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How Do You Improve Pedestrian Safety in Evanston?

A committee formed by the city to study pedestrian safety offered a preliminary list of recommendations and gathered public input at a meeting Tuesday.

Reduced speed limits, radar speed displays and flashing LED school crossing signs are among the preliminary recommendations of a committee formed to improve pedestrian safety in Evanston.

Members of the committee presented their recommendations and gathered input from residents at a public workshop at the Tuesday night. 

“As far as education and enforcement, I think we’re on the way to making it safer for pedestrians,” said Sgt. Pat Moran, head of the police department’s traffic management bureau. 

The figures support his statement—but the city believes it can do better. Over the past three years, the number of car accidents involving pedestrians on public property . There were 52 accidents involving pedestrians in 2011, down from 55 in 2010 and 67 in 2009.

City officials believe they can make Evanston even safer for pedestrians, with some recommendations for engineering enhancements from the committee—as well as a commitment to educating the public.

“You have to have defensive walking and defensive driving,” said Suzette Robinson, director of the city’s public works department. “Both parties have a responsibility to behave in a manner that doesn’t cause conflict.”

Speed Reductions Proposed on Central Street, Chicago Avenue 

While better signs and more crosswalks are a first step toward reducing the number of accidents, city officials say cracking down on speeding drivers is just as important.

A recent accident where near has brought the issue to the fore. 

“I live on Oakton, and cars are going really fast,” said Natalie Watson, who attended the meeting to represent Walk ‘N Roll, a group advocating that Evanston become more friendly to bikers and pedestrians. “It’s a little scary.” 

To combat speeding drivers, the committee has proposed reducing the speed from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour on Chicago Avenue between Dempster Street and South Boulevard and on Central Street between Central Park and McDaniel avenues. Public Works Director Robinson explains that both of those stretches of roadway connect to areas where the speed limit is 25 miles per hour already, and they also incorporate numerous businesses—and therefore pedestrian traffic. 

Other recommendations that would target speeding drivers include the installation of permanent radar speed displays along Oakton, Main and Church streets. The city already owns two rotating radar displays that have proven successful, according to Robinson, in part because they shame drivers and in part because people may assume they’re monitored by police.

“Some people think the sign is connected to the police,” she said. “I’m not going to say that it’s not going to happen—the police might be undercover nearby.”

Robinson acknowledged that the signs were most successful when moved around (because then they surprise motorists), but said the city would still rotate its temporary signs even if permanent ones were installed. 

While Ald. Melissa Wynne and Ald. Judy Fiske that the committee investigate speed cameras, the committee found that those aren’t an option for Evanston. That’s because Illinois law allows them only in municipalities with a population greater than one million. 

At the end of the day, city officials say the best way to stop speeding drivers is to penalize them.

“There’s no excuse not to have seen the signs,” said Sgt. Pat Moran. “The only way to really get people to slow down is you have to show a presence.” 

Police officers regularly target several problem areas with increased enforcement, he said. Those include the stretch of Ridge Avenue between Davis and Greenleaf streets, and the 300 block of Sheridan Road, near , where drivers occasionally speed more than 20 miles per hour over the limit.

“Everyone who knows Evanston knows that we sit there,” Moran said. “But you have to.”  

Crosswalk Improvements Help All Pedestrians

Looking at the ages of pedestrians involved in accidents, it’s clear that it’s mostly adults, according to Robinson. To that end, the committee drafted recommendations to improve crosswalks of all types, not just those for children or seniors. 

Since Illinois implemented a law requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks (not just “yield”), the city has installed signs around Evanston to notify drivers. Installing more of those signs is important, according to city officials, but just as important is educating drivers—and pedestrians. 

“We see people misunderstanding the crosswalks, expecting through fate that you’re going to stop,” said Sgt. Moran. That expectation may be unreasonable when a car is going 30 miles per hour and a pedestrian simply steps out from the curb and begins walking into traffic, he added. 

The city has seen mixed results with a pilot program involving a flag system, first installed at . Pedestrians pick up a red flag from a bucket on one side of the street and wave it at cars when they want to cross, then return the flag on the other side. In a year’s time, no flags went missing at Lovelace Park, according to senior traffic engineer Rajeev Dahal. 

But when the city added similar flag systems to two intersections on Sheridan Road, at Kedzie and Keeney streets, flags began to disappear. Dahal said the city is still investigating a way to combat that problem.

Police Sgt. Moran said that the signs at those intersections—which have a miniature red stop sign emblazoned under a warning to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk—have also caused some confusion. Sometimes, drivers misinterpret them as an indication to stop no matter waht, regardless of whether a pedestrian is anywhere nearby.

“It’s caused a lot of rear-end collisions,” he said.

Other crosswalk improvements proposed by the committee include countdown signals at controlled intersections, audio devices for the disabled and signs indicating that turning traffic must yield to pedestrians. 

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said she was most excited about new crosswalk designs that look like bricks surrounded by white lines. The brick pattern is created by a special kind of plastic applied to the pavement, and the design helps to channel pedestrians into the crosswalk and signal drivers to pay attention, she said. 

Installing those crosswalks in places where there is a lot of pedestrian activity—particularly near Metra and CTA stops—could make a big difference, according to Robinson. Coincidentally, the greatest number of accidents involving pedestrians also occur at those locations, she said.  

Safe Routes to School Program 

While pedestrian accidents most frequently involve adults, Robinson noted that seniors and children are most vulnerable. And after the little girl was hit by a speeding driver near Oakton School, Ald. Coleen Burrus and others have pushed for the city to improve safety for kids who walk to school.

To that end, the committee recommended that the city re-evaulate it’s crossing guard placements before school starts this year, in order to make sure they’re stationed at the most heavily used crosswalks. The committee also recommended a program to educate kids on the safest routes to walk to school. District 65 schools could promote those walks on their website and through pedestrian safety classes, while the city would distribute pamphlets to parents with the safe routes to school.

In order to promote the program, Evanston’s fire department has already agreed to hand out stickers to kids on the first day of school. The design on the stickers will match a new design the city is planning to paint on school crosswalks, according to Robinson.

Other recommendations for school crosswalks include flashing, solar-powered LED school crossing signs and sidewalk curb extensions, a project already begun in several locations.

Following Tuesday night’s meeting, the pedestrian safety committee will continue to accept public comment submitted via the city’s 311 phone line through noon on Friday, July 27. The committee will present an initial report and a tentative timeline for implementation at a special city council meeting Monday, Aug. 6. 

Lightsleeper July 26, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Textural changes at crosswalks are helpful where they exist, but they also train motorists to expect that some kind of special marking is needed to indicate a crosswalk. And too often I see pedestrians hesitating at an unmarked crosswalk, further reinforcing this dangerous misconception.
Dan July 26, 2012 at 04:52 AM
Why not have pedestrian initiated traffic lights in areas of high foot traffic, schools and parks? The lights would normally blink yellow (caution) one hour before and one hour after school or in the case of parks, during daylight hours. When a pedestrian hits the button to cross, the light would turn red.
John C Thomson July 26, 2012 at 08:11 AM
I am not the longest living resident in Evanston by a long shot but I have been here for 34 years. When did all this become a problem that its just now surfacing to the forefront. One might think its been a slow news day to give this much attention to it. As for reducing Chicago Ave traffic to 25 mph smacks of revenue sourcing, have you looked at the traffic lately? You have so many high rises built on that street and more to come by the way that the traffic has been backed up from the Jewel store all the way to Main St. and again from Main Street all the way to South Blvd. Who are you trying to fool?
Jim July 26, 2012 at 12:14 PM
They are trying to fool everyone.
MMGlaser July 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Re crosswalk behavior: I recently heard a piece done on WBEZ (public radio) on crosswalk safety, and the fact that drivers seem to be oblivious to them. I suggested that public radio do some regular public service announcements reminding drivers to stop at crosswalks. Perhaps a coordinated campaign with other surrounding cities and towns (since it's a common concern) would help. There are some places elsewhere in the nation where the populace has been trained to stop. It requires an awareness campaign, clarity about crosswalk areas and rules, followed by rigorous enforcement. Frequently those areas also require pedestrians to cross only in crosswalks, which is the other side of the coin. It seemed they were going to look into that, so I would encourage others to urge them on. Distracted walking---such as crossing the street with a cell phone or headphones in use---is also a big problem. Perhaps an ordinance? Crosswalks with stop signs that say"if there's a pedestrian present"---are confusing and drivers either can't quite decide what to do quickly enough, or they begin to ignore the sign altogether. Really clearly marked crosswalks (fresh paint, maybe bright golden yellow) might help. RE schools: Perhaps some volunteer parents could be trained to be stationed near school crossings (in addition to the guard directing traffic) for a few days at the start of the school year to give "in vivo" trainings to the kids on pedestrian traffic safety.
John C Thomson July 26, 2012 at 01:02 PM
I don't think those crosswalk signs are good at all. Like the article stated many times people are confused and think they have to stop thereby causing rear end collisions. Either make them Stop signs period or leave it alone.
E. July 26, 2012 at 02:16 PM
"Stop for Pedestrians" isn't confusing. Anyone smart enough to pass the written driving test should be able to comprehend those simple instructions w/o getting all confused & twisting that to mean "stop all the time" or "never stop." If that's over your head, you shouldn't have a driver's license. The problem is either drivers don't see the signs, feel entitled to blow them off (common on Central @ Bent Park), or don't see the pedestrians. Occasionally it's the pedestrian, who steps out @ the last moment when a car is already too close to stop in time. e.g., On Central by Foodstuffs: On the S. side that crosswalk isn't @ an intersection--it comes out of the middle of the sidewalk & passes between parked cars. By the time the pedestrian enters a driver's line of sight they're ALREADY in the middle of the road, leaving almost no time (esp. for an eastbound driver) to anticipate & react. Reducing speed limit on Central from west of McDaniel to Central Park won't help either of those crosswalks be safer, as those crosswalks aren't in that stretch. It will just back up an already slow major artery. Let's focus on the problem areas, not "fix" the things that aren't broken. As for a plastic surface placed in a pattern all over crosswalks to make them more visible, someone should check if that surface is slippery when wet (as painted lines on the road can be). We don't want a new hazard that causes pedestrians to slip & fall in wet crosswalks. Finally, TICKET DRIVERS ON CELL PHONES!
TomH July 26, 2012 at 05:19 PM
One intersection that I cross on foot regularly is the intersection of Benson and Church. Cars and--especially buses--often whip around the corner from Church, southbound into Benson, with little visibility from Church (brick wall), making walking across Benson very precarious. A t"urn right on arrow only" signal from Church, with the pedestrian signal across Benson signaling "Don't Walk" would prevent conflict. Better yet, setting up the intersection as a "pedestrian scramble", where all directions of motor traffic are briefly stopped, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross in all directions or even diagonally across the intersection, would be even better here.
Jim Osburn July 26, 2012 at 06:51 PM
So much of the burden is being placed on motorists in the article, what about training courses for pedestrians? for bicyclists? Of course the city will have to fund these with fees--a skinny wheel tax for bikes and pedestrian permits for walkers. Now to clear up traffic congestion: keep the 25mph limit (same as it was in 1918) for traffic coming into town, but make it 45mph for outbound drivers. Simple fluid dynamics will prove that our streets would soon have a lot more room and thereby require less maintainence--a money saver!
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John C Thomson July 26, 2012 at 09:00 PM
E, thats what they call you, E, cool, that leaves 25 letters for me to choose from, anyway E. You went at great lengths to prove my point more than question my smartness, and I do have an IQ of 153 so I'm not offended in the least, you commenters that make a living putting other commenters down are not a rare breed you're all over the place like ragweed or something.
mij July 26, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Since people walking around using cells phones and not paying attention Evenaston needs to be bold to protect them. Ban driving from 10am til 3pm on a daily basis.. completeley on weekends. Notify Traders Joes it can no longer afford to buy those building the drivers were paying for Tell business owners not to worry will create TIF..
Richard Schulte July 27, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Dan: "I'd just like the American people to know who really runs this country." Cost.
Richard Schulte July 27, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Jim: "They are trying to fool everyone." You can't fool all of the people all of the time.
annie July 27, 2012 at 04:14 AM
Most people walking across Central by Foodstuffs are not in the crosswalks. People saunter across wherever they feel like it. If they are in a the "stop sign" cross walk, I stop. If the walkers are in the crosswalk by Foodstuffs I stop.I actually avoid driving that 2 blk stretch of Central as much as I can. Its a bad accident waiting to happen. If the EVPD watched for an hour, they could hand out a LOT of jay-walking tickets. Revenue! When people are walking they need to be aware of their surroundings. I don't understand why people can't follow the rules. Common Sense 101. Cell phones/texting in e-town? its still rampant!

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