About 80 percent of vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Chicago occur at intersections and commonly involve people crossing the street with the walk signal, according to a new city study.
As a frequent pedestrian in Chicago, these statistics are not surprising. What’s noteworthy is that the city commissioned a special study on pedestrian safety and plans to do something about it.
The exceptionally high rate of pedestrians being struck, predominantly by turning vehicles, while they are inside the presumed safe haven of crosswalks was an unexpected finding that will prompt increased police enforcement of the No. 1 cause of pedestrian accidents — drivers failing to yield, officials said. More traffic safety technology is coming too, they said.
The hit-and-run rate in Chicago is double the national average, with 33% of drivers leaving the scene of a pedestrian crash (44% for crashes that result in death).
“It’s unbelievable, and it’s a real crime,” Chicago Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein said. “I think we have this culture of speeding and reckless driving.”
I agree that there is a culture of speeding and reckless driving. I rarely see drivers slow down or stop for pedestrians even in school zones.
Improving the safety of pedestrians by working to change the culture of speeding and recklessness will naturally improve the safety of bicyclists. Bicyclists also must make sure to yield to pedestrians (which does not mean simply swerving around them in the crosswalk).
As someone who rides my bike everyday, I get a lot of questions and comments about bicycling in the city. When people tell me (so many people do, especially women!) that they wish they could bike BUT they do not feel safe and are afraid of being hit by a car, I do not launch into a stump speech about the benefits of bicycling. I may say something like, “It’s not so scary once you learn the rules of the road and get used to riding in traffic,” but I always say something like, “Yeah, it can be scary, I know.”
Although I’m a passionate advocate for transportation bicycling, I have to be understanding and realistic during those conversations. I don’t think it’s right to pressure or judge people when it comes to bicycling because the transportation system is not set up for us. While bicycling may be safer than driving a car statistically, statistics won’t help people feel less afraid as speeding SUVs whiz by them.
All of this is to say – I am optimistic that the day will come when I can respond to people with something like, “Oh, you should try out the network of protected bike lanes. Just take X street to Y street straight into the Loop and you’ll be physically separated from cars the entire time.” Or, even better, I’m optimistic that the day will come when I won’t have to respond at all because the first reaction to the idea of bicycling in Chicago won’t be FEAR.
From whence does my optimism spring? From the direction the city is going in with bicycle infrastructure.
Today was the ribbon cutting ceremony for Chicago’s first protected bike lane and the announcement of the next location to get a protected bike lane: Jackson Boulevard from Damen to Halsted. This is all part of new Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan for 100 miles of protected bike lanes during his first term. The Mayor is working with new Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein to get this done. (Read an interesting interview with Commissioner Klein at Grid Chicago.)
I know I should not get too excited about this plan because it’s only the beginning and there will surely be opponents. But I’m choosing optimism.
What do you think? Do you feel optimistic for the future of bicycling where you live? How do you react when people tell you they’re too afraid to bike?