Walking Safely- Chicago Style

Chicago is leading the way in pedestrian safety in the United States by pledging to eliminate all pedestrian fatalities by 2022.

Now, that’s not a phrase you would expect to hear. Chicago is a car-centric, midwest, urban center. Currently about 50 pedestrians are killed annually on Chicago streets. Not exactly the city that you would imagine to take the lead in a campaign for pedestrian safety. After an extensive sudy which included public input, City Officials announced a plan with 250 short-term and long-term projects and goals. As grist.org points out “a city that cares about walking is a city that cares about people”.  This plan has great potential not simply to protect pedestrians from vehicles, but to make Chicago a more desirable tourist destination (walking is always a plus with tourists), to improve safety, and to improve living conditions in general. An investment in pedestrians is an investment in the city.

The plan includes some features which are common throughout the Bay Area and some that it would be nice to see implemented here. Besides marked sidewalks, in-road stop signs at crosswalks (it’s a state law to stop at crosswalks), pedestrian refuge islands (as seen in Berkeley and elsewhere in the East Bay and pictured above) and better signals, the plan also proposes ‘Road Diets’. This blog reported on Road Dieting a while back, but for those of you who don’t know, putting a road on a diet means shifting emphasis from cars to pedestrians and cyclists by  reducing traffic lanes, widening sidewalks, adding bike paths and greening medians. These road diets are long-term investments for the neighborhoods which they service. Road diets can decrease the number of cars, increase the number of pedestrians, improve safety conditions, reduce collisions, increase demand for restaurants and store-front businesses and generally improve the conditions of the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, San Francisco city transportation officials say San Francisco has put more roads on a diet than anywhere else in North America.

Still, San Francisco could learn a lot from Chicago’s Plan. One idea which I don’t think is implemented consistenly throughout the Bay Area is the lagging left turn during which the left turn signal is delayed to give pedestrians time to cross with traffic moving parallel across the intersection. Another interesting proposal are chicanes (see picture below) which essentially act like speed bumps with out the speeding up and speeding down and subsequent noise pollution.

Credit for Picture

Perhaps most interesting is Chicago’s focus on taxis. Chicago’s taxis account for 30% of pedestrian fatalities. Chicago’s plan includes revoking more licenses, engaging in significant outreach to taxi companies not just drivers, implementing the use of bumper stickers on taxis encouraging people to report dangerous driving, and the long-term goal of developing a safety-based incentive system.  In addition, the Chicago Plan proposes integrating pedestrian safety into police training and improving the pedestrian connectivity to buses and trains.

The rest of the Country will be watching closely to see whether Chicago can meet the seemingly impossible goal of Zero Fatalities by 2022. While I am skeptical of their achieving this goal, I look forward to seeing the many (hopefully) positive changes Chicago undergoes from the effort.

Read the full Chicago Pedestrian Plan here.

Sources:

http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/chicago-aims-eliminate-pedestrian-fatalities-within-10-years.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-pedestrian-plan-20120906-pdf,0,4192132.htmlpage

Chicago plans to eliminate pedestrian deaths

http://bettercities.net/article/chicago-pedestrians-safety-first-18833

http://dc.streetsblog.org/2012/09/06/chicago-unveils-its-ambitious-pedestrian-safety-plan/

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