I’ve noticed it’s common for young women in Chicago to walk in the middle of the street when there are sidewalks available. I always assumed that it’s a strategy to avoid getting jumped by a would-be attacker hiding behind a tree or in the bushes. This personal safety issue is one that I, as a man who does most of his walking in areas with relatively low crime rates, have the privilege of not thinking much about.
On the other hand, I often see women walking in the street in “safe” neighborhoods, in broad daylight. This was the case last Sunday when I biked past Jacqueline and Caitlin, who were strolling west on the 2100 bock of West Rice Street in Ukrainian Village around 4 pm. I hit the brakes and asked if I could interview them on the subject for this blog, and they politely humored me.
So you were walking in the middle of the street just now. Why were you walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk?
Jacqueline: Well, we didn’t realize we were doing that until it was brought to our attention. But we were walking back to our car and I think in my mind that dumpster back there kind of was obstructive and it seemed less direct to walk on the sidewalk then it did to mosey through the street.
Caitlin: It’s a one-way street here, and when we got out of the car to go to our destination we also walked in the street on the way there. So to bookend the whole event we decided to walk in the street on the way back as well.
What was your destination?
We were looking at an apartment that’s for rent a bit northeast of here.
OK. So you parked the car and instead of taking the sidewalk you walked in the street because it seemed more convenient.
So you said you sometimes walk in the street at night. Why do you do that?
Jacqueline: I walk in the street because it’s usually better lit, especially on narrower streets and streets that have a lot of trees. If I’m walking by myself I’ll walk in the middle of the street because it seems safer and less like somebody could grab me. Maybe I’m paranoid.
It seems like there’s less stuff for people to jump out from behind?
Jacqueline: Yeah. And I live in Lincoln Park, so especially when I’m walking by a lot of those weird little alleys where you can’t really see and the lights are out a lot.
OK. So in general at night you would walk in the street instead of on the sidewalk.
Jacqueline: If I’m by myself, yeah.
So the crime issue is more of a factor than worrying about getting hit by a car?
Grid Chicago is a blog about sustainable transportation matters, projects and culture in Chicago and Illinois, by John Greenfield and Steven Vance since June 2011. We switched to writing at Streetsblog Chicago in January 2013.
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