Halting words: Klein and Smith discuss the new “Stop for Pedestrians” signs


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

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

24 thoughts on “Halting words: Klein and Smith discuss the new “Stop for Pedestrians” signs”

  1. These signs will be VERY effective at the crosswalks where they’re installed.

    At crosswalks where they’re not installed the situation will become much worse, because drivers will think (rationalize) that the unmarked crosswalks don’t require stopping for pedestrians.

    I’ve still got an open mind; I’m not sure yet that posting these signs is a really good idea.

    1. I agree that it is confusing to drivers to install the signs at some crosswalks but not all of them. Stop signs are at 100% of stop sign locations. Traffic lights are at 100% of signal locations. Pedestrian safety stop signs are…where Aldermen request them with menu funds? As I learned on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other ones.

  2. ADDISON AND LAWDALE. The cars here want to fly onto the entrance ramp thats 20 ft from this intersection and yell at the pedestrians that are trying to cross

  3. As I said before, these signs will make a strong entry in the selection Best Traffic Safety Improvement in Chicago for 2012. I am lucky to have two of these on the end of my block, and I noticed a big improvement in drivers adherence to the law. whether it is because it works a reminder or as a cause of confusion (Hey! There is an object in the middle of the road!) doesn’t really matter at this point. The large majority of drivers now stops when I enter the cross walk.

    Unlike stop signs, that require cars to stop at all times, even if there is no other traffic around, these signs remind people that they have to stop only when there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk.

    Thanks CDOT for including this as an option in the Aldermanic menu.

    1. A lot of traffic calming methods are just like you said: Objects in the road. Like pedestrian refuge islands, bumpouts, and other pieces of traffic “hardware”.

  4. Gabe Klein talks about the speed cameras as if they record continuously, regardless of whether there are speeders in sight. Is that true?

  5. My wife tried to get one of those sign at the corner of Clark and Gregory. Our Alderman told us it was part of a ” pilot program” with the CDOT…I am not giving up because that intersection is a problem for pedestrian but I really didn’t like the answer we got.

    1. They told you the intersection is part of a pilot program? Does that intersection have the colorful zig-zag markings approaching it? If so, then the signs would interfere with the research happening around those markings.

      1. Sorry I should have been clearer, I blame the heat. He told us that the stop for pedestrian sign at Olive and clark was part of a CDOT pilot program (I think Grid Chicago blogged about it last week). So he basically told us that he could not put another of those sign at Clark and Gregory.

        1. That is what he told me too about the Clark and Olive intersection. But it was paid for with aldermanic menu money. Unlike some other alderman he does not publish how he spend his menu money. I can only suggest that you keep bringing it up to him. I will put in a request as well. Maybe if enough people bring it up we will get it next year. That intersection is a prime candidate for a sign in Andersonville

          1. The Department of Finance occasionally publishes the menu fund expenditures online but not very timely or in an easy to find location. Let me see if I can dig one up.
            What ward is this?

          2. In 2011, the only projects the 48th Ward spent its Menu funds on was 24 blocks of street resurfacing at a cost of $1,135,888 (out of $1.3 million).

            You can view the 2011 expenditures in this PDF.

            I wasn’t able to find projected or up-to-date Menu fund expenditures. Those must be requested via FOIA.

          3. http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/obm/provdrs/cap_improve.html

            The link above is where every citizen can see the last four years of menu fund allocations for every ward in the city. My alderman (Michele Smith) shared with her consituents her list of allocated funds for 2012. That was on top of holding “menu walks” in which she invited anyone interested to walk the ward’s streets in order to make suggestions for how to spend the menu funds. Kudos to her for working to make it a transparent process for spending our ward’s public funds. I encourage all of you to ask your alderman how your ward’s 2012 money has been allocated so far. The days of a wink and a handshake in a smoke-filled room are on the wane.

    2. Maxime, keep persisting. My mother was hit by a car driver last summer, and I just experienced a hit-and-run while on my bike last Thursday evening. Keep going. I know I’m inspired to help implement traffic calming / road sharing as well. Best.- Johanna Vargas

    3. @google-2c33a0da8754a39813f6cd9897812155:disqus Well, I guess he found some more money. Tonight on my commute home I did see that a stop for pedestrian sign has been installed at Clark and Gregory.

      I would send him a thank you note. You can reach him at Harry@48thward.org

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