Can I just cross the street safely for a burger?


Two guys trying to cross Belmont Avenue towards Kuma’s Corner in 2008. 

My mom, sister, and I were walking to Kuma’s Corner in Avondale tonight (2900 W Belmont Ave). We were starting to cross Belmont Avenue along Francisco Avenue. Eastbound traffic was backed up at the Elston Avenue/California Avenue light so we easily slipped through stopped traffic. Then we looked to the east at fast moving westbound traffic.

Westbound Belmont Avenue has two lanes at this time of day because of rush hour parking controls (RHPC). You probably know what this is but never knew what it’s called. It’s when you can’t park a car on one side of the street during a morning or afternoon two-hour stretch, and you can’t park on the opposite side of the street during the opposite period. It’s to facilitate faster moving traffic and I believe to relieve congestion. Whether it does that is a good question.

Anyway, there were two lanes of fast moving traffic and there were no gaps so we couldn’t cross. Don’t pedestrians have the right of way when crossing streets? Or do they need permission? I understatedly mentioned something about this to my mother, saying “The law requires that drivers stop for people in crosswalks”.

My mother took this as a cue to throw up her hands in disgust and shout, “Can we cross? Let’s go!”

I don’t know if the two drivers in the two lanes heard her, but they obviously saw her gesture and stopped their vehicles. I told her, “No one does that”, referring to the gesture and shout.

Maybe that’s the key to demanding our right to safely cross.

Right after this happened, I tweeted, “@ChicagoDOT what are you doing to increase compliance w/ ‘stop for peds in crosswalk’ law? Does the CPD pull over drivers anymore? #walkCHI”

56 thoughts on “Can I just cross the street safely for a burger?”

  1. Check Ashland south of Rosehill (right at the bus stop at the end of the line for Damen), then cross Clark at the same place.  It’s a study in extremes.  Traffic on Clark actually stops for pedestrians.  Ashland?  Forget it.  It’s almost like they’re *trying* to hit you there.

    1. While Clark is certainly easier to cross in comparison to Ashland, it’s still far from perfect. In my experience, at least 80% of traffic does not stop for pedestrians. I find that cars are more likely to stop if you’re already halfway into the street, but less likely if you’re standing at the start of the crosswalk and waiting to begin crossing. I actually had a taxi stop for me in a crosswalk a couple weeks ago. I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

          1. It’s just a small change, but I think it’s extremely meaningful. When we dehumanize how we explain the problem, we’ll end up with dehumanized solutions. Like fast streets.

      1. Oh, it’s not perfect, but at least if you’re waiting, I’d say 1 of the first 10 drivers you see will stop.  If you don’t catch the lights, you could be standing at Ashland all day to try and get to that bus stop.  And I’d think “whatever, there’s a light down at Hollywood,” except, at the hospital right there, it’s clearly a marked crosswalk, but the drivers don’t seem to give a crap.  They’re too busy vying for position on their tear down Ashland.

        Steven, you’re right, the design is atrocious there.  I was at Gethsemane, and we needed to cross to their warehouse which is mid block.  You had to either a) wait forever for that wonky twisty light at Rosehill, then cross not one, but two separate crosswalks, or b) walk all the way up to Ridge and all the way back down.  Once you get north of Rosehill, they have those medians, and there isn’t a crosswalk until Ridge.  And I wouldn’t like to cross Ridge & Clark regularly.  That intersection is definitely taking risks every time.

        1. Thanks for the description of the conditions at Gethsemane. Isn’t that a popular place to walk and bike to? Call your alderman and ask for some traffic calming.
          This split is terrible to bike southbound through. You are riding on the right, then you have to get to the left to get into Clark from Clark-Ashland. It just doesn’t happen sometimes and you’ve gotta take an alternate route.

    2. That design of Ashland of Clark is a terrible idea. It’s not appropriate for dense urban areas. Ashland and Clark merge to form a single road with 8 or more lanes. The splits are atrocious. The combined segment is atrocious. The design should be retrofitted to better fit our communities’ consistent needs for more green space and safe walking and cycling environments.

  2. It’s possible that when faced with fast moving traffic not stopping I’ve entered a cross-walk waving my hands wildly above my head. I think of it as an even lower-tech orange flag.

      1. Alas, I haven’t even seen one yet, except in Grid, etc. The one at Elston/Grace/Bernard isn’t far from here, but I don’t know if I’ve even passed by it on bike, bus, or car, much less foot.

    1. I believe that people should not ask for permission to cross roads. I would like to see the first raised crosswalk in Chicago. This is a design intervention that gives permission to *car drivers* to cross a pedestrian path.
      The team behind the Logan Square traffic circle reimagination have proposed raised crosswalks (also called speed tables). They will be presenting the plan at a AIA Chicago meeting:

  3. Raising a hand or waving an arm or two to signal to drivers probably isn’t a bad idea.  I’ve been told that kids in Toronto are taught to point to the crosswalk, and the Canadians oblige.

    1. At crosswalks next to stop signs, if I see an approaching driver who isn’t slowing down, I smile and wave at them, then point emphatically at the stop sign.

  4. Very few people in cars stop for people in crosswalks despite the law, so I appreciate your mom’s efforts. I’ve been experimenting with such actions myself, such as taking an initial step into the intersection, making eye contact and taking small steps into the intersection while maintaining eye contact to acknowledge that I’m going to cross in front of them. Most of the time, people in cars seem surprised but they do yield. When they do, I “reward” them with a friendly gesture of thanks.

    Eye contact and friendly waves are little steps that seem to help.

    1. Eye contact is extremely important. This is explored in several geographic regions in Tom Vanderbilt’s book, “Traffic”, which I’ve blogged about on here a few times.
      In one chapter, he recounts how divers in a city in Colombia negotiate uncontrolled intersections (those without stop lights or signs). The driver who doesn’t look at crossing drivers to make eye contact will be the one who doesn’t stop. It’s an odd situation and a little hard to explain.
      I highly recommend the book:

      1. Kind of amazing how we hone into other people’s eyes.  I try to do this, too, whether on bike or foot.  I think this makes the motorist see that I”m not just some bike-shaped object or blob, but that’s a real person out there!  I also hope motorists who talk to me at right lights think of me next time I see a bike.

        1. Keep it up, making eye contact. And make eye contact with pedestrians while cycling, too.
          As for drivers talking to cyclists, I find this very amusing. I get asked for directions several times a year. Just yesterday a woman asked if she was heading toward Southport (at Paulina). I said yep, “three more blocks”. She said she had been driving around in circles for a while. She then asked if I knew if some theater was north or south of Addison on Southport. Okay, I’m not *that* good with directions but at least I know my “names and numbers” (Paulina 1700, Southport 1400).

  5. I face this situation every time I go to Top Notch on 95th for a burger.  No one ever wants to stop there, or on Western.  It’s only marginally better on 99th, a much smaller street without buses or big trucks.  I often have to cross in these locations at night, and I’ve added reflective strips to my sneakers, bags and a few articles of clothing to increase visibility.

    I’m thinking of making a small reflective sign that says something like “Please stop for ped crossing – IL law.”  I’d love to see something like this as a new merchandise item for Active Trans.

  6. Ahh, we finally see the 7 – 9 am and 4 – 6 pm no-parking zone insanity rear its ugly head, thanks Steven, this needs more publicity.

    I remain extremely skeptical that banning parking on one side of a street meets legal muster as far as designating an extra lane.  Illinois rules of the road are pretty clear that lanes need to be individually marked. 

    Best I can tell this practice legally *widens* one lane of Belmont, which does relieve congestion as it gives cars room to go around left turners, and also prevents traffic from backing up as cars aren’t pulling out of parking spaces or backing into them. 

    This is one of the 800 lb. gorillas in the room as far as improving Chicago for cyclists and pedestrians, as it creates incentives for cars to use right turn-only lanes to pass traffic, Wild West-style, and as it physically does not leave the legally-mandated 3 feet of passing space for a cyclist when the street is congested.

    I don’t think this really helps traffic at all.  Traffic flow eastbound on Belmont is dictated by the bottleneck at Western where it goes from two marked lanes in each direction over the river to one lane (the other becomes a right-turn only/bus shared lane).

    Going westbound it works a little better wets of California, but it doesn’t address the bottleneck caused by the Elston/California pinchpoints, the strip of Belmont between Washtenaw and California is a disaster for cyclists headed west, as the street is really too narrow to accommodate two lanes of traffic and a bike lane.

    If the City truly wants to create an extra lane of traffic during rush
    hour that’s their prerogative, but they need to do a MUCH better job of formalizing the practice and
    physically demarcating these lanes so we all know what the rules are.  No clear rules = people making them up, and that rarely benefits bikes when it’s a bike vs car situation.

    “Westbound Belmont Avenue has two lanes at this time of day because of
    rush hour parking controls (RHPC). You probably know what this is but
    never knew what it’s called. It’s when you can’t park a car on one side
    of the street during a morning or afternoon two-hour stretch, and you
    can’t park on the opposite side of the street during the opposite
    period. It’s to facilitate faster moving traffic and I believe to
    relieve congestion. Whether it does that is a good question.”

    1. I think you’re exactly right that it doesn’t help traffic. I think two things happen in situations like these. One, traffic is slowed by the merge at bottlenecks, as you point out. Two, while in theory an extra lane should accommodate an extra car, drivers don’t just get in one lane and stay there. They go back and forth under the false idea that they can weave through traffic faster than everybody else. Every lane shift forces a confrontation between vehicles, and both vehicles slow down. This slows down flow for everybody. Better to just maintain the same number of lanes consistently.

      1.  Amen.  And I’d add that being a bike stuck in that car-on-car confrontation (which is exactly what it is!) ain’t no fun.

    2. Rush hour parking controls also preclude installing bikeways. This is like Alderman Colón and the city council passing an ordinance to allow random parking on the boulevards in Logan Square.
      Rush hour parking controls are the reason that a bike lane and shared lane markings on California Avenue cannot be installed between Milwaukee Avenue and Diversey Avenue. Neither have they been installed on California Avenue under the Kennedy viaduct.
      I’ve asked a couple of friends who are engineers who work on traffic and transportation projects about the rationale behind 7-9 AM and 4-6 PM. My questions centered around understanding when the last time “rush hour” has ever been evaluated, and if “rush hour” was ever evaluated for the stretch of road on which the controls have been implemented. Perhaps rush hour times on one street are different than on another street. I believe that the California Avenue RHPC between Milwaukee Avenue and Diversey Avenue would be just as effective at moving traffic quickly (the goal of RHPC; but not necessarily safely) if they were in the opposite directions!

  7. I never saw anyone stopped for a crosswalk violation in the 51 years I lived in Chicago. It just doesn’t happen.

    1. It only happens during stings. I believe a sting is only effective in educating the drivers that the police pull over. It does not teach the drivers they don’t pull over that it’s a state law – those people who stopped may have done so out of courtesy, and only at this time, but not out of respect for traffic laws and safety.
      I cannot recall seeing a person driving a car ever being pulled over for a traffic violation.

  8. i share your frustrations. pretty common around here for sure.

    i’ve even experienced folks stopping for me, only to have some jackass go around them, and speed up, nearly running me over.

    1. This seems like an accident waiting to happen.  When there is room for a car to go around the stopped car one must proceed very cautiously.

    2. This was almost the case with our crossing. It’s definitely something you must watch out for when crossing streets by foot or by cycle. It’s also an issue with trains: You think one train has passed only to find a second train behind it.

  9. Today, two separate drivers honked at me when was crossing the street on a crosswalk.  I had started crossing before they even arrived, so I didn’t even jump in front of them.  It’s irritating enough when people don’t stop at all — but when they’re forced to stop because I’m already there, I really hate getting honked at like I’m doing something wrong.

    1.  Totally feel you on that.  I feel the same way when people turn left when I’m going straight on a bike with no cars behind me.  Yes, I have the light and the right of way, but half the time they honk or call me a bitch as they almost left hook me.  Because you’re in the crosswalk already, all they need to do is wait half a minute and there’s room enough to pass you.  People are so go go go. 

  10. I walk in front of cars all the time in Andersonville on Clark Street, but the traffic speed here is pretty under control.  However, even here they rarely ever stop for me or anyone else who is patiently waiting.  Carrying Vivian and walking Jack at the same time does increase this frequency though…

    1. I’ve done the same on Clark St. in Andersonville.  Traffic speeds are low enough for that to work.  On busy streets here in Beverly (95th, 99th, 103rd), it sometimes works – if the cars are at least a block away when I step out.  Unfortunately, most drivers are going at least 30 mph (often 35-40), so I’d be a hood ornament if I stepped out when they were even halfway close at those speeds.  This makes it tougher for people to walk to the train, with their kids to school, to neighborhood shops and restaurants, etc., which encourages the timid to drive instead, making the problem worse.  🙁

      1. I really, really, want a radar gun. It would most likely show that our perceptions are correct (people are speeding), but we could gather data on how often and to what extent.

        1. The closest I get is when I’m driving the speed limit and compare my speed against the speed of other cars.  That’s been helpful in estimating the speed numbers I’ve given you on streets like Vincennes.  Not quite the same as a radar gun, but it’s enough to be in the ballpark.

  11. “pedestrians feel most comfortable in shared space under conditions which ensure their presence is clear to other road users – these conditions include low vehicular traffic, high pedestrian traffic, good lighting and pedestrian-only facilities. Conversely, the presence of many pedestrians and, in particular, children and elderly, makes drivers feel uneasy and, therefore, enhances their alertness.”
    Ioannis Kaparias, Michael G.H. Bell, Ashkan Miri, Carol Chan, Bill Mount.  Analysing the perceptions of pedestrians and drivers to shared space.  Transportation Research: Part F, May 2012.

  12. Whenever I visit Portland, even after having lived there for several years, I’m always surprised that drivers stop to let people cross the street — even when people are crossing against red lights. Night and day.

  13. I know of at least a few officers who *do* stop cars for traffic violations or driving like they’re drunk.  One of them has also stopped cyclists on occasion for running red lights when they’re creating truly hazardous situations.  It does happen, but not nearly often enough.

    1. A cyclist, being pulled over for not stopping at a red light? Wow. I’m flabbergasted. I should pull the records on that violation to see how often they issue warnings or citations. Related question: Are “warnings” an “official” thing that can be given, and are they documented?

  14. Steve, this is the same thing I mentioned for Diversey on twitter. I think RHCP is an outdated policy that needs to be rescinded. Sure, add more queuing area at the intersection. RHCPs don’t work. They just let people be jerks and speed past the other cars. I have yet to see it work as it is intended, two lanes of smoothly flowing traffic. People still just use the main lane. The jerks use the rush hour lane. 

    Revoke the RHCPs. Let the neighbors keep their cars in the same place. (Instead of having to move their cars twice a day.) Let the business have parking. INSTALL A BIKE LANE. 

    1. Thank you. The RHCPs are all over the city. Ask the city for a bike lane and the first question they’ll ask is “Is there rush hour parking controls there?” If so, it’s a no go. I’d like to know if the Bicycle Program or anyone else tried to challenge an existing RHCP to get it removed. And if they were successful. Actually, I’d know to know if a RHCP was removed for any reason.

      1. There is a RHCP on Clark street that is a bus/bike lane in the mornings. It’s nice biking though there, having that whole lane clear of cars.

        1. I don’t like that lane when it’s not clear of cars. There’s no parking stripe so encourage drivers to park close to the curb, so you get a more varied line of left-edge cars. That makes the remaining space your “bike lane”, not making it a bike lane at all.

      2. I’d just like to see some actual official policy/description of what these were meant to accomplish and what their actual legal standing is as far as adding lanes of traffic, which is how people now interpret them. 

        The more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve realized the term “rush hour parking controls” says it all – note that the official terminology is not “rush hour lanes.”  That’s the smoking gun, IMO, and I would argue that in Illinois /Chicago the law is quite clear.  An absence of parking does not equate to extra lanes of traffic – that requires actual lane markings on the pavement.  The reversible lanes up where LSD ends at Hollywood are rush hour lanes. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *