Pedestrian Deaths Are Down 40%, but a March Bike Fatality Went Unreported

The ghost bike for Jezniah Smith, who was fatally struck at Division and Humboldt in 2017. A cyclist who was killed in March of this year on 87th near the Dan Ryan has not yet been identified.  Photo: Chicago Ride of Silence
The ghost bike for Jezniah Smith, who was fatally struck at Division and Humboldt in 2017. A cyclist who was killed in March of this year on 87th near the Dan Ryan has not yet been identified. Photo: Chicago Ride of Silence

Update 6/13/19: The Chicago Police Department has reclassified the bike fatality as a pedestrian death. The victim was identified as Louis Jerry Ward, 74. He was fatally struck on March 29 at 15 West 87th Street in Chatham. 

There was some good news and some bad news at last Thursday’s quarterly Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting. Overall traffic fatalities and pedestrian deaths are down this year. But in March there was a bike fatality in Chatham that went unreported in the media.

According to Chicago Department of Transportation assistant commissioner Sean Wiedel, the total number of traffic fatalities on city streets so far this year, based on preliminary Chicago Police Department data, is trending downward compared to last year, and compared to Chicago’s rolling five-year average. (The rolling total is for 2012-2016, based on official Illinois Department of Transportation data.)

There were 34 total Chicago on-street traffic deaths as of May 31 of 2019 compared to 49 this time last year, a reduction of about 30 percent. That’s also down 26 percent compared to the rolling five-year average.

21 of the 34 traffic fatalities this year were people in motor vehicles.

There were 12 pedestrian fatalities this year as of the end of May, down 40 percent compared to the total by that date in 2018.

However, Wiedel announced that a driver fatally struck a person a bike in March 2019, a death that apparently received no prior news coverage. According to CDOT, the crash occurred on 87th Street near the Dan Ryan Expressway. The Chicago Police Department and the Cook County medical examiner’s office told Streetsblog they were unable to immediately access information on the case. One bike fatality is typical for this time of year, but Chicago bike deaths tend to spike during the warmer months when more people are cycling.

Screen Shot 2019-06-10 at 4.52.21 PM
Chicago bike fatalities increase during the warmer months. Chart: CDOT

At the meeting, Wiedel noted that the overall drop in fatalities for the year so far is a positive trend, but there’s a still a need for more investment in the policies, programs, and infrastructure outlined in the the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan if we are going to approach the target of eliminating serious and fatal crashes. “One person killed on our streets is one too many.”

  • Carter O’Brien

    A 40% drop is very encouraging, but it would be helpful to know why – can this be connected to any initiatives that were targeted to specific parts of the city?

    It would be in bike/ped advocates and CDOT’s best interest to be able to compare spending and ROI safety figures to these goals, projects and results, or we’re going to continue to see the general public just get bent out of shape by the huge ballpark amounts they see thrown around wrt to BRT, protected bike lanes, etc.

    Perception is a big deal. I was on Jerome McDowell’s WBEZ program last week, and at some point he was discussing how even with all of the efforts only 2% of Chicagoans commute to work by bike (the context was in contrast to other renowned bike-friendly cities). Now if I’m an advocate, I’m seeing the same statistic and thinking “Twice as many people now bike as they did only 20 years ago!” (or whatever the stat is). Infrastructure improvements are a long game, and it’s chess, not checkers that is going to determine if it’s perceived as a win & worth the expense.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Also, the latest Minutes the city has available don’t list attendees or how they participated. We’re now slicing the city up into 8 geographic zones, so the public should know whether their assigned rep is attending these meetings or not, and the reps should have alternates if they can’t attend and other methods in place to communicate back out to their constituencies. I’m hoping the May minutes reflect this last line, which is critical “e) Community Areas could be highlighted in each meeting to allow for a more organic agenda.”

  • rwy

    Is weather a factor?

  • Joe Sislow – NWSide Rep

    Yes, they listed the attendees. The difference is that we’re filling the remaining representative positions as we scale up from 5 to 9. I don’t believe all were there for the last meeting. But MBAC reps are required to attend, and if they don’t, their position can be reassigned. March definitely didn’t have us all yet.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I totally missed that link & was looking at the MPAC archives, doh. Will check out your presentation later, thanks!

  • Carter O’Brien

    I especially appreciate you calling out those &^%@! “rush hour lanes,” btw.


Chart: CDOT

Rise in Pedestrian Fatalities Continues With 39 Deaths

At the quarterly Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting this afternoon, Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld announced that Chicago pedestrian fatalities continue to be well above the five-year average for this time of the year. Between the August MPAC meeting and the end of October there were 12 pedestrian deaths, bringing the total up […]