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Jeff Ward: News Flash to Geneva Drivers! Pedestrians Have the Right of Way

Geneva ain't bad about pedestrians in crosswalks, but let's go one better!

It ain’t workin’. Our new pedestrian-already-in-the-crosswalk-law, that is.

There I was sitting on the south side of the 3rd Avenue and Route 64 stoplight in St. Charles when it almost happened. The vigilant eastbound minivan driver actually noticed the pedestrian stepping into the crosswalk and stopped before turning right, but the semi behind her wasn’t in quite as generous a mood.

Despite his vantage point, he almost hit the minivan and then conveyed his displeasure with our reasonable pilot by leaning on the air horn which, of course, scared the pedestrian so much she leapt for the curb. Then the truck driver began hurling the kind of invectives that can’t be repeated on a family news service.

Semi drivers are always so patient and tolerant. Thankfully, the minivan stayed the course, and the pedestrian safely crossed.

Though not quite as bad as that one, this kind of thing happens to me while running through my subdivision all the time. I’ll stride into a crosswalk only to have a turning car pay no heed and impede my lawfull forward progress.

At times like those I try to remember one of my father’s famous sayings, “The graveyard is littered with people who had the right of way.”

The reason our new Illinois law isn’t working isn’t just ignorance, it’s because it’s far too vague. Here’s the actual statute:

“(Excluding traffic signals) the driver of a vehicle shall stop and yield the right‑of‑way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is upon the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”

Even if you manage to grasp that, there’s this exception:

“No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a moving vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

So which is it?

In an effort to gain clarity, and with the GPD command staff in a meeting, I turned to St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin. Basically, if someone steps off the curb into a marked crosswalk with no overriding traffic signal, approaching vehicles must stop and give any intrepid pedestrian the right of way. The motorist can proceed when it’s reasonably safe to do so.

“Does this law relinquish using your common sense when using a crosswalk?” Lamkin asked, “No it doesn’t!" In other words, don’t even think about using this statute in an ill-advised cartoon-like attempt to make traffic come to a screeching halt.

For the record, Geneva Police Cmdr. Eric Passarelli completely concurred with Chief Lamkin’s assertions.

But even the chief’s excellent explanation leaves room for interpretation. I can only imagine the possible debates arising from one side claiming he or she was in the crosswalk while the other claims it wasn’t safe to stop.

I’m pleased to report that Geneva has been fairly proactive in attacking this statutory wiggle room head on. Thanks to some judicious feedback from the Geneva Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, you may have already noticed the highlighter green “stop for pedestrians in crosswalk” signs gracing James and Third Streets and South Street and Third.

I understand some of you aren’t too thrilled with the motorists who treat these warnings as outright stop signs, but why worry! We all know Third Street will never get you anywhere in a hurry.

While these efforts are certainly laudable, let’s move on to my thoughts on putting this potential pedestrian/driver civil war to rest.

In my late twenties, I spent two weeks in Italy. If you so much as start walking on that downward slope towards the street, traffic comes to a complete halt before you can touch the pavement. In other words, an approaching pedestrian is the equivalent of a light that’s turning from yellow to red.

“But Jeff! Something like that can’t possibly work on Route 38!” Oh, yes it can! The phenomenon I just described occurred on Via Cassia, Rome’s version of Randall Road, during rush hour! It was an utterly astounding experience. I’ll never forget it.

I also asked Cmdr. Passarelli if, ala Chicago, the GPD had undertaken any enforcement efforts. He said not yet. Perhaps it’s time for our police force to start issuing some of their customary warnings.

Again, my theory is, if we all followed that simple “who’s getting the most exercise” crosswalk etiquette, we’d be fine. It would go something like this; runners, pedestrians, bicyclists and then motorists. Don’t try getting fancy on me! Inline skaters, skate boarders, unicyclists and riding mowers are all considered cyclists.

Don’t get me wrong! This new 2010 Illinois pedestrian law and Geneva’s crosswalk scofflaw countermeasures are all great steps, but why not take all the guesswork out of it? Let’s make pedestrian right of way as crystal clear as it is in Italy and most of Europe.

If a pedestrian so much as walks toward a crosswalk, then all traffic stops!

Sandy Kaczmarski July 27, 2011 at 12:12 PM
We were in Colorado a few years ago and the 'pedestrians rule' was evident everywhere. I kept thinking, why doesn't Illinois have a similar law (as well as the jay-walking crosswalk issue)? Then I found out we do have the same law. Just beware if you step off that curb here.
Rudy July 27, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Jeff I am not now nor have ever been a trucker but bringing an 82,000 pound truck to a stop and then start again takes a lot of energy. Now your compound that by 10 or 20 vehicles and you see it puts a big old carbon boot print on the surface of the earth. It takes almost no energy for the walker to stand and wait for 10 seconds. I am not saying your wrong with your view point just that there is always a price to be paid. Go to the Wisconsin Dells everyone stops for the pedestrians in the cross walk. I am sure thats not an accident either I am sure it was enforced to be that way. Rudy o.
Peter July 27, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Also how about motorists using direction indicators to show fellow motorists and pedestrians intentions in advance - Police need to enforce this too.
Dennis C. Ryan July 28, 2011 at 11:22 AM
California has had this pedestrian cross-walk law in effect for at least fifty years. No state is more automobile-oriented that California, but if it works there, it can be MADE to work here. The intersections where Second and Fourth Streets join State Street are particularly difficult to get across unless motorists cooperate.

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