Why did the pedestrian cross the road? To become yet another victim of careless drivers.
At least that’s the answer to the age-old riddle when you ask it in Chicago. The city sees an average of over 3,000 accidents and thirty pedestrian deaths every year as a result of vehicles blowing through crosswalks. The Chicago Police Department recently launched a sting operation to reduce this statistic (which of course can only be believed so far, as fans of Mark Twain will know).
No one particularly likes to discuss traffic laws, as this is one topic for discussion that rivals new tax regulations and the comparative drying rate of various brands of interior paint for the coveted Most Boring Dinner Party Topic title. But Chicago is such a pedestrian-heavy city that a discussion about walker safety may be dull, but also completely necessary.
Starting at noon on Tuesday, Chicago police cars parked at the intersection of Clark Street and Germania Place and chased down drivers who failed to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. This corner recently became decorated with “Stop for Pedestrians” signs and a pedestrian refuge island along the median of Clark for those walkers who may need to stop midway through the crosswalk.
The CPD operation kicked off the first of sixty pedestrian safety enforcement stings planned for this year. These operations will focus primarily on areas around schools, senior citizen housing, and high-traffic retail areas. City officials claim that their goal is to eliminate half of serious pedestrian injuries in the next five years and eradicate the other half of those injuries in the five years after that.
The sting operation should not come as a shock to motorists, although it undoubtedly will to some. The state of Illinois adopted a law in 2010 requiring cars to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Violating drivers face a possible fine of $120 within the city of Chicago and up to $500 in other parts of the state. Last year, the Chicago Police Department issued more than 1,200 tickets for failure to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Of course, a $120 fine may pale in comparison to other traffic violations. For example, the fine for living in Chicago and failing to purchase a city parking sticker is the exact same amount as the fine for endangering the life of a pedestrian, as many Windy City transplants very well know.
The CPD’s sting operations are admirable and certainly necessary, particularly in the warmer months when Chicagoans can walk to work or to their evening plans without the need for snowshoes and other Arctic survival gear. Any additional lives or limbs saved from errant drivers are bound to be worth the extra effort.
But what about the bicycles? Reporters at the Chicago Tribune commented that patrol officers at the corner of Clark and Germania ignored cyclists who blew right through crosswalks and swerved narrowly around lawful pedestrians. As more and more neighborhoods strive to increase bicycle traffic during the summer through cyclist discount programs and other incentives, questions arise concerning the precarious relationship between bicycle riders and pedestrians.
Cyclists have benefited from a recent explosion of bicycle safety lanes throughout the city. However, has the increased confidence that bike riders gain from the awareness of their own safety caused them to be more cavalier with the safety of their walking counterparts? Like motorists, cyclists are obligated to follow the rules of the road, including the observance of stoplights, stop signs, and crosswalks. Yet many cyclists, as observed by the Chicago Tribune, ignore those basic rules and put pedestrians at risk.
The CPD should therefore increase the scope of its sting operation to include bicyclists as targets for enforcement. While death may not be as likely when a pedestrian is hit by a bicycle as when hit by a moving Ford F150, the possibility of injury remains a reality no matter what hits the walker. If both drivers and cyclists learn to share the road with eco-conscious pedestrians, then the reason why the pedestrian crossed the road in Chicago can be much more simple: to get to the other side.
For additional comments on the CPD pedestrian-centric sting operation, see the Chicago Tribune’s coverage at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-pedestrian-crosswalk-sting-met-0702-20140702,0,4889530.story and CBS Chicago’s storage at http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2014/07/01/cops-crack-down-on-drivers-failing-to-yield-to-pedestrians/.