O’Brien

    “The queue is already moving slowly to narrow stairs or through a turnstile. ”

    I see plenty of people navigating these things just fine, it is blatantly obvious when you see those trying to walk through a CTA stop who are glued to a phone that you see the difference. When people are going slower than they would otherwise – the point – the cumulative effect is to screw up the flow of ped traffic. It’s the same principle as gapers block.

    “You don’t need 100% of your attention and a quick response time to walk slowly in line.”

    You wouldn’t have to walk so slowly if you were paying attention. What exactly do you think actually determines the speed by which people are moving?

    “A few people looking at a phone doesn’t make it go slower!”

    Of course it does. I see it every day. What do I see? A giant gap in front of the people with their noses stuck in the screens.

    You know why that is? They are going slower than everyone else. How do I know they are going slower? They’re distracted and not paying attention to their surroundings, and you can see the distance between them and the people in front of them grow by the second. This is what the science shows, smart phones distract us from our surroundings and impact our reaction times. The same dynamic happens in traffic where, yes, one distracted driver in the passing lane can actually create a traffic jam.

    “People have been and continue to do those things because they are rude or oblivious, not because the rise of phone use.”

    Oh, the irony. This is the exact same line of b.s. we used to hear about driving and smart phone use. “I only check it when we’re stopped at a light, or I’m stuck in slow moving traffic during rush hour.”

    Not being aware of how one is impacting their surroundings is the definition of obliviousness. How hard is it to just put down the phone for the 90 seconds it will take you
    to get to an L platform from the street, or from your seat back to the
    street? Answer: it’s not. But you would need to understand how people behave when they’re using a smart phone, which you clearly do not. Nobody is immune to this – I’m a musician and a martial artist. If while walking with a group of people I decide to try and check my phone, I will quickly start lagging behind. Why you’re doubling down on an indefensible position is beyond me, but you will never, ever, ever be in the right here.

  • Tooscrapps

    The speed of people exiting is determined by the number of people and size of the exits. The turnstiles are another limiting factor. No matter how attentive people are, there will be a backup at these points.

    I never equated using a phone while driving and walking. And while the rude or oblivious people can be infuriating, there’s nothing you can do about some person who wants to stand or walk slow. However, you keep on equating studies of using a phone while crossing the street (where it matters to be at full attention) to using a phone while standing in a line (where partial attention can suffice). But hey, keep throwing out your anecdotes as fact.

    “Nobody is immune to this – I’m a musician and a martial artist.” – Thanks for ending my week with a good laugh.

  • rwy

    One of the advantages of not being the pilot of a vehicle should be the ability to move around in a carefree way. Being distracted while walking around shouldn’t be seen as a big deal.

  • Carter O’Brien

    My anecdotes? Says the person who clearly didn’t even bother to skim the peer reviewed papers I linked. You’re ignorant and committed to staying that way, as evidenced by how you’ve completely (if unintentionally) turned an about face as to the fact that yes, it does matter if pedestrians crossing at an intersection are distracted by phone usage.

    The rest of your post is jibberish masquerading as science. Turnstiles come in varying numbers and types, the ones in the Loop that are waist high don’t slow people down at all, while the ones that are 7′ tall do.

    But keep rationalizing bad etiquette to yourself, while you are correct that nobody can be forced to stop doing it, it doesn’t make you any less of a jagoff.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Let’s keep the discussion civil, please. Thanks.

  • Tooscrapps

    It’s interesting that you admonish me but not him for calling me a “jagoff”. If you’re going to jump into the fray as a moderator, at least do it with some equity.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    “Let’s” = “Let us,” as in all of us. Him, you, me, and everyone else.

  • Tooscrapps

    But only in a response to me…

    “Equity” = the quality of being fair and impartial.

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