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Beth Bales: Pedestrians—Do Your Part, Too!

I know pedestrians should be able to cross streets unmolested. I applaud the new laws, and think drivers should pay attention. But shouldn't pedestrians, as well?

I read my colleague Jeff Ward’s piece earlier this week on in Geneva, including his encouraging the Geneva Police Department to start issuing citations to those who fail to abide by Illinois’ new laws on crosswalks and pedestrians.

I’m all in favor of pedestrian safety. I vividly remember being flagged down, once upon a time, by a fellow Harrison Street School mom who told me my daughter and a neighbor child were unable to cross East State Street at East Side Drive (which has a light!) because no drivers could bother to yield to them before barreling their way west into town.

And that happened more than 10 years ago. I’ve dodged too many cars while out walking to think adherence to the new law isn’t a good thing. (And I was dodging cars at intersections with lights.) 

Some time ago, at least a few years, a young child was killed in Chicago crossing the street after visiting Lincoln Park Zoo. At that time, there was conversation in Chicago papers about crosswalks and pedestrian safety. And I remember reading columns and stories that said in other parts of the county, particularly the West Coast, cars come screeching to a halt the moment a pedestrian sets foot onto the roadway.

I did a little research, and I’d hazard a guess the situation isn’t quite that rosy, but it does sound better than here.

In the real world in which we live, I think drivers aren’t close to being up to speed on the pedestrian-first safety concept. At the same time, in the real world in which we live, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t ever attempt to cross State Street at Second, or Fourth streets during busy times of day. It may be legal, it may be your perfect right. But is it safe, despite the law? As I was forever telling my kids when they first were driving, you can be right, and still get in an accident. You can be right, and be dead. 

And ... let’s say a few words about pedestrians who flaunt their pedestrian-ness, shall we? Let’s talk about the two joggers, two across, on Cheever Avenue one recent morning.

They were (smartly) going against traffic, so they could see oncoming cars. But when a car was approaching—yes, that would be my car—did they hop onto the grass? Did one drop back, to form a single file so the two together weren’t extended so far into the roadway? No. Of course, I slowed down.

That was one incident of four, count ‘em, four, on that several-block stretch of Cheever in about two minutes’ time. In each case, pedestrians were completely oblivious to traffic, including a group of four stopped on the side of the road, all in dark clothing, and also ignoring the sidewalk mere steps away) and obviously completely unconcerned with the fact that maybe, just maybe, one or two of all of them should move a little bit.

And after years of traversing Cheever early in the morning, I’ve simply accepted that I often have to slow way, way down, often because of joggers and commuters heading to the train station, in a roadway with a lot of parked cars. 

Let’s talk about people who cross from the stores at the Geneva Commons or in grocery stores into the parking lot without even looking, or who deliberately saunter slowly and casually, to be as big a pain in the neck as possible. 

Jeff asked, “What the heck happens to us when we get behind the wheel?” He talked about drivers on cell phones not paying attention ... But has he not ever come across pedestrians too busy texting to pay any kind of attention to their surroundings? I’ve seen walking texters walk into streets, or across parking lots without looking in any direction except down. Heck, you don’t have to be a driver to be annoyed by them–just try making your way through the grocery store. Texting pedestrians are becoming a new class of accident victims. 

Let’s talk about being a respectful pedestrian, one who is aware of cars and trucks, and the world passing by ... and ... who still has the right of way.

 

 

 

Jeff Ward September 24, 2011 at 12:16 PM
Beth, It's exactly the kind of pedestrians you described that made me swear I'd never ride my road bike on a bike path again. A roller blader on a cell phone? It's far too dangerous for someone who averages 18 mph. I'd rather die at the hands of an irate politician. But as I described in a previous column, on Rome's version of Randall Road (Via Cassia), if you step into that crosswalk (and wait a few seconds) at rush hour, traffic comes to a complete halt and you can cross the street. So let's not give up on that possibility. If it can work in Italy, it can certainly work on Rt. 38. It's already starting to work in Chicago! Jeff
Pam DiDonato September 24, 2011 at 03:50 PM
Geneva is the friendliest town, until they get behind the wheel! I guess I understand a little better as to why cars don't yield to pedestrians here if it's a fairly new law. Which I don't get either, why wasn't that the law in the first place? Everywhere else I've ever lived, a car stops the minute someone steps into a crosswalk. It's bound to get better. Right?
Gina Eddy September 24, 2011 at 04:28 PM
I saw something that amazed me yesterday. Driving down a street I noticed an older woman (maybe around 85-90) in the road about 1/4-1/3 the way across. She had a cane, but was just standing there. At first I wondered if there was something wrong and obviously slowed down. As I approached (and there was a bend in the road at that point) I noticed she had stopped and was holding her cane with one hand and in the other was holding a cell phone to her ear and having conversation. Right out in the road which is relatively well traveled. Had someone come down that road and due to her being where it curved, not seen her, she might have been hit. It was truly stunned. Even moreso when I looked back and realized that after passing she made no move to either hang up or back up to the curb. A very hazardous situation. So, yes, I do think pedestrians have some responsiblity as well. I've had concerns about talking on cell phones while driving, but this was an entirely new twist!!
Dave Peterson September 24, 2011 at 07:03 PM
Beth, Good points about the responsibility of pedestrians to be aware and obey the signs and signals. Illinois and (a far as I know) just about every other state gives pedestrians the right-of-way but only when they are crossing at an intersection or marked crosswalk when the traffic control devices say they can go. I often see pedestrians walking across State street against the Don't Walk signal or a Red light. Being a pedestrian does not automatically make you impervious to 3000 lbs of high velocity steel. On vacation out east this summer we traveled through many small towns. Just about every one of them had "Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk" signs in their downtown. Drivers in New Hampshire were especially courteous toward pedestrians. Even two lanes of 40MPH traffic would stop if a pedestrian was waiting at a crosswalk. Take a look at the Illinois Pedestrian Rules of the Road in http://geneva.patch.com/blog_posts/dave-peterson-new-signs-help-you-cross-third-street-in-geneva-safely
Jeff Ward September 25, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Dear All, I feel the need to point out that, though some cyclists and pedestrians clearly fall into the daredevil category, it's motorists who clearly take the what-stupid-thing-will-they-come-up-with-next cake. In fact, I'd be willing to give 10 to 1 odds that, if something silly happens in traffic, it's someone in a car. Jeff

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