Advocacy pays off as CDOT installs concrete medians at dangerous DLSD intersections
On February 28, a reckless driver ran a red light and killed struck technical consulting engineer Gerardo Marciales, 41, as he rode a Divvy bike across DuSable Lake Shore Drive at Balbo Drive. Ever since then, Marciales’ loved ones and traffic safety advocates have been campaigning to fix this and other dangerous Loop DLSD intersections. This week their efforts came to fruition, as the Chicago Department of Transportation replaced temporary paint-and-post treatments, installed in the wake of the tragedy, with permanent concrete infrastructure to help prevent this type of crash.
During the February incident, Merciales had a walk signal as he rode in the crosswalk on the north leg of the intersection. The northbound motorist had a green left-turn arrow, but the light for proceeding north was was red, and he ran it.
Gerardo Marciales’ loved ones install the ghost bike memorial at the crash site during a vigil on April 28.
Northbound drivers running reds at DLSD’s T-shaped downtown intersections, has long been a very common occurrence. At a February 2018 Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council meeting hosted by CDOT, an attendee voiced concern about this hazard, but no action was taken.
After Marciales’ death, the department installed flexible plastic bollards at Balbo/DLSD to make it more difficult for drivers in the northbound left-turn lane to proceed north. Despite that, surprisingly large numbers of motorists continued to run the red. Segway tour guide Mike Perrino, who tweets under the handle Segway Batman, has organized volunteers to keep counts of how common it is for drivers to disobey the traffic signal. During one five-hour period, he observed 1,827 motorists running the red while pedestrians and bike riders had a walk signal.
On August 12, Perrino; organizers from Chicago, Bike Grid Now; and other safety advocates held an action at Balbo/DLSD in which they wore safety vests and held stop signs to force northbound drivers to obey their red signal, protecting pedestrians in the crosswalk. Police officers who showed up at the scene responded by helping… scofflaw motorists get through the intersection by turning off the Walk signal.
So instead of doing their fucking jobs and writing tickets for running the light, CPD modified the signal to perpetually run green. It was green for FIVE. MINUTES. pic.twitter.com/vIn0qbEdb1
— Sam Wight (@samwightt) August 12, 2022
At a second pedestrian safety action at Balbo/DLSD on September 27, police reportedly did nothing as car occupants threw stuff at the volunteers.
CPD IS STANDING BY AS DRIVERS AND PASSENGERS THROW GLASS AND PLASTIC BOTTLES AT PEOPLE IN THE CROSSWALK. #ChiRedLightAction pic.twitter.com/qBRmDLL8Wz
— Chicago, Bike Grid Now! (@bikegridnow) September 27, 2022
So it was a pleasant surprise to hear earlier this week that the city was literally taking concrete action to protect pedestrians at these hazardous intersections.
As of 8:45 this morning. Balbo: pic.twitter.com/QQdO61NRcY
— Kristen Larson (@klarson90) October 19, 2022
CDOT spokesperson Erica Shroeder confirmed that the department was installing medians at Balbo, as well as Jackson and Monroe Streets “to prevent [drivers] from using the left turn lane as a through lane and improve safety for people walking and biking.” The work is slated for completion by Friday.
“This seems to be happening!” tweeted ProPublica data reporter Haryu Coryne on seeing the construction. “Can’t express enough how much safer it feels to stand in the median with more than a lane of space.”
Gerado Marciales’ family and friends, as well as the activists, deserve our thanks for spurring CDOT to take action on this issue.
But there’s still the problem of rampant running of stoplights by northbound drivers in the through lanes at these three intersections. One possible deterrent, which wouldn’t require more in-person policing, would be to install red light cameras with prominent warning signs. That’s assuming the cameras would be legal under Illinois law – a tweak to the existing state legislation, which only allows automated enforcement on surface streets, might be needed. But assuming that hurdle could be overcome, the cams could be effective for making drivers think twice before blowing stoplights and endangering people on foot and bike. That would help prevent future heartbreak.