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.