CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith. Photo by Steven.
The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) recently began the process of installing hundreds of signs citywide in an effort to educate motorists about the state law requiring them to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. The signs cost $400 each, sited and installed, a relative bargain for infrastructure that will raise awareness of pedestrian safety, calm traffic and possibly save lives.
At a press conference yesterday in Lincoln Park by the Brown Line’s Diversey station, CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith discussed the benefits of the signs. They also crossed Diversey several times to demonstrate the signs’ effectiveness, with drivers usually, but not always, stopping for them without being prompted. The event was particularly timely because the previous night a young girl named Monet Robinson was killed by a hit-and-run driver on the West Side. Here’s a transcript of Klein’s speech:
A CDOT crew member installs a sign.
Good afternoon everybody. My name’s Gabe Klein and I’m the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation [CDOT] and I’m joined by the 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith. And we’re here today to talk about the launch of the pedestrian safety signage that you see here behind us adjacent to the crosswalk.
As many of you know, Chicago experiences over 3,000 crashes each year between pedestrians and vehicles, resulting in an average, over the last few years, of fifty deaths. Tragically we saw one last night when five-year-old Monet Robinson was struck and killed by a driver who sped away in the Lawndale neighborhood. I’d like to express our deepest sympathies to the Robinson family and the community in Lawndale.
One life lost in the city of Chicago to a traffic crash is one too many and we in the administration, the alderman and, of course, the mayor think that we have to act and we have to act now to promote pedestrian safety in multiple ways. And we undertake that through education and encouragement, enforcement and engineering. What we’re doing today really encompasses a few of those, which we’ll talk about.
These new warning signs will also help us in our effort to curb fatalities to zero by 2020 as we outlined in our two-year plan. So as part of our ongoing efforts that will increase pedestrian safety and reduce the number of crashes we begun to install signs like this one at what we call uncontrolled crosswalks. These are crosswalks where there’s no signalization and no stop sign.
They remind drivers with a visual cue of the state law that requires them to stop if pedestrians are in the crosswalk. This is a 2010 state law that was codified in Chicago’s municipal code last year under Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It requires motorists to stop, versus just yield, to pedestrians in a crosswalk. So it is a relatively new law and therefore we think it’s doubly important to educate people of the law.
The new signs are part of a toolbox of traffic calming devices that the city is using to increase safety and reduce the number of accidents between pedestrians and vehicles. The signs are on flexible posts and will often be installed in the roadway median, as I said, at uncontrolled crosswalks in order to increase their visibility. They also function as a traffic calming device in that they’re typically located in the middle of the street on a double yellow line or on a median, which can also cause people to slow down because they see something in the right-of-way.
We’re currently installing the first fifty of these signs across the city in places where pedestrians and vehicles can or have come into conflict, particularly near schools, parks, hospitals and areas, like this one, near public transit where you have heavy pedestrian counts, sometimes more pedestrians than vehicles. The initial locations that we’re choosing were suggested by aldermen, like Alderman Michele Smith, who’s with me today, and their constituents. Then they’re vetted by the traffic engineering team within our department. The aldermen are utilizing a portion of their 2012 infrastructure menu funds to cover the cost of the installation expenses. It’s a very cost-effective use of those funds.
Alderman Smith has been a strong supporter of this effort and I think she has the most signs in her ward to-date. So I’d like to ask her to say a few words about the results that she’s seen with the several signs that have been installed in the 43rd Ward in the past couple of weeks and any other feedback that you’ve got.
Klein and Smith test the effectiveness of the freshly installed signs.
Here’s a transcript of Smith’s remarks:
Well thank you so much Commissioner Klein. We are enthusiastic supporters of this new measure and are very grateful to Commissioner Klein for really personally bringing this to the fore and making this kind of sign available from our aldermanic menu funds.
The 43rd Ward is a walkable ward and we depend on our pedestrian [facilities] for going to public transportation to the store and to our many cultural attractions including, most notably, the Lincoln Park Zoo. So just in the last week we have installed several of these signs up and down Stockton and Cannon drives and we have seen immediate results.
On Cannon Drive, which is in from of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and is by a running path, we have seen immediate increases in pedestrian safety and in cars just paying attention to pedestrians. So we have already gotten tremendous feedback from the many pedestrians, runners and zoo employees who are grateful that now these crosswalks are safer for our citizens.
Afterwards I asked Klein about efforts to address our city’s hit-and-run epidemic.
Are there are any strategies to reduce the hit-and-run rate in Chicago?
Yes. We work closely with the police department so one of the important things we’re doing is we’re meeting with the police on a bi-weekly basis, we’re drilling into data and we’re putting together strategies with them. I’m not at every meeting myself. I try to go to every other one.
But we are putting strategies in place and I think from my standpoint at the department of transportation it’s about making wholesale cultural change in the city of Chicago and there’s not one way to do it. We have probably a ten-plus-prong strategy for pedestrian safety. We also work closely with IDOT [Illinois Department of Transportation]… And we’re actually reorganizing [CDOT] and creating a traffic safety unit at the agency.
Right now there’s an incentive for people to flee crashes because they usually don’t get caught, as opposed to if they stuck around. So is there anything that can be done to create incentives for people to not flee crashes?
Yeah. Let me start by saying that the number one thing we have to do is slow people down. So if we slow people down and create an environment where it’s unacceptable to speed and people do slow down you’re going to have fewer accidents to run from. Having said that, enforcement in general, but automated enforcement with cameras that are grabbing license plate numbers. Like this crash that happened last night. We know that it was a man in his twenties in a green Grand Am. I don’t believe that the police have been able to apprehend him yet but if we did have a camera at the location my guess is we’d have better information. So I think in a city this size the use of technology’s going to be crucial.
Take Action: Contact your alderman to ask about getting one of these signs installed in your ward. Find your alderman.